Elena Rybakina to face Daria Kasatkina in Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open final

Russian seventh seed defeats Beatriz Haddad Maia 6-3, 4-6, 7-6 in a match lasting almost three hours

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Top seed Elena Rybakina will take on Russia's Daria Kasatkina in the Mubadala Abu Dhabi Open final after both players came through tough matches on Saturday.

After seventh seed Kasatkina needed almost three hours to get past Brazil's Beatriz Haddad Maia in the first semi-final 6-3, 4-6, 7-6; Rybakina had to hold off a spirited fightback from 2022 finalist Liudmila Samsonova to come through her last-four match 6-0, 4-6, 6-2.

Both Rybakina and Kasatkina will be contesting their second finals of the season; the Kazakh world No 5 opened her 2024 campaign by winning the Brisbane International, while world No 14 Kasatkina reached the title match in Adelaide.

Based on past meetings, there is nothing between Rybakina and Kasatkina, who share two wins each from their previous four matches, although the top seed did win their one meeting in Abu Dhabi back in 2021.

"We've played each other a few times and it was always tough," Rybakina, 24, said of her final opponent. "Especially in these conditions, it is a little bit slow, so it won't be easy. [Kasatkina] has a completely different style to Liudmila so I will have to adapt quickly tomorrow, stay aggressive and have really good footwork."

Kasatkina was the first to book her place in the final and she needed to do it the hard way. When she held a 2-0 lead in the second set after winning the first set relatively comfortably, few would have expected the match to last two hours and 59 minutes.

But that's exactly what happened as Haddad Maia fought admirably to get herself back in the contest. The Brazilian dug deep when she most needed to, winning three straight games to establish a 4-2 lead in the second set – an advantage she maintained to level the match as both players held firm on serve.

The Brazilian was in the ascendancy and she twice led by a single break in a dramatic deciding set, first for 2-0 and then for 3-2. Now it was Kasatkina’s turn to grind her way back into the contest, and she did exactly that to level in the next game.

As the tension rose, both players had their opportunities to break serve at critical moments. First, Kasatkina saw three break points come and go at 4-3 – which would have given her the opportunity to serve for the match – before Haddad Maia had two of her own in the next game.

Kasatkina then had to fend off two more break points when serving at 5-5, before the match ultimately went to the tiebreak. There, it was Kasatkina who assumed control, racing into a 6-2 lead and clinching victory on her first match point.

"Super happy with the match and the outcome," Kasatkina said. "I was ready for this. Against Beatriz, you can be up 5-0 and still, nothing is guaranteed. She is a big fighter, she will not give away anything for free. I just tried to be focused on every point and to be ready for the next. It worked pretty well today."

Kasatkina is into an impressive 15th career final, although she will need to buck a recent trend that has seen her lose her three most recent finals – all in straight sets.

To make it fourth time lucky, the Russian will need to be at her best against one of the WTA Tour's best players on Sunday.

Rybakina had never beaten Samsonova in four previous meetings but looked in the mood to change that on Saturday when she raced into a one-set lead in just 25 minutes.

Yet, any plans Rybakina had of a quick and straightforward match were disrupted when Samsonova, who left the court between sets, came out firing. The Russian looked transformed and much more like the player who had bulldozed her way through the previous rounds this week. She established a 4-1 lead with two breaks of serve, and while Rybakina reduced the deficit with a break of her own, the eighth seed comfortably levelled the match to force a deciding set.

However, any momentum Samsonova hoped to have was swiftly halted as Rybakina came out the stronger player, earning her first break for a 3-1 lead. With the Kazakh remaining rock solid behind her brilliant serve, the pressure eventually told and Samsonova was broken a second time while trying to stay in the match as Rybakina took the victory in one hour 51 minutes.

"I'm really happy to be in the final," Rybakina said. "It was a tough battle but I was very pleased with my performance today."

Updated: February 10, 2024, 5:19 PM