Former world number one Caroline Wozniacki produced a spirited fightback to beat fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska 4-6, 7-5, 6-4 and reach the Pan Pacific Open final on Saturday.
Awaiting the Dane in Sunday’s Tokyo final will be Japanese teenager Naomi Osaka, who continued her fairytale run with a 1-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory over Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina.
Wozniacki, Pan Pacific champion six years ago, starts favourite as she goes in search of a 24th career title.
But she had to claw her way back from 3-1 down in both the second and third sets against Radwanska, finally ending the Pole’s resistance on her fourth match point by forcing her into a loose forehand she dumped tamely into the net.
At times it wasn’t pretty, but Wozniacki’s gritty display will give her confidence a further lift after battling back from a wretched run of injuries this year to reach the US Open semi-finals earlier this month.
“It’s good to be back,” she told reporters after almost three hours on court.
“It’s always a grind when you’re injured to come back but you have to go with it. My body feels good and it’s nice the hard work is paying off.”
Wozniacki had seen her world ranking plunge to 74th after suffering wrist and ankle trouble, her father even telling a Danish tabloid the 26-year-old could walk away from tennis.
“I was just fighting to get healthy again and that’s that really,” she said, brushing off retirement talk. “I’m in the final here and that’s all I’m thinking about now.”
Despite coughing up the first set on a double fault, Wozniacki showed glimpses of her old form in an error-strewn match featuring 13 breaks of serve.
A whipped crosscourt forehand to take the initiative at 4-3 in the decider left Radwanska shaking her head and a full-blooded backhand drive to consolidate the break in the next game demonstrated why she used to be such a force.
Wozniacki, who carried her nation’s flag at this summer’s Rio Olympics, is looking to maintain her streak of having won a title in every year since 2008.
Osaka reached her first WTA final after recovering from a poor start against Svitolina, smashing her racquet on the court as her opponent ran away with the first set.
But the 18-year-old, born of a Japanese mother and Haitian father, roared back and closed out proceedings with an acrobatic volley down the middle of the court.