STANFORD, CALIFORNIA (TICKER)
-- Sania Mirza is already the most successful tennis player from India. Now she's emerging as one of the better players on the WTA Tour.
Mirza advanced to the finals of the $600,000 Bank of the West Classic on Saturday with a 6-2, 5-7, 6-3 victory against No. 8 seed Sybille Bammer of Austria.
En route to her first finals appearance since August 2005 at Forest Hills, Mirza beat three players ranked 22nd or better in the world. Before defeating Bammer (No. 22) in their 134-minute match on the hardcourt, the 20-year-old ousted Patty Schnyder (No. 17) in the quarters and Tatiana Golovin (No. 19) in the second round.
"It's a great start to the hardcourt season," Mirza said. "I've had great wins here and I'm starting to hit the ball better."
Mirza's foe in Sunday's final will be top-seeded Anna Chakvetadze of Russia, who outlasted No. 3 Daniela Hantuchova of Slovakia, 6-7 (6-8), 6-3, 6-2 in Saturday's other semifinal match that lasted 2 hours, 18 minutes.
Chakvetadze earned a three-set victory against Mirza in the semifinals at Cincinnati last week. In their only other meeting, also a semifinal encounter, Chakvetadze won in straight sets en route to here title at Hobart in January.
Ranked 35th on the tour, Mirza earned a critical break of Bammer in the third set to take a 4-3 advantage. After holding serve, Mirza broke Bammer again to secure the win.
"I tried to be more aggressive in the third set and play like I did in the first set," said Mirza, who was sidelined for 2 1/2 months earlier this year due to a knee injury. "I started to feel tired late in the second set and then I regrouped. It was all mental. I told myself to hang in there and I did."
This will be Mirza's first Tier II finals appearance. In her only career singles win, she captured the title at Hyderabad (Tier IV) in 2005 and became the first player from India to win a title on the Tour.
"In the second set she was a little shaky, a little nervous," Bammer said. "But in the third set she played great tennis. She played deep and I couldn't move her.
"I was hoping she'd get nervous at the end of the third set, but I lost my serve ... she's one of the hardest hitters on the tour. She's improved a lot in her footwork."
Chakvetadze has won eight consecutive hardcourt matches and is in position to capture her second straight singles title.
She claimed her fifth career title and third this season last week at the Western and Southern Financial Group Women's Open in Cincinnati, also a hardcourt event. Ranked eighth in the world, the 20-year-old also has claimed titles at Hobart and 's-Hertogenbosch this season.
The pair traded two breaks in the opening set to force a tiebreak. After going ahead 5-2 in the tiebreak, the 24-year-old Hantuchova allowed Chakvetadze to knot things at 5-5 before recovering to earn an eventual 8-6 triumph.
The top seed rebounded by losing just five games over the next two sets to advance to the title match and play for the $88,265 first prize.
Hantuchova was seeking a chance for the third singles title of her career. She won at Indian Wells earlier this year, the same venue she earned the first title of her career in 2002.