Dubai: On a day of upsets, both remaining seeds crashed out of the 14th Al Habtoor Tennis Challenge, making today's final an un-seeded affair between Thailand's Noppawan Lertcheewakarn and her friend and doubles partner Kristina Mladenovic.
Lertcheewakarn overcame some late jitters to beat top seed Simona Halep of Romania 6-4, 7-5, while Mladenovic got the measure of sixth seed Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands, winning 6-2, 6-1. Today's final will be held at the Habtoor Grand Resort and Spa with a 2pm start. Entry is free.
"I will not be remembering that we are friends once I get on court," Lertcheewakarn told Gulf News as she looked forward to her meeting with Mladenovic.
"I won the last time that we played each other, but both of us have improved since then and it will be a completely different match," the 22-year-old Thai added.
That last time was at the 2009 Juniour Wimbledon finals, when Lertcheewakarn got the better of the French girl in three sets.
For some time now they have been partnering each other in doubles. "We've played three times as juniors and she [Lertcheewakarn] beat me easily. For sure, it will be a close and tough final," 18-year-old Mladenovic said.
"Right now I am not thinking about what will happen tomorrow. I just want to savour this moment as I am so happy that I managed to push myself and be in this final."
Watched by former men's world No 7 Mario Ancic of Croatia, yesterday's semi-final wins were both hard-fought, with Mladenovic playing a tactical match to oust Rus, while Lertcheewakarn, who was leading Halep 5-1 in the second and serving for the match, battled some late match jitters to finally win 7-5.
"I needed to close off the match and maybe I was too much in a hurry in that second set. But she [Halep] just hung in there," Lertcheewakarn said.
Mladenovic looked tired after her gruelling battle against Rus. "The scoreline can be so misleading when one considers that every point was so well-contested. I hope to get adequate rest and be ready for Lertcheewakarn tomorrow," she said.
Meanwhile, Nina Bratchikova and Darija Jurak scalped the pairing of Akgul Amanmuradovaand Alexandra Dulgheru 6-4, 3-6, 10-6 in the doubles.
This year's tournament — held under the patronage of Shaikh Hamdan Bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Minister of Finance and Industry and Deputy Ruler of Dubai — is sponsored by Al Habtoor Group, Al Habtoor Motors, Al Habtoor Leighton, Emirates International School, Dubai National Insurance and Reinsurance, Diamond Lease and Al Habtoor Hotels.
Women's singles semi-finals:
Kristina Mladenovic bt Arantxa Rus 6-2, 6-1; Noppawan Lertcheewakarn bt Simona Halep 6-4, 7-5.
Nina Bratchikova/Darija Jurak beat Akgul Amanmuradova/Alexandra Dulgheru 6-4, 3-6, 10-6.