It took Belinda Bencic 3 hours and 7 minutes on Saturday to overcome Maria Sakkari and reach the final of the bett1open in Berlin, where she hopes to land the title, which would be one match further than her finalist run here last year.
I’m very confident on this surface, so I just tried to play my shots, she [Gauff] plays with a lot of power so coming into the match, I knew I had to play my own game. It means a lot to be in the final. I had no great expectations, I came here as fourth or fifth seed and then ended up first, but grass suits me well. Ons Jabeur
Bencic, the World No 17, pulled off a very tight win, 6-7(6) 6-4 6-4, to return to the final where her opponent on Sunday will be Ons Jabeur, who also had to dig deep to put away the precocious Coco Gauff, 7-6(4) 6-2, after an hour and 17 minutes.
Bencic faced a formidable foe in Sakkari, the 2nd seed, who stormed out of the blocks forcing the Swiss Olympic champion to use all her grass court skills to stay with her all the way to the tiebreak that the Greek managed to grab off a dead let-cord.
“I thought that was an incredible match,” Bencic said after her marathon encounter. “We both kind of pushed really hard, we both didn’t give each other anything.
“I think it was high quality, of course we held our serves as much as we could, and I really felt like we put on a show there.”
Maria Sakkari was kept on the full stretch by Belinda Bencic in Berlin
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It was, in fact, a thrilling contest, a high quality match skilfully played by both, that held the crowd on the edge of their seats right to the very last when one player had to win.
That proved to be Bencic, who broke Sakkari at 5-4 for a 3rd time to make it into her 15th career final, now seeking her 7th title.
It was the second meeting between Bencic and Sakkari at WTA level, and they now tie their head-to-head record at one win apiece after a battle that could not have been closer.
Both struggled on serve in the first set as each was broken twice and they pushed towards the breaker, where Bencic won the 11th point to clinch a set point at 6-5, but then lost the next 3 points and Sakkari’s return winner dropped off the net-cord to hand the Greek the opener after a topsy-turvy and enthralling 72 minutes.
It left the Swiss shaking her head in disbelief but, setting the disappointment aside, she managed to save 2 break points in the opening game of the second set, before breaking Sakkari in the 10th game, when the Greek was serving to try to hang on.
Bencic grabbed the lead with aplomb, holding to love for 5-4 with 3 straight backhand winners followed by an ace, and then converted her 5th break point of the next game with a return winner, levelling the match.
For the second set in a row, there were no breaks through 5-4 as the 3rd set remained very tight and evenly balanced but, once again, Bencic took her chance in the 10th game, converting her 3rd match point by following up a strong backhand with a put-away winner.
In one of the longest matches of the season, Bencic struck 41 winners, 19 of which came off her backhand wing
Bencic is now 4-2 lifetime against Top 10 players on grass, as she moves into the 5th grass-court final of her career, seeking her 2nd grass-court title, with her first coming at Eastbourne in 2015.
Last year, Bencic ended as the runner-up to Liudmila Samsonova, and, if she can out-duel Jabeur, the World No 4, against who she owns a 2-1 head-to-head, she will have gone one further.
Ons Jabeur got past Coco Gauff to reach the final of the Bett1 open where she will play Belinda Bencic at the Steffi-Graf-Stadion in Berlin
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In her semi-final, Jabeur, the top seed in Berlin, handled 18-year old Gauff in straight sets, who was trying to make her first grass final and break into the Top 10.
Jabeur had lost 3 of her 4 prior meetings against the recent Roland Garros finalist, but in this, their first grass-court encounter, she held the upper hand.
Gauff, the 7th seed who reached her first Grand Slam final on the clay of Roland Garros earlier this month, and has found her stride on the grass, kept things tight, bounding out to a 3-0 lead before Jabeur pegged things back.
The first set ground its way into a tiebreak, where the Tunisian leapt to a 6-2 lead and, although Gauff erased 2 set points, Jabeur finished off the opener with an ace on her 3rd chance.
She now had Gauff under real pressure, and dropped just a single point on her serve up to 5-1, while she broke the American teenager 3 times.
Even a last-minute break by Gauff to extend the match did not throw the Tunisian, and she broke to close out the victory, finishing with 18 winners to just 6 unforced errors.
Coco Gauff pushed Ons Jabeur all the way to a first set breaker before falling away in the second
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“I’m very confident on this surface, so I just tried to play my shots, she [Gauff] plays with a lot of power so coming into the match, I knew I had to play my own game,” said Jabeur.
The Tunisian, ranked 4th in the world, became the top seed in Berlin after both the World No 1 and 2, Iga Swiatek and Paula Badosa, pulled out of the WTA 500 tournament.
“It means a lot to be in the final,” said Jabeur. “I had no great expectations, I came here as fourth or fifth seed and then ended up first, but grass suits me well.”
Jabeur has made the finals now in 4 of her last 6 events, and this is her 8th career final as she seeks her 2nd grass court title, having become the first Arab woman to claim a Hologic WTA Tour singles title when she took the trophy on the Birmingham lawns last year.
Bencic has beaten Jabeur in 2 of their 3 meetings, which have all come on clay, the Swiss winning in the Charleston final, but the Tunisian gaining revenge in their last match en route to the Madrid title.
A general view during the semi-final match between Ons Jabeur of Tunisia and Coco Gauff on Saturday
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