HIGHLIGHTS: Alexander Zverev d. Roger Federer, 7-5, 7-6 (5)
HOUSTON — If Lauren Davis was looking to gain extra match play as she attempts to climb back up the rankings, she’s definitely getting it this week.
The American rallied to win a three-set semifinal over Sofya Zhuk at the $125,000 WTA tournament in Houston, part of the Oracle Challenger Series. After dropping the first set 6-3 to the 18-year-old from Russia, Davis secured an early break in the second to take it 6-3, then rolled through the decider 6-0 to reach her first final of the season. Davis, who came through the qualifying rounds to get here, won her third three-set match out of six played to this point.
“I feel really good; I feel fresh,” Davis said. “It’s the last tournament of the year for me. I told myself going in, just give it all you have.”
In the championship match, she’ll face the veteran Peng Shuai, who’s playing her first tournament since a suspension. Peng, who was granted a wild card into the tournament, beat American Jessica Pegula in straight sets to also reach a championship match for the first time in 2018.
Both of the finalists have dealt with injuries over the course of the year, which has dampened their prospects. After failing to defend her title in Auckland at the beginning of the year, Davis rebounded to play an early contender for match of the year at the Australian Open, where she lost to world No. 1 Simona Halep 15-13 in the third round. She then fell in the opening round of her next four tournaments before health issues forced her to the sideline for the bulk of the clay-court season, a missed opportunity as the surface generally plays to her strengths.
Returning to the court during the grass-court season, the 25-year-old failed to gain much momentum over the summer, but in recent weeks has started to pick up some much-needed wins as she starts build toward next year. By virtue of reaching the final here in Houston, she’s atop the Oracle Challenger Series standings for a wild card granted to an American at the BNP Paribas Open next year, with next year’s events in Newport Beach and Indian Wells, Calif., to determine the recipient.
For Peng, it’s been a near-triumphant return to the tour after a difficult year. Among other issues, she’s also struggled with her health, particularly one of her knees, which required surgery.
“Even for doubles, it was very difficult to cover the half court and when I played singles there was no chance for me to move,” the former world No. 14 said.
Recovery was slow, but she’s back in the final to face a player she’s split her two matches against.
“She moves very good, she’s very strong from the baseline,” Peng said of Davis, and noted that they can find some common ground.
“We both should be happy coming back from injury to reach the final.”
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