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Whyte to play in first Grand Slam men’s final against Retornaz at WFG Masters

SASKATOON — Ross Whyte might be exhausted having been up since 5 a.m. or so, but he could still have some trouble falling asleep Saturday night.

Whyte and his Scottish squad pulled off three consecutive victories against three of the top teams in the world to punch a ticket to their first-ever Grand Slam of Curling men’s final in the WFG Masters at Merlis Belsher Place.

“I reckon in two or three hours I’m just going to absolutely conk out but right now I’m not even thinking about sleep,” Whyte said with a smile. “Just a wee bite to eat, we’ll get rested up and have some good fun.”

Team Whyte started the day with an early morning tiebreaker defeating Sweden’s Team Niklas Edin 5-3 just to even qualify for the eighth and final playoff spot. Whyte then ousted top-seed Team Brad Gushue of St. John’s, N.L., 5-2 in the afternoon quarterfinals and Switzerland’s Team Yannick Schwaller 9-4 in the evening semifinals to cap a day the skip will certainly remember for a long time.

“It was some day,” Whyte said. It was a real battle with Edin at 7 a.m. this morning. To come through that was really good and then it doesn’t get much easier after that.

“You come up against Brad Gushue and you’re never going to get an easy game there. Thankfully, we managed to scrape over the line and then you finish it off with Team Schwaller and you know what? They’re brilliant. They’ve had a good year. They’re always going to be up there or thereabouts.”

While Whyte is looking forward to playing in his first Grand Slam final, his opponent is making his fourth appearance in a championship game in the series and third straight to start this season.

Joël Retornaz and his world No. 1 ranked team from Italy advanced with a 7-6 extra-end victory over Calgary’s Team Brendan Bottcher.

The three-time Grand Slam champion Retornaz won his first in the WFG Masters just over a year ago and captured back-to-back titles at the HearingLife Tour Challenge in October and the KIOTI National last month. He now looks to become just the sixth men’s skip in Grand Slam history to win three in a row.

“It feels amazing,” Retornaz said. “We keep playing finals, I can’t believe it and I’m super excited because we’re doing a tremendous job out there. We’re showing everyone we can play curling.

“The team is just supporting me, doing everything for me, making my life easy, so I couldn’t be more proud of my team including the coach and the rest of the staff. I’m really excited to play in the final tomorrow. I’m really looking forward to it.”

Whyte was able to wrestle control of the semifinal by stealing two points in the second end when Team Schwaller fourth Benoît Schwarz-van Berkel’s last rock bumped and rolled too far. Schwarz-van Berkel recovered to take two back in the third for Schwaller, but a double takeout to score four critical points in the fourth end swung the momentum firmly back in Whyte’s favour.

“We had to really turn it up today,” said Whyte, who lost 7-4 to Schwaller during round-robin play Friday. “The last time we played them, they really got the better of us and that was down to their good play and a wee bit of slack from us. We didn’t really get going.

“Today, when that started happening again we had to really come out knowing they were playing well this week, try and put on a good show and thankfully we did. We had a couple of key shots in there.”

Schwaller cut the deficit in half as Schwarz-van Berkel pulled off a runback double and scored a deuce, but it was early handshakes after Whyte counted three more points in the sixth.

Meanwhile, Retornaz and Bottcher have quite a Grand Slam playoff rivalry brewing having now faced in three semifinals and one final in the series over the past two seasons. Retornaz was able to upend Bottcher by scoring the game’s first deuce in the fourth end to grab a 3-2 lead.

The teams traded pairs of points in five and six and Retornaz stole one in the seventh to build a 6-4 advantage. The door was open though in the eighth for Bottcher to bump for the tying two points and force an extra end, however, Retornaz made no mistake on his last shot.

“We’re the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the world, so we have to play each other sooner or later, especially at the end of the competition,” Retornaz said. “We know they’re a very good team, but we also know that we are a good team. We’re ranked No. 1 right now. We just need to play as good as we can and bring our ‘A’ performance to the ice. I think we can win at least 50 per cent of the games against them if we’re playing the way we’ve been playing.”

Meanwhile, Ottawa’s Team Rachel Homan will face Team Silvana Tirinzoni of Switzerland for the WFG Masters women’s championship.

Team Homan upended Winnipeg’s Team Jennifer Jones 8-4 and Team Tirinzoni topped Team Kerri Einarson of Gimli, Man., 6-3 to secure their spots.

Watch Championship Sunday on Sportsnet and Sportsnet+ (Canada) or (international) beginning with the women’s final at 11:30 a.m. ET / 10:30 a.m. local time followed by the men’s final at 4 p.m. ET / 3 p.m. local time.