Three-time defending champion Caroline Wozniacki beat Francesca Schiavone in straight sets in the semi-finals of the New Haven Open on Friday, setting up a final against giant-killing Czech qualifier Petra Cetkovska.
Wozniacki, who is now 16-0 during her four years at the tournament, downed the third-seeded Italian 7-6 (7/2), 6-3 and got a kiss from her boyfriend, golfer Rory McIlroy, on court after the match.
Cetkovska, ranked No. 40, upset French Open champion Li Na in a dramatic third-set tiebreaker 6-2, 5-7, 7-6 (11/9) to reach her first WTA final — which has been moved forward from four hours to avoid the anticipated effects of Hurricane Irene.
Wozniacki trailed 4-2 early against Schiavone, but won an entertaining rally to break back and tie the set at 5-5, then dominated the tiebreaker and the second set.
The match hinged on a key point in the 10th game of the first set, when the Danish world No. 1 broke back to put the match on serve.
On the break back point, Schiavone made a backhand volley that spun back toward the net, Wozniacki hit a drop shop, which Schiavone reached and lobbed over the Dane’s head. Wozniacki raced back and somehow managed to return the shot and the Italian put her smash long. Wozniacki pumped her fist and Schiavone tossed her racket in the air.
“I already thought I lost it a few times,” Wozniacki said. “It was a pretty important one because it was a break point for five-all. It was good to get that one.”
Wozniacki, the top seed at next week’s US Open, came out for the second set with her right thigh wrapped. However, she said it was just a minor strain and will not affect her play.
“I did it for protection because I started feeling it a little bit in my groin, but it was more so it didn’t get worse,” she said. “I just wanted to wrap it up and make sure it didn’t get worse.”
The 26-year-old Cetkovska extended her amazing run through the field that had seen her beat Agnieszka Radwanska, Marion Bartoli and now Li — seeded fifth, fourth and second respectively — to become one of the more unlikely finalists on tour this year.
Cetkovska needed five match points to close out a match that lasted more than 2 hours, 40 minutes. She led 3-1 in the second set and 3-0 in the third, but nervousness allowed Li back into the match. The Czech double faulted while serving for the match to make it 5-5, and failed to convert three times on match point in the tiebreaker.
Li failed to hold serve in the first game of each set and found herself fighting from behind the entire match. The Chinese star, ranked No. 7, failed to convert on two match points of her own in the tiebreaker.
In the tiebreaker Cetkovska took an early 3-1 lead, but Li won four of the next five points and the two went back-and-forth from there.
Li double faulted on her serve to give Cetkovska a 9-8 lead. However, for the third time in the tiebreaker, Cetkovska could not close it out, sending a forehand volley into the net.
Li ended the next rally with a shot that was just long and Cetkovska finally took advantage.
She handled Li’s serve cleanly with a hard return and when Li’s volley sailed long and wide, Cetkovska let out a loud scream and threw her arms into the air.
Tournament officials were hoping to get the final in before the forecast heavy hurricane rains arrive, but brought in cranes on Friday after the semi-finals to remove the 1.8 tonne video scoreboards from the top of the Connecticut Tennis Center stadium. Smaller scoreboards were to be installed on the court as a safety precaution.