By DAN IMHOFF
On any other day, Julia Goerges would be confident of walking off the court with the win next to her name.
Such had been the air of confidence from the German since a run to the Wimbledon semi-finals last month that her level in the Connecticut Open semi-final on Friday would usually have been enough.
But a star in the making was trading blows with the last-standing seed.
Aryna Sabalenka, the athletic 6’0” Belarusian, just 20 years old, brought what Goerges offered and more to reach her third tour final of the season, the fourth of her career, with a 6-4, 7-6(3) triumph.
“I play a lot of two sets, not of three sets. I'm more fresh, ready for the final,” Sabalenka said. “It's not the first time, so a little bit I know what I have to do tomorrow, I mean mentality.
“If you not count the match with [Daria] Gavrilova, I was pretty calm on the court. I know what happened there. On another matches, I was really calm. This was the key for all matches.”
A maiden career title beckons and only Carla Suarez Navarro or Monica Puig stand in the way. It will be her first final as the highest-ranked player, having fallen to Maria Sharapova, Elise Mertens and Caroline Wozniacki in her first three.
“I mean, it doesn't matter the ranking of players. Everyone can play. This is so,” Sabalenka said. “But you just have to be focused on your game, to bring all what you have on the court. Doesn't matter if it's second in the ranking or it's like something else.”
Sabalenka was no one-trick pony. While able to blast heavy winners off both wings, she brought variety to the table with intermittent topspun groundstrokes to break Goerges’ rhythm and keep her pinned deep.
The intensity never wavered. Where impatience was often the 20-year-old’s undoing, she stuck with it.
After the German held for 4-4 on an 11-minute game, Sabalenka pounced two games later, breaking to love to secure the opening set.
That competitive fire was on full display when she roared with approval after she broke back to level in set No.2.
Again Goerges held the upper hand with a set point on serve at 6-5 but Sabalenka needed no invitation to punish anything passive and broke back to send the set to a tie-break.
From 3-0 down in the tie-break, the 20-year-old stormed back to reel off the final seven points of the match.
A thunderous backhand skimmed off the baseline to seal Goerges’ fate.
“I will tell myself like, ‘OK, this is the next one… try to enjoy it,” Sabalenka said. “Don't put too much pressure on yourself, just enjoy. It's enough.”
Sabalenka’s will be a name to remember should she complete the job on Saturday. It is a name now firmly in the mix of US Open title favourites.