Haddad Maia shifts focus on making history with trip to National Bank Open final

Brazil's Beatriz Haddad Maia continued her storied tournament run knocking off former World No. 1 Karolina Pliskova in straight sets 6-4, 7-6 to advance to her first career WTA 1000 final.

TORONTO — She earned one upset that really stung here in Toronto, when she knocked off Canada’s very own Leylah Fernandez.

Next, Beatriz Haddad Maia scored the biggest possible upset at the National Bank Open, dropping the world No. 1, Iga Swiatzk, putting a shocking end to the top-ranked player’s run here. In the quarter-final on Friday, Haddad Maia’s roll continued as she knocked off the world No. 12.

And in Saturday’s semifinal, the unseeded Brazilian beat yet another seeded player to punch her ticket all the way to the National Bank Open championship, with a gutsy two-set victory over former world No. 1, Karolina Pliskova, 6-4, 7-6 (9).

“I’m happy,” a smiling Haddad Maia said, just after it was over. “I’m very happy.”

With four upsets under her belt, up next for Haddad Maia is the final on Sunday at 1:30 p.m. ET against world No. 15 Simona Halep. It’s the biggest match of her career, and that’s where her focus shifted immediately after her win Saturday.

“In tennis, it's crazy that even when you have nice moments, you need to prepare yourself for the next day,” Haddad Maia said. “It is like being like 0-0. We never have moments like very happy and very sad. So I try to balance in my mind.”

And then she added: “But no, for sure inside me I'm very happy with the moment.”

Haddad Maia really should be. She’s making history, after all, as the first Brazilian to crack a WTA Masters 1000 event final. There were more than a few Brazilian soccer jerseys in the crowd on Saturday, more than a few fans yelling “Let’s go, Bea!” and one sign that read: “You make us proud,” featuring a Brazilian flag.

“It's very important and it's a pleasure for me to be not even only Brazilian, but a woman from South America,” Haddad Maia said. “We have a lot of men, Argentinian and other Brazilian people playing big tournaments also. But it's very special to represent the woman's power at this stage of the tournament. I'm very proud of myself and my team.”

Haddad Maia’s roll didn’t just begin in Toronto. The powerful southpaw was ranked 183rd in the world at this time last year, and with two wins under her belt already this season, both on grass, she’s now up to No. 24 and projected to move into the top 20 next week for the first time in her career.

“I think I'm having a lot of nice things coming through in the last few weeks in my career. Again, I think the results come because of the hard work,” she said. “But I always try to be positive and push myself 110 percent. I'm happy that I could make it during this week in Canada.”

On Saturday, Haddad Maia came out of the gate firing. She broke Pliskova to start, and again to take a 4-1 lead, doing little fist-pumps after each point she won, and even just before she received Pliskova’s serve, which is an absolute boomer — Pliskova had nine aces in the match.

Pliskova took her game up a level late in the first set. She broke Haddad Maia when the lefty was serving for the set. When Haddad Maia did convert on set point, after Pliskova sent a shot into the net, Haddad Maia crouched down and pumped both fists and looked at her team in the stands and yelled “Yeah!”

“I'm a very emotional person,” Haddad Maia said, flashing a grin that was present for nearly the entire post-match press conference. “I like to get the energy. I look a lot to them [her team]. Sometimes too much. But, yeah, they are very important.”

Haddad Maia looked at her team even more in the second set. Pliskova took early control, opening with a break and firing back-to-back aces in two games. The world No. 14 was up 4-1 in the set, but Haddad Maia responded and got the game back on serve. In the tiebreak, Pliskova staved off one match point with a forehand winner. But on Match Point No. 2 for Haddad Maia, Pliskova, who’d been painting lines with her serve, registered her sixth double-fault of the match, and it was all over.

Haddad Maia smiled and stuck out her tongue and again looked over at her coaches, pumping her fist.

“Each round I was getting more confident,” she said. “I was believing more and more in me. And yeah, that’s why I think I’m here in the final.”

Her opponent, Halep, is a two-time winner of this tournament, and a two-time Grand Slam champion, to boot. Haddad Maia beat Halep in June on grass, though Halep won their two meetings before that.

“For me, she is one of the most competitive players in the Tour,” Haddad Maia said. “I know it will be a very tough battle. But I'm going to enjoy. I'm going to leave everything on the court.”

So far, that’s worked awfully well for Haddad Maia. And now all that’s left for her to do here in Toronto is register one more upset.

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