Agnieszka Radwanska returned to the final of the WTA’s Eastbourne International for the first time since 2008 as the ninth seed defeated Sloane Stephens 6-1 6-7 (3-7) 6-2 in a windswept Friday showdown.
But her opponent in the final will not be, as expected, second seed Caroline Wozniacki but Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic after Wozniacki was forced to abandon their semi-final with a back injury when trailing 3-0 in the first set.
Radwanska rode wave after wave of momentum shifts in the challenging conditions as Stephens tried to duplicate the final showing of a year ago by American compatriot Madison Keys.
But Radwanska proved to be the more durable of the two, using her strategic and varied game to blunt the raw power of her opponent.
“I’m very happy to be in this final again,” said the 26-year-old from Poland. “It’s been a long time.
“Today it was so tough with the wind. it’s the worst thing for payers, It was a struggle form start to finish.”
Radwanska made a stand early in the match as she denied Stephens on ten break points in two service games before finally gaining control of the opening set.
In the second, the American’s level continued to fluctuate with Stephens looking down and out before suddenly breaking as Radwanska served for victory.
With the set reaching a tie-breaker, Stephens took her chance to level at one set each.
But Radwanska again found a way through in the third, despite losing serve while leading 3-1.
The seed broke back in the sixth game and closed out the challenging win on her second match point on a mis-hit which caught Stephens by surprise.
Radwanska ended with 19 unforced errors and 22 winners while Stephens showed an aggressive attack, firing 40 winners but making 43 unforced errors.
The winner saved 12 of 15 break points.
Radwanska will be seeking her first title since Canada last August.
“The match was up and down all the time, I was just fighting for each ball,” she said. “I had to be patient in these conditions, try to use the wind to my advantage when possible.
“I had my chances in the second set but she just played too well. I’m just glad to get the win. I knew I would face Sloane’s big forehand and serve.”
World No.13 Radwanska improved to 13-7 at Eastbourne, considered the prime women’s tune-up for Wimbledon starting on Monday.