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Niculescu reaches Hobart tennis final

AAP logoAAP 5 days ago Andrew Drummond

In her eighth year contesting the Hobart International, Romanian Monica Niculescu finally has a shot at the title.

The world No.40 on Saturday will meet Belgian qualifier Elise Mertens who starts the contest as a self-confessed underdog.

On Friday, Niculescu was saved from a potentially painful semi-final when her opponent, Ukraine's Lesia Tsurenko, withdrew due to a virus.

Tsurenko, who is due to meet world No.1 Angelique Kerber in the first round of the Australian Open next week, was plagued by a similar condition at the Brisbane International earlier this month which forced her withdrawal.

"I'm really disappointed because I'm still not feeling well and it is getting worse with playing more and more matches," the 27-year old world No.61 said.

"I'm taking some more medications and really hope to be better in Melbourne."

The withdrawal might have been a blessing for Niculescu who finished Thursday's quarter-final with a sore abdominal muscle and was not certain of being fit for her Friday semi.

"I'm so sorry for her but she has to feel good for the Australian Open," Niculescu said of Tsurenko.

"It would have been a tough match if I played against her, so I wish her all the best.

"Tomorrow, I'm going to give it my best."

The Romanian, whose ranking reached a career-high 28 in February 2012, has played the Hobart tournament this year for an eighth time.

Her previous best form in the southern capital has been quarter-final losses in 2013 and 2014.

In contrast, world No.127 Mertens started the tournament as a qualifier and, on Friday, battled blustery conditions to sail past Croatia's Jana Fett, 6-4 6-0.

Despite strong form in overcoming tournament top seed and Australian Open No.19 seed Kiki Bertens on Thursday, Mertens remained modest about her chance of winning the Hobart title.

"She's an experienced player," Mertens said of Niculescu.

"She's higher ranked than me. I'll probably be the underdog a little bit but I'm just going to play my game and I'll give it all."

Regardless of the outcome, Mertens will leave Hobart with a big ranking boost which should put her well inside the top 100.

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