The darling of the ASB Classic finally has a chance to claim her crown.
Croatian teen Ana Konjuh, who has laced up in Auckland since just after her 16th birthday, will play for the women’s title on Saturday against American battler Lauren Davis.
Steadily rising through the WTA since her 2014 pro debut, Konjuh dismantled last year’s Classic runner-up Julia Goerges 6-3 4-6 6-3 on Friday with a precise service game.
The big-hitting 19-year-old managed to get on top of Goerges early, breaking the German at 3-2 and going on to serve out the first set.
She then repeated the trick in the decider after a few hiccups in the second, breaking Goerges’ first and last third-set service to emerge triumphant.
Konjuh has had a strong connection to the tournament from day dot, going down to Davis 6-2, 2-6, 2-6 as a 16-year-old in the 2014 Classic second round.
She repeated the feat a year later before missing the 2016 event with injury.
“I wasn’t on my best game, two days ago I played much better and my serve wasn’t going that well tonight, but I just had to fight and I’m really happy,” Konjuh said.
“It wasn’t in my mind that I’d reach the final.”
While the final match-up is hardly what Classic organisers anticipated, it’s hard to argue the pair aren’t deserved 2017 finalists.
Konjuh enjoyed a little luck with the injury retirement of Japanese prodigy Naomi Osaka but has played with consistency, while Davis has shown plenty of commitment.
The 23-year-old went through earlier on Friday after flu-ridden Latvian teen Jelena Ostapenko pulled out, already doomed at 4-6 6-4 4-1.
The pair produced an error-strewn performance, frequently failing to hold serve and hitting a combined 16 double faults in the wind.
But Davis clearly got on top of her fatigued foe in the second half of the match, securing the second set before marching towards victory in the third.
“I’ve hung in there really well, taken advantage of the opportunities I’ve been given, played aggressively,” the world No.61 said.
Davis, who defeated both fifth-seed Kiki Bertens and fourth-seed Barbora Strycova, is coming off a solid late-2016 run, including a semi-final berth in three of her last four events.
“I ended the year with some good confidence and had a good off-season, had a lot of fun and improved and grew a lot,” Davis said.
Konjuh, ranked 47th in the world, likewise felt bullish about her chances after winning her maiden WTA singles title in Nottingham in 2015.
“She’s a fighter and I’ll have to keep playing my game,” Konjuh said.