Osorio Serrano, Badosa Shining In Belgrade

Maria Camila Osorio Serrano (photo: @serbialadiesopen/Instagram)

BELGRADE/WASHINGTON, May 22, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

One is a precocious 19-year-old from Colombia, the other is twenty-three and a streetwise, New York City-born Spaniard. Both Maria Camila Osorio Serrano and Paula Badosa share a passion for playing on clay. Each is enjoying a great run this week at the WTA 250 Serbia Ladies Open in Belgrade. If they’re both successful in their respective semifinal matches Saturday morning, they could meet in the title match later in the day.

The 115th-ranked Osorio Serrano from Cúcuta, in northern Colombia, who began the week in the Serbian capital city as a qualifier, has reached her third straight clay-court semifinal following her 6-4, 6-2 win over No. 103 Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus. Her success, which began with her first WTA tour-level title in Bogotá and continued the next week with a semifinal showing in Charleston, S.C., on green clay, has continued as she’s won five straight (two in qualifying and three in the main draw) this week – one, against 136th-ranked qualifier Kamilla Rakhimova of Russia, which took two days to complete because of rain. She’s closing in on the WTA Top 100 with her success on clay.

“I’m feeling, of course, a little bit tired,” Osorio Serrano said, with a big smile on her face as she answered questions virtually in English and Spanish with a gathering of reporters after her fifth straight win and 13th in her last 14 matches going back to the start of her title-winning week in Bogota in early April. “I’m happy that I won so I’ll try to forget that tomorrow. I think I played a great match, and the whole week, I’ve been feeling better and better. Hopefully, I can play even better than today in my next match.”

When Tennis TourTalk asked Osorio Serrano if there was anything she could point to as to why she won, she said: “I didn’t try to be too defensive today. I was fighting for every ball and I feel that was a key today.

“I have so much confidence now in myself and on clay. When you grow up in Colombia, you learn how to play on clay. So, I think it’s an advantage. I like the surface. I’m happy that I’m doing all of this [winning] this past month on this surface.”

Next, Osorio Serrano will face 188th-ranked Croatian qualifier Ana Konjuh who, like the Colombian, is a former US Open junior champion. Konjuh advanced with a win over No. 5 seed Nadia Podoroska of Argentina, ranked 42nd, 6-4, 6-3, for her fifth straight win in Belgrade which has also included an upset of No. 2 seed Yulia Putintseva. It’s Konjuh’s first WTA semifinal appearance since 2017.

Meanwhile, the No. 4 seed Badosa, who lives and trains in Barcelona, has been inactive the past couple of days because of a persistent rain that has forced the tournament to host both the semifinal and championship rounds on Saturday. The 44th-ranked Badosa reached her third straight clay-court semifinal with her 6-2, 6-4 victory over No. 7 seed Rebecca Peterson of Sweden, ranked 60th,thanks to a couple of service breaks at the start of each set. She never played from behind the entire match and her serve was not broken. Badosa compiled 14 winners, broke Peterson’s serve three times and outscored her opponent 61-45.

“It was a very tough match, even though the result doesn’t look like that,” Badosa told Tennis TourTalk. “I knew it was going to be tough. I had to start very intense, and to have things very clear with her, because if she tries to get her forehand and she tries to move you on the clay court, it’s tough. It was quite important I got the early break, and I could serve quite well, so that was one of the keys of the match.”

Badosa (17-7), who earlier reached the semifinals on clay at Charleston and Madrid, will face 123rd-ranked Bulgarian lucky loser Viktoriya Tomova, who outlasted 220th-ranked qualifier Reka-Luca Jani of Hungary, 6-1, 2-6, 7-5. Overall, this is Badosa’s fourth semifinal appearance this year, which includes an early-season run at Lyon on an indoor hard court.

Tennis TourTalk asked Badosa is there’s anything she learns about herself each time she gets this far in a tournament. She said: “Of course, for me having a very good season, being in the semifinals again, it’s another opportunity to be better, to play my best. The last semifinal (Madrid, against World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty) was tough. It was against a very good player. I know Lyon and here are different. These kinds of matches are very tough mentally. So, it’s a challenge and I have to accept it. It’s an opportunity to grow mentally, so that’s how I’m going to take it. I hope I can get through it.”

Gauff into second WTA final and first on clay

American teenager Coco Gauff’s Italian renaissance on red clay has been a thing of beauty the past two weeks. First, the 17-year-old from Delray Beach, Fla., reached the semifinals last week at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, losing to eventual champion Iga Swiatek, after earlier beating Yulia Putintseva, Maria Sakkari, Aryna Sabalenka and Ashleigh Barty. This week, at the Emilia-Romagna Open in Parma, about 450 kilometers to the north, the No. 3 seed Gauff has reached her second WTA final and first on clay, dropping just one set along the way.

Gauff has reached the quarterfinals or better in five tournaments this season and Parma represents her first WTA final since winning in Linz, Austria, as a lucky loser near the end of the 2019 season. She’s won 20 of her 29 matches this year, including going 11-3 on clay. Her 7-5, 1-6, 6-2 victory over No. 68 Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic in Friday’s semifinal round improved her win-loss record in three-set matches to 11-4 and advanced her to face sixth seed Wang Qiang of China, who like Gauff is into her first clay final and first title match of any kind since 2018 in Zhuhai, China, and it’s also the first outside of her home country.

The 48th-ranked Wang rallied from 1-5 down in the second set to defeat No. 65 Sloane Stephens of the United States, 6-2, 7-6 (3). She’s enjoying a nice change of form after starting the season 4-11. Parma represents the first time this year Wang has won more than two matches in a row. “I’m just trying to find my rhythm on the court. I think it’s working,” she said. “I’ll just try my best [against Coco]. She’s such a good, young player.”

During a virtual interview with Gauff following her doubles semifinal victory with longtime doubles partner Caty McNally – they beat No. 1 seeds Alexa Guarachi of Chile and Desirae Krawczyk of the United States 7-5, 7-6 (4) – Tennis TourTalk asked what she could draw up from having won once on the WTA tour and bring with her on court in Parma. She said: “It definitely gives me more experience, just the fact I’ve been in a final before. I know how the nerves feel; I know how to handle it better. [Saturday] I’m just going to go out there and have fun.”

Looking back at her three-set performance against Siniakova, in which she struck five aces and hit 28 winners to offset 36 unforced errors, Gauff said of her semifinal opponent: “She’s a super tricky player and she’s had some great wins this week. To be honest, I just hung in there and, although my level in the second set went down a little, I was glad I was able to pick it up in the third.”

Indeed, as Gauff broke Siniakova in the third and fifth games of the final set for a 5-1 lead and ended the two hour and eight-minute match on her first match point with the last of her 28 winners, a solid forehand on the third shot of the rally. Gauff outpointed Siniakova 96-91.

“I started to play more aggressive, I put trust in my shots and everything worked out,” Gauff said during her on-court interview, after receiving warm applause from the limited capacity crowd at Tennis Club Parma. “The Italians, they cheer me on and bring me good luck. Hopefully, I can keep this going.”

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