Kontaveit Handles Close Situation, Avoids Palermo Upset

WASHINGTON, August 7, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

No. 4 seed Anett Kontaveit refined her gardening skills at home in Estonia during her five-months of downtime from the WTA tour. Her second-round opponent, unseeded and 65th-ranked Laura Siegemund of Germany, stayed busy during the hiatus in her home country by playing in a series of exhibition events and posted an impressive 14-4 win-loss record.

When the 22nd-ranked Kontaveit and Siegemund faced off at the 31st Palermo Ladies Open in southern Italy on Thursday afternoon, it was just the second time they had meet in a WTA event. Kontaveit won their previous encounter in three sets in the second round of Beijing in 2018. This time, like before, they battled for three sets and following a similar script, Kontaveit came from behind to win in three sets, 3-6, 6-2, 6-2, to reach the quarterfinal round.

On Friday, Kontaveit will face popular 19-year-old Italian wild card Elisabetta Cocciaretto of Italy, ranked No. 157, who will be playing in her first WTA quarterfinal.

In dodging an upset that lasted two hours and 20 minutes to begin Thursday’s play on the Center Court of the ASD Country Time Club, Kontaveit raised the level of her game to combat the 32-year-old Siegemund’s aggressive, all-court approach.

After falling behind 2-0 at the start of the match, it took until the second set for Kontaveit to find her comfort level on court. She jumped ahead 3-0 to start the middle set by breaking Siegemund twice, and closed out the set by winning the final three games. Then, Kontaveit showed her dominance in the final set by breaking Siegemund’s serve twice. Although she needed five match points to put a lid on her second-round victory, Kontaveit got the job done.

In a video chat with reporters afterward, Kontaveit reflected on her accomplishment. “I’m quite happy about the way I was handling close situations, playing the close games and turning the close games around,” she said.

“I thought I actually handled that sort of pressure, that I didn’t think I’d be used to, quite well.”

While Kontaveit is through to her third quarterfinal of the interrupted 2020 season – after reaching the last eight at the Australian Open and Dubai – she realizes that Siegemund put up a good fight in Palermo. “Laura is a really tough opponent, and I really felt like I had to lift my game in the second set and play more aggressive,” she said. “I try to take initiative right when I see it and maybe do it earlier in the point, try to move my feet quicker and get around the ball, try to hit it earlier and take time away from the opponent. 

“I think that’s what made the difference after the first set.”

Around Center Court

No. 1 seed Petra Martic starred down the possibility of becoming the sixth seeded player to be upset in Palermo this week. Her opponent, 21-year-old qualifier Liudmila Samsonova was hungry for a victory. However, the 15th-ranked Croatian dug deep in coming back from a set behind to beat the No. 117 from Russia, 5-7, 6-4, 6-2, in two hours and 30 minutes.

In reaching her second quarterfinal of the year, Martic closed out the victory with her sixth service ace of the match – a perfect serve straight up the ‘T’ – and sealed it with a smile.

Martic saved 12 break points during the second-round match while winning four of the eight break-point opportunities she had against Samsonova, a Palermo semifinalist last year, who was in search of her first Top 20 victory Thursday evening. Martic outpointed her opponent 103-95.

“The struggle was real out there today,” said Martic during her post-match press conference, quoted by the WTA website. “From the first point, I started off not feeling my game and she was really in such a good rhythm.

“I think [Samsonova] played really good. She’s not the type of player I like to play: she plays really fast, hits really flat and low. And especially on these courts it can be tricky.”

Throughout the week, conditions on the red clay Center Court have mixed warm temperatures with occasional wind gusts.

“Overall, I didn’t really enjoy myself out there,” Martic suggested. “But I realized right away that it was not going to be easy and I was going to have to fight.”

Next, Martic will open Friday’s quarterfinal play against another qualifier, Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus. The 50th-ranked Belarusian advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-0, 6-2 win over No. 95 Jasmine Paolini of Italy on Wednesday.

Camila Giorgi, the 89th-ranked Italian from Macerata, has been a favorite all week in Palermo. Playing under the lights, she rallied from a set down to defeat Slovenian 19-year-old teenager Kaja Juvan, 3-6, 6-2, 6-4, in just over two hours to reach her second quarterfinal of 2020.

In a battle of aggression on the red clay, Juvan set the tempo for the match as she outpaced Giorgi in the opening set by hitting 18 winners to 13 and making fewer errors. The 121st-ranked qualifier closed out the first set by winning four straight games. The second set was all Giorgi’s as she strung together five straight winning games thanks to her solid forehand returns, which included two breaks of Juvan’s service.

After taking medical time out before the start of the third set, Juvan was broken three more times. Although she recovered two of the breaks when Giorgi faltered down the stretch – unable to close out the match – it was the Italian who prevailed by winning on her second match-point opportunity.

“At the start of the match, I was making too many tactical mistakes because I was trying to finish points for no reason,” Giorgi said after her win, quoted by the WTA website. “I started to adopt better tactics in the second set and that’s when things started working for me.”

• Up next for Giorgi will be No. 7 seed Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine, who defeated unseeded lucky loser Oceane Dodin of France, 6-2, 6-4, in the shortest match of the day at one hour and 17 minutes that ended another long day of tennis in Palermo. Yastremska hit 11 service aces and took advantage of Dodin’s nine double faults in tallying her win to move into the quarterfinals. Her attacking style featured a variety of slice, drop shots and flat hitting. It all seemed to work.

“I’m very happy to be in a quarterfinal after so long of playing no tournaments,” said Yastremska, who last played in Doha back in late February and reached the round of 16. “It was a good match, starting pretty late. All day, I had to be very focused to stay in a good way with the mind.”

Yastremska’s match with Dodin was the only one Thursday that finished in straight sets and the only one that lasted less than two hours. “What I wanted most on court was to play so that I could finish early,” she said. “I was really tired, but I tried to stay aggressive and intense as possible so I could finish that much earlier.”

Passing shots

• Friday’s order of play, which begins at 4 p.m. CEST, begins with top seed Petra Martic facing qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich. It will be followed by No. 4 seed Anett Kontaveit against wild card Elisabetta Cocciaretto. Then, the featured match will highlight unseeded Fiona Ferro taking on wild card Sara Errani and the day finishes under the lights with Dayana Yastremska versus Camila Giorgi.

• It marks the first time since 2015 there have been three Italians in a WTA quarterfinal.

• Kontaveit was quoted on the WTA website in looking ahead to her quarterfinal against Cocciaretto as saying, “It’s definitely going to be really tough. I saw her match against Donna (Vekic last night),” she said. “She was playing really well, very confident and very aggressive, and I think she did great. Donna is also a great player, so it was definitely a good win.

“I mean, I haven’t played against her before, I’ve just seen her play. One thing is seeing someone play but another thing is actually playing against them. We’ll see what happens, but I’m ready for the challenge.”