Petkovic, Cepelova Chase Maiden Cup Title

Standing in the Billie Jean King Stadium Court player’s tunnel on Tuesday evening, Jana Cepelova looked every bit the role of the kid who was just a stop on a champion’s road to the final.

But that night Cepelova would beat said champion – three-time Volvo Car Open winner Serena Williams – and five days later take her own path to the final in Charleston, a monumental week for a player ranked No. 78 in the world.

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“It’s really a great experience for me,” said the Slovakian on Saturday. “To beat Serena it really gave me confidence and experience; I learned (a lot) from her. And I think now these matches that I won, I try to keep playing like against Serena.”

The 20-year-old Cepelova will try to play like that one more time on Sunday against Andrea Petkovic, the German who is ranked 40th in the world and has conjured up some of her best tennis to make the final.

It was just three years ago that the 26-year-old Petkovic was ranked inside the top 10, having made the quarterfinals of three Grand Slams in 2011. But in 2012 she was quelled by a series of injuries that didn’t allow her to find her full potential again until this spring.

Yet “Petko,” as tennis fans adoringly call her (known for her on-court dancing), has slowly climbed back to her form of old. This week she beat 2009 winner Sabine Lisicki in the third round before winning an epic semifinal against Genie Bouchard, the on-the-rise 20-year-old from Canada.

This will be the first meeting between Cepelova and Petkovic, as well as Cepelova’s first-ever appearance in a WTA final. Petkovic has two titles to her name and last played in a final in 2013, in Washington DC.

Petkovic hasn’t been to a Premier-level WTA final in three years, however, a feat she’s quite proud of after her time away from the game because of her injuries.

“I cry when I’m happy,” she said of her emotions on Saturday after her win. “I was just so relieved and I was proud that I came back from all these injuries, and I never thought that I would play finals in the big tournaments again, and so I was just proud and happy.”

What has brought both Cepelova and Petkovic to the final has been their standard of play. The Slovakian beat Melanie Oudin, Serena, 2011 finalist Elena Vesnina and former world No. 5 Daniela Hantuchova before taking out Belinda Bencic in the semifinals, the upstart 17-year-old.

And Petkovic not only notched wins over Bouchard and Lisicki, but 2012 Cup finalist Lucie Safarova as well, at one point winning 24 of 25 games in two matches.

Far from Tuesday, when Cepelova was just another name and Petkovic was still not sure she had the talent to get to such a final, Sunday will produce a new Family Circle champion, and perhaps the next big star on the WTA Tour.