The Nature Valley International finals are set with Caroline Wozniacki taking on Aryna Sabalenka for the women’s title, and Lukas Lacko and Misha Zverev lining up to contest the men’s title on Saturday.
Tournament top seed Caroline Wozniacki had to dig deep to save a match point, trailing No 4 seed Angelique Kerber 5-6 in the second set, before a disciplined third set performance carried her through to her third Eastbourne final in 10 visits to Devonshire Park.
Recording her 30th match victory of the season, Wozniacki improved her head-to-head record against Kerber to 7-8, to reach the 53rd final of her career.
“I knew it was going to be difficult again out there today, but I got a little lucky in that second set and just kept my head down for the third one,” said Wozniacki.
“I got lucky to break her there at 6-5. I saved a match point when we had a great rally and I managed to hit the corner on that match point.Then, in the tiebreaker, I started off aggressively and it went my way and I hit a few lines and it just kind of went from there.”
Sabalenka will bid for her maiden WTA Tour title after dispatching 2008 Eastbourne champion Agnieszka Radwanska 6-3 1-6 6-3 in the semifinals.
Starting the match with all guns blazing, the Belarusian suffered a temporary dip in form in the second set, before blasting her way out of trouble and into the first Premier level final of her career.
The third woman from Belarus to reach the final at Eastbourne, Sabalenka said she was delighted with her performance so far during a week that’s seen her beat three seeded opponents and record her first top 10 victory (over world No.7 Karolina Pliskova).
Saturday’s final will be Wozniacki and Sabalenka’s first meeting, and the world No.45 said: “One week before I didn’t know I will make a final here, but then I just tried to show my best, because I know I can play well. I did my best, and now I’m in the final and I’m so happy.”
And she said it felt amazing to reach the final at Eastbourne. “I remember when I was young I would watch (Wozniacki’s) game... and I thought: ‘it would be nice to play against her, I hope it will happen sometime’. Now I play a final with her and I’m happy.”
In the opening men’s semifinal, Lacko posted a confidence performance to earn his place in the second ATP final of his career, beating Marcos Cecchinato 6-3 6-4.
The 30-year-old world No.94, who scored the biggest win of his career this week, when he beat world No 11 Schwartzman in the second round, said he was surprised by the ease with which he reached Saturday’s final.
“I expected a little bit more from Cecchinato,” said Lacko. “I didn’t see him play like he did in his first two matches.
“I pretty much knew what he was going to do during the match, but it wasn’t coming; he kept missing and he didn’t serve well, and I was expecting moments where he’d grow into the game.
“But he was missing too much today; easy shots, and my performance was solid. I saw he was struggling so I didn’t want to make any silly moves or decisions, just tried and take my chances.”
Zverev will be Lacko’s opponent, the German beating Mikhail Kukushkin 7-6(9) 6-4. Zverev leads the head to head against Lacko 1-0, going into tomorrow’s final, where he will also be bidding for his first career title.
“It wasn’t easy to play as he was a tricky opponent,” said Zverev of his clash with Kukushkin. “[How I do tomorrow] depends who’s going to be more nervous. (Lacko) could play above his own level and play incredible tennis or not, in the final anything can happen, and hopefully I’ll go out there and not regret anything afterwards.”
Luke Bambridge and Jonny O’Mara won a seesawing all-British men’s doubles final at the Nature Valley International on Friday, beating the Skupski Brothers 7-5 6-4
The Skupskis led early in the opening set, but it was not to be for two-time Eastbourne finalist Ken and his brother Neal. Bambridge and O’Mara overhauled their more-experienced opposition late in the opening set and stormed on to claim their first ATP doubles title.
“It’s been unbelievable,” said Bambridge. “It’s been something I don’t think either of us expected. We started playing together two months ago and we started with a tournament in Mexico, we started very fast, got to the final of that tournament. Then we had a lot of good form going into Surbiton, we lost in the final of the Loughborough challenge a couple of weeks before, so we were feeling quietly confident going into the grass court swing, but this is something I didn’t expect.
“If you told me we’d win five grass games I would’ve signed for it, but after eight and two tournament [victories] maybe if we keep playing in this way then maybe it’s something we can come to expect from ourselves; this level of tennis that we’re playing.”
Friday’s women’s doubles semi-finals saw Irina-Camelia Begu and Mihaela Buzarnescu beat Lyudmyla Kichenok and Ekaterina Makarova 4-6 6-0 10-6 to earn a finals berth against tournament No.4 seeds Gabriela Dabrowski and Yifan Xu, the winners over Su-wei Hsieh and Sabalenka, 6-7(4) 7-5 13-11.
Elsewhere on day six at the Nature Valley International, world No.1 Alfie Hewett avenged his French Open loss to British No.2 Gordon Reid in Saturday’s wheelchair tennis exhibition match, defeating his compatriot 8-6 at Devonshire Park.
The USA completed a clean sweep over Great Britain in the Maureen Connolly Trophy on Friday, the American team of Alexa Noel, Francesca Jones, Whitney Osuigwe, Caty McNally and Cori Gauff beating Holly Fischer, Francesca Jones, Victoria Allen, Nell Miller and Destinee Martins on the grass courts at Devonshire Park.
Reigning French Open junior champion Gauff, said the grasscourt experience she’d gained during the Maureen Connolly Trophy had been invaluable. “I’ve only just started to play on grass,” said the 14 year old. “I like it but I need more time on it. I think I played on grass three times last year and coming from America we don’t have many grass courts so especially we Americans need as many matches on it as we can get.”