By Neil-Monticelli Harley-Rudd
Jamie Hampton sent former world no1 Caroline Wozniacki crashing out the AEGON International with a sizzling and determined display to book a place in Saturday’s final for a shot at her first WTA Tour title.
The 23-year-old American ace, who was two points away from defeat, battled back to register her sixth success since Saturday with a 6-7 7-5 6-3 triumph in a marathon 164 minutes.
And Hampton repeated Austria’s Tamira Paszek’s 2012 Eastbourne feat by becoming a qualifier to reach the final at Devonshire Park by hammering 48 winners, twice as many as Wozniacki.
“I didn’t come just to play the qualifying and I was hoping to get deep into this tournament.
“The conditions were a little tricky today, I’ve noticed that about Eastbourne – the conditions are a little rougher than everywhere else.
“I’m proud of myself, but I had a few set points in the first and kind of choked them away a little bit.”
Hampton started the week at the sleepy seaside resort as world no41 but will climb as 19 ranking places if she is crowned champion on Saturday.
Wozniacki was unable to match Hampton’s raw power and fierce shots, and soon slipped behind in the opening set. But the Dane averting the scares trailing 4-2 and 5-4 to force a tiebreak, which she scraped 8-6 from a 5-2 deficit after 62 minutes, and sealed with a backhand cross-court drive.
With the Danish star on the brink of victory at 5-4 30-0, Hampton fought back brilliantly and levelled matters with an outrageously ambitious backhand winner down the line to stun Wozniacki.
The Dane was then gifted three break points, but Hampton dug deep to square the intriguing tie. Although Wozniacki appeared to be en route to within touching distant of claiming her first title since October 2012, she surprisingly fluffed the hour-long second set after leading 5-4 by losing the next three games.
Wozniacki appeared again surged ahead, taking a 2-0 third set lead but Hampton kept thundering winners to level the contest.
But Wozniacki, using her new blackened out Yonex racquet to great effect to utilise both her spin and becoming a driving force from the baseline with thunderous drives, was outperformed in the decisive set.
Hampton continued to force the Dane to scramble for points, and once she broke serve in the eighth game there was only one winner in their first encounter on the WTA circuit.
Hampton’s gutsy exploits at Eastbourne this week will make her a player, assuming she is not too exhausted after seven matches at the 2013 AEGON International, to avoid at Wimbledon. She faces compatriot Sloane Stephens, the no17 seed, in the 1st Round at SW19.
The Dane, a highly popular figure at Devonshire Park as a regular competitor, suffered the same fate as her run-up to the 2013 French Open of losing to a player that she was expected to brush aside.
Wozniacki has lost in five out of her past six tournaments to lesser players, with the world no9 aiming to get back on track when faces little-known Spaniard Estrella Cabeza-Candela in her opening match at Wimbledon.
The Dane admitted:
“I would have loved to have won, it would have been worth it to be out there for three hours. I had my chances but I didn’t take them.
“It was very difficult, the wind was swirling around – but we did it very well out there.
“I feel happy to be on grass, I’m feeling good. I feel like my game is where I want it to be, so hopefully at Wimbledon I’ll do well.”