Patience is a virtue, but defiance was vital to Silvia Soler-Espinosa's comeback in Strasbourg today.
The stubborn Spanish qualifier saved a match point in the a second-set tiebreaker before winning four of the final five games of her 5-7, 7-6 (7), 6-3 victory over American Christina McHale. The match spanned two hours and 46 minutes, and sent Soler-Espinosa to her first career WTA final.
It was the seventh straight win for the world No. 118, who earned three victories in qualifying and scored her third straight three-set decision.
It was an agonizing loss for McHale, who will rue a series of missed opportunities: She converted just two of 12 break points in the second set. The 59th-ranked New Jersey native won four straight games to serve for a spot in the final at 5-3, only to play with reticence surrendering serve at 15. McHale then built a 5-1 lead in the tiebreaker, but faltered near the finish line again. Holding match point at 6-5 in the breaker, McHale spun a double fault long. Soler-Espinosa pounced, sliding a wide serve followed by a forehand winner for her second set point, then smacked a forehand winner down the line to snatch the set and level the match.
An angled forehand drop-volley winner gave the Spaniard a break point. When McHale buried a backhand into the bottom of the net, Soler-Espinosa had the crucial break for 5-3 in the decider, while McHale, who held a 4-1 third-set lead over Maria Sharapova in Madrid earlier this month only to see it slip away, failed to find answers down the stretch.
"I have no idea [how I came back]" said Soler-Espinosa, who will face Monica Puig in the final. "I keep fighting every ball and finally I won the second set. It's tough because I'm seven days in a row playing matches every day, but I'm in the final and I'm gonna enjoy the final."
The Grand Slam starting gate is a stumbling block for Ernests Gulbis, who has failed to survive the second round in 15 of his last 16 major appearances, including 10 opening-round exits.
Yet the 2010 Roland Garros quarterfinalist typically plays his most finely tuned tennis at closing time: Gulbis is 5-0 lifetime in ATP finals. Today, the 19th-ranked Latvian won 26 of 27 points played on his first serve in deconstructing defending champion Albert Montanes, 6-0, 6-3, to advance to his sixth career final in Nice.
Gulbis, who reached a career-high ranking of No. 17 earlier this month, will face Federico Delbonis in the final. The seventh-seeded Argentine beat fourth-seeded Frenchman Gilles Simon a day after edging top-seeded John Isner, 6-4, 5-7, 7-6 (6). The left-handed Delbonis is playing for his second clay-court title of the season; 34 of his 36 career ATP victories have come on dirt.
“The final will be very similar to the match against Isner," said Delbonis of his first meeting with Gulbis. "Ernests has a strong service. If I am focused, I will always have a chance.”
Son Rise, Son Set