SYDNEY (Reuters) - Former world number one Angelique Kerber registered her eighth win in as many matches in 2018 with a 6-2 6-3 victory over Italian qualifier Camila Giorgi as the German advanced to the Sydney International final on Friday.
Giorgi, belying her ranking of world number 100, had defeated U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens in the first round, ousted twice Wimbledon and former Sydney champion Petra Kvitova and raced past Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1 6-2 in the last eight.
But Kerber, currently ranked 22nd in the world after a disappointing 2017 campaign, proved too strong for Giorgi despite the Italian racing to a 3-0 lead in the second set.
The 29-year-old Kerber, who won the Australian and U.S. Open titles in 2016, was resolute in defence against her aggressive opponent and advanced to a first individual final since Monterrey in April last year.
Awaiting the German in the final will be Ashleigh Barty, who overcame a slow start to win her all-Australian semi-final against Daria Gavrilova 3-6 6-4 6-2.
“I just tried to play my tennis like I’ve played the last years and I’m so happy to be in the final in the first tournament of the year,” Kerber said in a court-side interview.
“She’s (Giorgi) beaten a lot of good players this week and so I was just trying to get a lot of balls back. I’m very happy with my performance.”
The 21-year-old Barty needed one hour, 58 minutes to see off the challenge of Russian-born Gavrilova as both players struggled to hold serve throughout the match.
Barty held just once in the first set but reversed the momentum in the second when she broke in the ninth game after Gavrilova double faulted twice, which prompted the 23-year-old to smash her racquet in frustration and earn a code violation.
Barty then broke early in the decider and again in the seventh game to finally pull away for the win.
“I certainly shot myself in the foot with my serve today,” she said. “But happy to get through in the end and get another opportunity tomorrow.
“It’s been a pleasure playing here this week.”
Gavrilova was playing her third successive Australian opponent in Sydney.
She had already beaten Olivia Rogowska in the first round and former U.S. Open champion Sam Stosur in the second and advanced to the semi-finals after Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza withdrew with a hip injury.
In the men’s section, Australian teenager Alex de Minaur booked his spot in the final after rallying to beat Benoit Paire of France 4-6 6-1 6-1 in one hour and 50 minutes.
De Minaur, ranked 167 in the world, became the youngest ATP World Tour finalist since American Taylor Fritz at Memphis 2016 and the 18-year-old will now take on Russian qualifier Daniil Medvedev in the final.
Medvedev defeated Italian fourth seed Fabio Fognini 2-6 6-4 6-1 in the day’s first semi-final.
Reporting by Greg Stutchbury in Wellington and Sudipto Ganguly in Mumbai; Editing by John O'Brien and Toby Davis