TENNIS

Haddad Maia defeats Pliskova in Toronto to qualify for first WTA 1000 final

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Beatriz Haddad Maia’s breakthrough season took another step on Saturday as the Brazilian reached her first WTA 1000 final at the National Bank Open presented by Rogers.

Haddad Maia beat No. 14 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic 6-4, 7-6(7) in just over 2 hours to claim a spot in the final in Toronto. Haddad Maia’s result this week should put her in the Top 16 of the WTA singles rankings for the first time on Monday.

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“It’s a special moment,” Haddad Maia said in his post-match press conference. “I think I had a really tough draw. I had to push myself. I played a lot of tough times.”

Haddad Maia, currently ranked as a career world No. 24, beat former world No. 1 Pliskova for the second straight time with the semi-final victory, taking a 2-1 lead in their head-to-head.

Halep expects: Haddad Maia will now face another former world No. 1, Simona Halep, for the title on Sunday.

Halep beats Pegula to make Toronto final, return to Top 10

Halep won her first two meetings with Haddad Maia, in the second round of Wimbledon 2017 and in the same round at this year’s Australian Open. However, Haddad Maia picked up a victory over Halep in their third match, which she clinched en route to the Birmingham grass-court title this year.

“[Halep is] a champion,” Haddad Maia said. “She is a very hard working person. I know it will be a very difficult battle, but I will enjoy it. I will leave everything on the ground.

“I will try to play aggressive. I learned a lot today because in the moments when I was not too aggressive, [Pliskova] played better than me. … I want to improve this for tomorrow. So I will try to have fun and play point by point.”

Toronto: Haddad Maia defeats Pliskova and qualifies for the 3rd final of the year

Toronto 2022

Fast facts: It was on this year’s grass swing that Haddad Maia established herself as a rising player, winning her first two singles titles on the Hologic WTA Tour in Nottingham and Birmingham in consecutive weeks.

Haddad Maia has won 17 matches on tour since June, second only to Caroline Garcia’s 20 wins in that span. This season, Haddad Maia has made five semi-finals or better at tour level; only Iga Swiatek (8) and Halep (7) have more or better semis in 2022.

Haddad Maia’s rise culminated with a career milestone this week, when she became the first Brazilian woman to defeat a current world No. 1 with her round of 16 loss to Iga Swiatek.

The Brazilian has gone an incredible 7-1 against the top 20 this year, with four of those wins coming this week, including Saturday’s victory over Pliskova. Her only loss to a Top 20 player in 2022 came in the aforementioned loss to Halep at the Australian Open.

Haddad Maia also became the first Brazilian to reach a WTA 1000 quarter-final, semi-final and final this week. In addition, she is the first left-hander to reach the National Bank Open final since Petra Kvitova won the title in 2012.

Match moments: A strong start from Haddad Maia was dampened by last year’s runner-up Pliskova, who saved three set points at 5-3 and forced the Brazilian to serve for the set for the second time at 5-4. But Haddad Maia was up to the task, taking hold quickly.

This week’s aces point guard, Pliskova, turned the momentum in her favor as she battled her way to a 4-1 lead in the second set. However, with Pliskova serving for the set at 5-3, Haddad Maia found a series of powerful groundstrokes when she needed them, pulling the serve away.

In the tie-break, Haddad Maia couldn’t save the mini-breaks at 3-2 and 5-4, and she didn’t convert a match point at 6-5. Haddad Maia then had to save a set point at 7-6 with a forehand winner, but on the Brazilian’s second match point at 8-7, Pliskova double faulted to end the clash.

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