Former French Open champion Iga Swiatek beat two-time Grand Slam winner Simona Halep 7-6 (8/6), 6-4 on Friday to reach the Indian Wells WTA final.
Poland's Swiatek, the world number four who is assured of rising to a career-high third in the world next week and could go as high as No. 2, will play either defending champion Paula Badosa of Spain or Greece's Maria Sakkari in Sunday's championship match.
Badosa is vying to become the first woman to win back-to-back Indian Wells titles since Martina Navratilova in 1990-91.
"Really it's over my expectations so I'm very happy," said Swiatek, who said she came into the prestigious event in the California desert doubtful she could follow up her fourth career title in Doha with another deep tournament run.
But she rallied from a break down in each set and saved two set points in the first-set tiebreaker to notch a 10th straight WTA match win.
"It was really intense," Swiatek said, "really physical. I think we had the longest rallies I played here.
The 20-year-old evened her head-to-head record against Halep at two wins apiece, but she admitted it required a change in mindset taking on a player who was once ranked so much higher than herself.
"I had to fight to the end and be mentally stronger," she said. "Simona is a really strong player mentally and she's not giving up so I wanted to do that better."
Halep, who lifted the Indian Wells trophy in 2015, couldn't get back to the final but ended another strong week as she returns from a 2021 season marred by calf and knee injuries.
Ranked third in the world at this time last year, Halep came into the tournament ranked 26th. She was playing in her third semi-final of the year which started with a victory in the Melbourne Summer Set.
A taut duel was only made more intense by vocal fans cheering on each player. Halep gained a 5-4 lead with her second break of the opening set, but she couldn't close it out in the next game and they went to the tiebreaker.
The Romanian again had the upper hand in the tiebreaker, but at 6-4 she fired a backhand long and Swiatek won the next three points -- saving a set point with a deep backhand volley then clinching the set with a blistering return of a Halep second serve.
A frustrated Halep was warned after thumping her racquet down in disgust and Swiatek, her confidence bolstered, broke Halep for a 2-1 lead in the second.
But the set unfolded much like the first.
After having her left thigh taped by the trainer, Halep reclaimed the break and grabbed another to move ahead 4-2 on a pair of forehand errors from Swiatek.
But once again the Romanian couldn't maintain the advantage as Swiatek put it back on serve in the seventh game, launching a run of four straight games to seal the win and become the second Polish player to reach the Indian Wells final after Agnieszka Radwanska -- who finished runner-up to Italy's Flavia Pennetta in 2014.
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