CHARLESTON, S.C.—No matter how the final match goes, there will be a surprise champion at the Family Circle Cup.
No. 14 seed Andrea Petkovic of Germany and Jana Cepelova of Slovakia advance to the finals Saturday, both rallying late in their matches to set up an unlikely championship Sunday.
Petkovic rallied in the final two sets to defeat sixth-seeded Eugenie Bouchard 1-6, 6-3, 7-5, while Cepelova came back from 4-1 down in a third-set tiebreaker to oust 17-year-old Swiss qualifier Belinda Bencic 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (7).
Petkovic appeared overwhelmed by the 20-year-old Canadian early on, losing seven straight games and trailing 3-2 in the second set. That's when the German took control, winning four consecutive games to force a decisive set.
Petkovic was trailing 4-2 in that one before digging in a final time and breaking Bouchard's serve twice down the stretch to advance to her first championship since Washington, D.C., last August where she fell to Magdalena Rybarikova in straight sets.
Petkovic broke down and cried with a towel over her head after the match, happy she was again in this position after the past three years dealing with injuries to her ankle, knee and back that caused her to miss nine months on tour.
"I was just so relieved and I was proud that I came back from all these injuries, and I never thought that I would play finals in the big tournaments again," said Petkovic, who hadn't gotten past the quarterfinals in her six previous tournaments this season.
Petkovic, ranked 40th in the world, calmly analyzed her first-set shortcomings and understood that with a few changes, she could get back in the match.
"I wasn't that upset because I felt Genie was playing incredible tennis," she said. "I just lacked that 10 percent."
So Petkovic moved a step closer to the baseline so she could hit deeper forehands and put Bouchard on her heels. Things finally clicked midway through the second set as Petkovic fought off three break points to hold serve and begin her comeback.
"I said, `Even if I miss more, I'm going to have to get the length or she's going to kill me," Petkovic said.
Bouchard wasn't done, taking a 4-2 lead in the final set and having a chance to break serve for a bigger lead. But Petkovic hit a pair of crisp serves to win that game and followed by breaking Bouchard's serve to tie the set at four games.
Petkovic broke Bouchard's serve a final time to close out the match on four consecutive points.
Bouchard trailed in the third set in her two previous matches before eliminating No. 11 seed Venus Williams in the third round and No. 2 seed Jelena Jankovic in the quarterfinals. Against Petkovic, Bouchard says she didn't play as aggressively down the stretch as she had hoped.
"I think I just hesitated on a few balls and on my chances. That's not the way I want to play," Bouchard said. "I really want to go for my shots, and when I hesitate, it doesn't end up well for me."
Cepelova, 20, hadn't ever been past the quarterfinals since her WTA debut in 2011. But she began a week of Family Circle surprises — just one of the top 10 seeds reached the semifinals — by defeating world No. 1 Serena Williams on Tuesday night and now will play for her first tour title.
Not that her semifinal was easy. Cepelova squandered one match point while up 5-4 in the final set, then two more in the tiebreaker before Bencic sailed a shot long to end things.
Cepelova said she carried the confidence she got from beating Williams into the rest of the week. "I think now on these matches that I won, I try to keep playing like against Serena," she said.
Petkovic's father, Zoran, played college tennis at South Carolina and was among the Gamecocks top players with an 18-8 singles record in 1982. She hopes to give her family more reason to celebrate their connections to the Palmetto State.
Andrea Petkovic, who's won two WTA titles at Strasbourg in 2011 and Bad Gastein in 2009, understands she'll be expected to easily defeat her untested opponent.
"They are super young, so they will come out and play great tennis," she said. "I am 100 percent sure of that, so I will have it very tough and I will have to fight hard."