TORONTO – Serena Williams withstood the determined challenge of Czech qualifier Marie Bouzkova Saturday, rallying for a 1-6, 6-3, 6-3 victory to reach the Rogers Cup final.
Williams, seeded eighth in a tournament she has won three times, will take on local hope Bianca Andreescu in the championship match on Sunday.
Williams will be seeking her first title since she won her 23rd Grand Slam title at the 2017 Australian Open — and her first since the birth of her daughter Olympia on Sept. 1 of that year.
Meanwhile, 19-year-old Andreescu will be trying to become the first Canadian in 50 years to lift the trophy.
Bouzkova, 21 years old and ranked 91st in the world, had said it was a dream come true to take on 37-year-old U.S. superstar, and she made a dream start — breaking Williams three times to take the first set in less than half an hour.
But Williams rallied, slashing her unforced errors in a second set that saw her win the last four games to force the decider.
“I just needed to be more consistent and not make so many errors and just mentally be ready to hit a thousand balls if I needed to,” Williams said. “In the first set, I was going for a little too much, so I just had to just play a different game.”
The hard work wasn’t over, as Williams had to fight off three break points in the third game of the third set.
She broke Bouzkova in the next game to finally take control and end the Czech’s breakout week.
Bouzkova departs Toronto having beaten three straight Grand Slam winners in Sloane Stephens, Jelena Ostapenko and, in the quarterfinals, reigning Wimbledon champion Simona Halep — who retired injured after dropping the first set on Friday night.
Williams said she was looking forward to taking on Andreescu, whose run to the final has electrified Toronto crowds.
“I’ve never faced her, but I’ve kind of become a fan with everyone rooting and cheering so hard,” Williams said. “It’s kind of been contagious, the ‘Bianca Effect.’ “
Andreescu shot to prominence with a victory at Indian Wells in March, but this week marks her first tournament since she was forced out of the French Open with a shoulder injury.
“I’ve been through so much the last two months,” Andreescu said. “All I can say is that I’m just so happy to be back on court right now. My shoulder’s good. I’m in the finals of the Rogers Cup. Life’s freaking amazing.”
Top-seeded defending champion Rafael Nadal reached the final of the men’s Rogers Cup on Saturday in Montreal when Gael Monfils of France withdrew before their semifinal.
Nadal will face eighth-seeded Daniil Medvedev, a 6-1, 7-6 (8-6) winner over sixth-seeded Karen Khachanov in the all-Russian semifinal.
“It’s extra special,” Medvedev said about facing Nadal for the first time. “I played Novak (Djokovic) and Roger (Federer) a few times. It’s different . . . there is some extra pressure.”
Nadal won last year in Toronto for his fourth title in the event. He has 82 singles victories, winning the French Open in June for his second title of the year.
Monfils, seeded 16th, outlasted 10th-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain 6-4, 3-6, 7-6 (7-2) in a match suspended Friday night because of lightning. Monfils finally finished off Agut after a rain delay Saturday, but battled a sore left ankle that forced him to pull out of the semifinal.
Monfils consulted with his coach about the decision to withdraw.
“He said, ‘You can’t take the risk,'” Monfil said. “I had retired in Wimbledon. I came back. I played this week. I had played a huge match. It was risky to play another match because I could risk hurting myself for real.”