The second seed Lucie Safarova will play the fourth seed Samantha Stosur in the final of the International level J&T Banka Prague Open, held on clay courts in the Czech Republic.
Safarova suffered a bacterial infection towards the end of last season, causing her to skip this year's Australian Open and fall outside of the world's top 10. With her health and match fitness compromised, the Czech had struggled to win matches recently, losing 11 of 12 played since New Haven last August and all five she'd contested this year.
However, playing before a home-crowd in Prague seems to have rekindled Safarova's long lost form in reaching her first final since New Haven. After recovering from a set behind in her opening match to end her dreary losing streak, the second seed has gone from strength to strength. In the semifinals, she defeated the reigning champion and third seed Karolina Pliskova 6-4, 7-6(4) in a match featuring only three service breaks, avenging a defeat from just over a week in Stuttgart, where she lost to her compatriot 7-5 in the third set.
Stosur has had an uneventful season until now, at best reaching one quarterfinal in Sydney. Despite the clay being arguably her best surface, the Australian has struggled to win on it as of late, losing in the third round of Charleston and both of her Fed Cup rubbers against the USA.
Like Safarova though, Stosur has managed to turn it around in Prague after recovering from a set behind in the first round. The fourth seed's toughest test of the week thus far came against the in-form fifth seed Barbora Strycova in the quarterfinals, whom she survived 6-3, 6-7(3), 7-6(4) before benefiting from the withdrawal of top seed Svetlana Kuznetsova to reach her first final since Bad Gastein last July.
Safarova has won six titles compared to the eight finals she's lost, last winning Doha in February 2015. Despite losing in the first round here one year ago, the 29-year-old reached the French Open final and achieved a career high of number five in the world. Though she's twice won this title as an ITF event in 2012 and 2013, the last time she won a WTA title on clay was as far back as Estoril in 2005.
Stosur has also lost more finals than she's won, winning eight compared to 14 lost. The former world number four and 2011 US Open champion's last title came in Bad Gastein, one of three titles she's won on clay as a former French Open finalist herself. Amazingly, it's been a decade since the 32-year-old last competed at this event, losing then in the final to Shahar Peer.
Safarova dominates the head-to-head 10-3. Their encounters are typically close and hard fought, with Safarova winning their latest meeting in Doha last year 7-6(3) 6-4, just weeks after having lost 7-6(3), 5-7, 6-3 in Sydney. On clay, Safarova leads 2-0, both meetings being decided in three sets on the green clay courts in Charleston.
The Czech's game is centred on her versatile left handed serve, which she will use to best effect by swinging it to Stosur's weaker backhand. As her groundstrokes are flat and aggressive, the world number 16 can make a number of errors but will undoubtedly succeed in rushing Stosur off the ground, particularly given the Australian's lack of explosive movement.
Stosur must use her own heavier serve to set up a winning forehand as Safarova also struggles when on the defensive. The world number 25 can't afford to engage in long baseline rallies and must make the most of the heavy clay to look to outmaneuver her opponent.
The head-to-head reveals the difficulties Stosur faces as her kick serve, so effective against right handers, sits nicely in Safarova's forehand strike zone and her weaker backhand is exposed by Safarova's serve. In a match where service breaks will be hard to come by but crucial, Safarova has a distinct advantage.
Prediction: Lucie Safarova in three sets