GUADALAJARA, Mexico: Second-seeded Maria Sakkari beat third-seeded Caroline Garcia 6-3, 6-0 yesterday to book a return trip to the Guadalajara WTA 1000 tournament, where she'll face first-time WTA finalist Caroline Dolehide.
Greece's Sakkari, ranked ninth in the world, is in the Guadalajara final for the second straight year.
Last year she battled through a string of tough three-setters, but this year she hasn't dropped a set on the way to the final, where she'll be seeking her first title since Rabat in 2019.
A victory would be a late high note in an up-and-down season that included a first-round exit at the US Open last month.
"I said it the first day that I felt like this was the week," said Sakkari, who lost to Jessica Pegula in last year's final. "This is the place where I was going to overcome a lot of difficult obstacles and difficult emotions.
"I don't want to go back to the US Open because that's passed, but I'm just so happy to be back in the final, I couldn't have asked for anything better."
Sakkari had just three unforced errors in the opening set, breaking for a 3-1 lead as she took control.
She broke Garcia to open the second set in a game the French player led 40-15, and fought off three break points to push her lead to 4-0.
Sakkari had lost three of four prior meetings with France's Garcia, finally getting past her in Doha this year.
"The last match we played was one of the toughest matches in my career," Sakkari said. "My goal today was to smile, to enjoy, to come out here and have fun. Because those are the emotions that I haven't felt in a while.
"I'm going to have the same goal tomorrow," she said.
Dolehide, playing in her first WTA semi-final, booked her first title match with a 7-5, 6-3 victory over resurgent 2020 Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin.
Dolehide rallied from a break down in each set to win the all-American semi, becoming the third unseeded finalist at a WTA 1000 event this year after Karolina Muchova in Cincinnati and Barbora Krejcikova in Dubai.
The 25-year-old ranked 111th in the world also became the second 1000-level finalist ranked outside the top 100 since the format was introduced in 2009.
Dolehide was down a break at 4-2 in the first set when she reeled off three straight games to take a 5-4 lead on the way to pocketing the set.
Trailing 3-1 in the second, Dolehide won five straight games for the victory, saving five break points in the final game before claiming the win on her first match point.
Dolehide's gritty victory follows a quarter-final win over Italian Martina Trevisan in which Dolehide saved four match points.