Beijing - World No 8 Svetlana Kuznetsova survived a quarter-final scare against lowly Naomi Osaka of Japan at the Tianjin Open on Friday, scraping through in a deciding set tiebreak.
The Russian second seed lost the first set before recovering, but still needed an hour and 55 minutes against the world No 42 before prevailing 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7/3).
Her reward is a semi-final place against American Alison Riske, whose victory at the 2014 Tianjin Open remains her only WTA Tour win, but who continued her quest for a repeat by beating home player Han Xinyun 6-3, 6-3.
Kuznetsova is now hot favourite for the title, after Polish top seed Agnieszka Radwanska withdrew from the tournament with a thigh injury after her quarter-final on Thursday.
"It's the end of the season - I guess everyone is struggling with something," the world No 3 said, adding that she decided to pull out to give herself the best chance of recovering before the WTA Finals in Singapore later this month.
Her decision gave China's Peng Shuai a walkover into Saturday's semi-final, where she will face Montenegro's Danka Kovinic, who beat Puerto Rican fifth seed Monica Puig 6-4, 6-3.
Results from the WTA Tianjin Open in Tianjin on Friday (x denotes seeding):
Danka Kovinic (MNE) bt Monica Puig (PUR x5) 6-4, 6-3
Alison Riske (USA) bt Han Xinyun (CHN) 6-3, 6-3
Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS x2) bt Naomi Osaka (JPN) 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (7/3)