Laura Robson's emergence as the most exciting young talent in British women's tennis for more than two decades gathered pace yesterday when the former Wimbledon junior champion reached her first final on the main Women's Tennis Association tour.
In beating Romania's Sorana Cirstea 6-4, 6-2 in the semi-finals in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, Robson became the first Briton for 22 years to reach the final of a tournament on the WTA tour. The last was Jo Durie, who was beaten by Spain's Arantxa Sanchez Vicario in the final at Newport, Rhode Island in 1990.
Today 18-year-old Robson will attempt to become the first Briton to claim a title on the tour since Sara Gomer won in Aptos 24 years ago. In the final Robson faces 26-year-old Su-Wei Hsieh, from Chinese Taipei.
Robson has maintained the form that took her to the fourth round of the US Open earlier this month. In her first appearance in Guangzhou the world No 74 beat Spain's Maria Teresa Torro-Flor (world No 111) and the Chinese pair of Jie Zheng (world No 22) and Peng Shuai (world No 47) to book her first meeting with 22-year-old Cirstea, the world No 30.
After saving three break points in the opening game Robson took charge. The Briton raced into a 5-1 lead, only for Cirstea to respond with two successive breaks of serve. However, when the Romanian served to stay in the set at 4-5 Robson forced two set points, the first of which she converted with a forehand winner.
The second set followed a similar pattern. Robson again went into a 5-1 lead but again failed to serve out for victory. Cirstea, however, was once more found wanting on her serve as Robson broke for the sixth time to secure victory after an hour and 29 minutes.
Robson was pleased with her performance. "Sorana is a really tough opponent to play because she plays so aggressively," Robson said. "I had to keep trying to take time away from her."
Hseih, the world No 53, who beat Poland's Urszula Radwanska 6-1, 3-6, 6-0, is likely to give Robson a tough test. They have not met in singles competition, but have been on opposite sides of the net three times this summer, with Hseih winning on each occasion – in women's doubles at Edgbaston and in both mixed and women's doubles at Wimbledon.
After the best year of her career Hseih has never been higher in the world rankings. She won her first WTA tournament in Kuala Lumpur earlier this year and last week won her second International Tennis Federation title of the campaign at Ningbo in China.
Robson, nevertheless, is also in top form, having become British No 1 for the first time earlier this week when she climbed to a career-high of No 74 in the world rankings, one place above Heather Watson. She is expected to rise another 10 places next week, whatever today's outcome. It has been quite a summer for Robson. After making her debut at the French Open, she enjoyed a good grass-court campaign before returning to grass to win an Olympic silver medal alongside Andy Murray in the mixed doubles.
At the US Open, Robson beat two Grand Slam champions in succession, Kim Clijsters and Li Na, to become the first British woman for 21 years to reach the fourth round. The most striking aspect of her improvement has been her results against higher-ranked players. Until June Robson had won only one of her 15 matches against opponents ranked inside the world's top 50; since June she has won nine out of 16 matches against top 50 opposition.