For a third time in four years, a qualifier has reached the Hobart International final. Madison Brengle follows in the footsteps of 2012 winner Mona Barthel and reigning champion Garbine Muguruza after beating Kurumi Nara 6-4 1-6 6-3 in the semi-finals.
“I’ve chased down just a couple of extra balls when I needed to,” said Brengle, an understatement from the American world No.84, whose run has also included three-set wins over Barthel and Italy’s Karin Knapp.
In blustery conditions on Centre Court at the Domain Tennis Centre, Brengle made a fine start to the first WTA semi-final of her career, her safety-first approach undoing Nara, who struggled with the wind from the outset.
Brengle opened up a 5-1 lead before Nara hit her stride. It was too late to rescue the first set but the Japanese No.1 romped through the second and looked in complete control. Brengle, in contrast, struggled with the hand injury that she picked up in the quarter-final against Karin Knapp.
“Once I got it taped on that set break I could play without really thinking about it,” Brengle said. “I was more concerned with the wind. But it has to be taped.”
Suitbly re-strapped, Brengle produced more of the combative, error-averse brand tennis that had seen her through those six matches in Hobart. At the other end Nara was beginning to feel the pace, calling for treatment for a stiff back and hip at 2-3.
As Nara’s movement slowed down she looked to rush her points, and paid a heavy price for dumping a volley in the net at 3-4. That left Brengle 15-40 up, and the American was left to serve for the match when Nara netted a forehand.
“Once you get that rhythm of getting a lot of matches under your belt it makes it a little bit easier to close out the matches,” admitted Brengle, who will face Heather Watson in the final, saying of her IMG Bollettieri stablemate: “She’s very, very, solid. She doesn’t give you anything.”
Could the American really match Barthel and Muguruza by winning the title? “I’ve got to move well, wrap my hand up, and I’ll do my best,” she said. It’s worked out for her this far.