Paolini’s Week To Remember In Portoroz Continues With Another Upset Win

Zavarovalnica Sava Portoroz (photo: Vid Ponikvar/Sportida)

WASHINGTON, September 19, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

Unheralded Jasmine Paolini is having the week of her tennis life in Slovenia. After defeating No. 2 seed Yulia Putintseva 1-6, 6-3, 6-4 – her third victory over a seeded player this week at the Zavarovalnica Sava Portoroz in the Adriatic coast resort town of Portoroz – the diminutive, 87th-ranked Italian has finally reached her first WTA tour-level final after six years of toiling away.

The 5-foot-2-inch (160 cm), 25-year-old resident of Bagni di Lucca, Italy, a comune of Tuscany, fought back after a disastrous first set against the 44th-ranked Putintseva from Kazakhstan, in which her service was broken four times. The plucky Paolini never gave up, though, and never gave in. Instead, she played steady tennis when it mattered most at the end of their two hour and 14-minute tussle on an outdoor hard-court surface at Tennis Center Portoroz.

After leveling the semifinal match at a set each, Paolini jumped out to a 3-0 lead in the decider with a break of Putintseva in the second game and continued to build upon it. Then, ahead 5-3 and serving for the match, Paolini’s serve was broken for the sixth time as she was denied the opportunity to win and advance on her own serve.

Now, could Paolini fight her way out of trouble and pull out the victory against the scrappy Putintseva? Yes. As it happened, the Italian No. 3 won on her first match-point at 15-40 as Putintseva double-faulted away the game, set and match. After beating No. 6 seed Dayana Yastremska of Ukraine in the first round and No. 4 seed Sorana Cirstea of Romania in the quarterfinals, Paolini had mastered another seed in Portoroz and went the distance for the second straight match.

“I’m super happy for myself,” Paolini said during her post-match interview on court of her performance, which included hitting 32 winners and outpointing Putintseva 86-85. “It wasn’t easy to win this match today because it started very bad. I made many mistakes in the first set. I tried to stay focused and to get my level back. [Overall,] I’m happy with my performance today. …

“I hope [Sunday] I can play like I did today, to fight for every point.”

While Paolini earlier this season won a WTA 125 event in Bol, Croatia, she’s never been further than the quarterfinals of a WTA tour-level tournament until this week.

Next, Paolini will face No. 3 seed Alison Riske of the United States, who ended the surprising run of Slovenia’s Kaja Juvan, 6-0, 6-4. The 38th-ranked American hit 20 winners, won 73 percent (29 of 40) of her first-serve points and broke the 103rd-ranked Juvan’s serve six times during the one hour and 24-minute semifinal match to reach her first 10th career final and first in two years.

After upsetting top-seeded Petra Martic of Croatia in Monday’s opening round, then taking out Slovenia’s No. 1 player, Tamara Zidansek, in the quarterfinals on Friday, Juvan, 20, finally met her match in the 31-year old Riske, a 2019 Wimbledon quarterfinalist. The Slovenian, who finished with just eight winners, struggled at times dealing with an adductor issue that required a medical time out in the first set. Riske outpointed Juvan 65-42.

“She has a great future, which I think everyone here knows that,” Riske said of Juvan, who was attempting to reach her first WTA tour-level final this week in Portoroz.

Looking ahead to Sunday’s final between Riske and Paolini, the American No. 6 said she’s never faced the Italian in singles, but noted during her post-match interview on court that “she’s playing very well. I think it’s going to be a battle. I’m just thrilled to be in the finals. It’s always something special and I’m really looking forward to it.”

Defending champion Ostapenko returns to Luxembourg final

Defending BGL BNP Paribas Luxembourg Open champion Jelena Ostapenko relied upon power and finesse to win the opening set of her semifinal match against No. 7 seed Liudmila Samsonova Saturday afternoon at Kockelscheuer, Luxembourg. Then, Ostapenko lost her way before righting herself to reach her 10th career WTA final.

The third-seeded Ostapenko beat the 48th-ranked Samsonova, 6-1, 7-6 (4), in an hour and 25 minutes to advance to Sunday’s title match inside Kockelscheuer Sports Centre.

After squandering a 5-1 lead in the second set, the 30th-ranked Latvian, who is the highest-remaining seed, regained her early-match form to force a tie-break after going 5-6 down and came on strong in the end by capturing the final six points of the semifinal to win.

Ostapenko, who won the 2019 Luxembourg title in the last time the tournament was held, hit 25 winners – 11 of them in the opening set – to 14 unforced errors and broke Samsonova four times in four tries. She capitalized on Samsonova’s inability to score points on her second serve en route to outpointing the Russian 72-54. Ostapenko has won nine straight matches in Luxembourg going back to her title run two years ago. She’s into her second final of the season after winning her fourth career title at Eastbourne on grass in June.

“I was 6-1, 4-1 up and then at some point I stopped playing my game,” Ostapenko said during an on-court interview after wrapping up her victory over Samsonova. “I missed so many balls and started to rush. I don’t know, I just didn’t play well, but then I fought hard and managed to win the tie-break. I was 4-1 down and then I won six points in a row. I’m happy to be in the final again. …

“I love this tournament, the fans are great and the atmosphere is great, too. Hopefully, I can win another [title].”

In the second semifinal, which matched No. 5 seed Marketa Vondrousova of the Czech Republic against unseeded 18-year-old Clara Tauson of Denmark, there was little room for error in this somewhat evenly-matched contest.

After splitting the first two sets and exchanging breaks of service to open the decider, the 70th-ranked Tauson broke Vondrousova, the reigning Olympic silver medalist, in the ninth game of the third set to go ahead 5-4. Then, she secured victory on her second match-point try to advance to her second tour-level final of the season after winning her first title at Lyon in early March. Tauson regrouped nicely and won the final three games of the match to triumph 6-4, 2-6, 6-4 in two hours and three minutes.

Although she never won more than three games in a row – and dealt with some issues to her left thigh throughout – the young Dane never gave up. Both Tauson and the 35th-ranked Vondrousova finished with five aces and each broke the other’s serve four times. However, Tauson capitalized on 41 winners while Vondrousova could muster only 24. The Czech star outpointed Tauson 86-85.

“Right now, I love [Luxembourg],” Tauson said during her on-court interview. “I’m very happy with the win today, it was tough. Definitely, it was a good day.

“I just kept on fighting. She was serving really well in the third set. So, I just kept trying to get one point in each game and, then I broke. Now, here I am.”

Tauson began the week with a straight set win over No. 112 Astra Sharma of Australia and backed it with an upset of No. 4 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia, ranked 33rd, that went the distance. She reached Saturday’s semifinal with a 6-3, 6-2 win over No. 84 Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic in the quarterfinal round. Now, Tauson, who is 9-1 in her last 10 hard-court matches, is a victory away from winning her second WTA tour-level crown this year. She’s also won a WTA 125 title, in Chicago just before the US Open.

Minnen and van Uytvanck win Luxembourg doubles crown

The BGL BNP Paribas Luxembourg Open doubles title was won by unseeded Greet Minnen and Alison van Uytvanck, both of Belgium, who defeated Erin Routliffe of New Zealand and Kimberley Zimmerman of Belgium, also unseeded, 6-3, 6-3, in 59 minutes. It was the second career doubles title victory for Minnen and van Uytvanck, who previously won the Luxembourg crown in 2018.