New Haven, Conn. (AP) — Australia’s Daria Gavrilova will be playing for her first career title Saturday at the Connecticut Open.
The demonstrative 23-year-old upset top-seeded defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland 6-4, 6-4 in Friday night semifinals.
She will face Dominika Cibulkova for the championship of the last WTA tuneup before the U.S. Open, the final Grand Slam event of the season that starts Monday in New York.
The second-seeded Cibulkova beat qualifier Elise Mertens of Belgium 6-1, 6-3 in the afternoon.
“I’m really hungry for it,” Gavrilova said. “Yeah, it will feel like I’ve achieved something pretty special.”
Cibulkova also has some motivation. She is looking for her ninth career win, but her first this season.
She pumped her fist and shouted “Finally” after nailing a forehand volley to put away Mertens.
“I didn’t win three matches in a row the whole season this year,” Cibulkova said. “It’s finally here. Before this tournament we were all setting some goals for the next few tournaments. I said, OK, my first goal is I want to win three matches in a row. After this one it’s finally happening, it’s finally here.”
Gavrilova, who grew up in Russia, moved to Australia when she was 18 and switched her nationality in December 2015, appeared in control throughout her match with Radwanska.
The world No. 10 could manage just three points during her first two service games and found herself in an early 0-4 hole from which she could not recover.
“Just a couple of games slipped away in the beginning,” she said. “Suddenly it was love-4. I was trying to come back. I was close. But then anyway she really played some good shots in important moments.”
The 28-year-old Pole battled back to 5-4, but Gavrilova, ranked 26th in the world, served out the set, making a nice drop shot during the final game.
The pair traded breaks in the second set and were at 3-3 when Gavrilova broke again. She won the match’s final point with an emphatic overhead smash, pumping her fist in the air.
This will be her third career final. She lost to Svetlana Kuznetsova in the Moscow last October and to fellow Australian Sam Stosur in Strasbourg in May.
Cibulkova, ranked 11th, broke Mertens five times in their 70-minute match to reach her first final this year.
Mertens, who won her first career title in Hobart, Australia in January, went up a break early in the second set, but gave back that advantage on her next serve.
Cibulkova came back twice in the set from 15-40 down to win games. She broke the 21-year-old in the seventh game of the set on a double fault and again to close the match.
“This just shows how strong I was on the court today,” she said. “I started to return much better her second serve in the end of the match. That’s why I broke her and I won in the end.”
This will be her first final in eight appearances in New Haven.
The 28-year-old has overcome a shoulder injury and said she’s been putting a lot of mental pressure on herself since last year’s breakthrough win in Singapore last year.
“Just going to the match, I wanted to give my 100 percent, not really think about a score, if I have to win or not,” Cibulkova said. “That became my priority in the beginning of the year. I was just thinking about that too much, I should be the one winning this one. It was just not working for me.”