Maria Sakkari advances to season-ending WTA Finals in Tianjin

Greece’s Maria Sakkari advanced to the season-ending WTA Finals, holding off Kristina Mladenovic 7-6 (4), 4-6, 6-4 in the semi-finals of the Rolex Tennis Masters Cup in Tianjin, China.

Sakkari eliminated second-seeded Simona Halep earlier in the day.

Sakkari will play the winner of Carla Suarez Navarro and Elina Svitolina in the third place match Monday.

Mladenovic had won four consecutive matches coming into the semi-final and gave Sakkari a challenging tussle, but with the younger player breaking serve five times, and double-faulting away two opportunities to close out the match at 5-4 in the decider, Sakkari prevailed.

Sakkari will now move up to the third tier of tournaments this year, but will not be eligible to make it into the eight-woman WTA Finals in Singapore in November.

The Spanish Navarro is 30-11 in 2017 and, with a 5-5 record this season, is now looking to qualify for Singapore. The 27-year-old Russian Svitolina is 28-9 and is looking to qualify for Singapore.

With the 2015 Finals being held in Singapore, it was believed that 2015 finalist Caroline Wozniacki was eyeing Sakkari for finals berth. The 2016 Shanghai Masters finalist is currently 10th on the world rankings, while Sakkari is 23rd.

Sakkari has risen to 15th on the WTA rankings from 25th this year, after winning three straight tournaments in Taipei, San Jose and Miami.

Sakkari took the lead in the second set, holding for 2-1, then went on a run of 3-0 to close it out, but could not finish the job in the fourth set.

Mladenovic converted her only break point opportunity of the match in the fourth game of the second set, then was broken when she wasted break points in game six.

Sakkari, the Romanian-born 20-year-old, was forced to save a break point of her own in game three of the third set.

It was Mladenovic who looked like the fresher player in the final set, holding serve to lead 4-3, after breaking Sakkari’s serve to move in front in the tiebreak.

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