Dubai | Paolini lands first WTA 1000 title with come-back win over Kalinskaya

Italy’s Jasmine Paolini fought from a set down to beat qualifier Anna Kalinskaya, 4-6 7-5 7-5, in the final of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Saturday to secure her second WTA singles title but first at the WTA 1000 level.

It's special to have this trophy in my hands. Was such a great tournament. Every player was here. Yeah, was really, really tough draw. I'm just happy. Jasmine Paolini

Between them, they had put paid to 6 seeded players in the quality field, and had arrived, unseeded, as the surprise finalists in Dubai, where World No 1 Iga Swiatek looked to be a shoe-in for the title.

That was before Kalinskaya, an Australian Open quarter-finalist, went on a giant-killing run, stunning the top seed in straight sets in the semi-finals after knocking out Grand Slam champions Coco Gauff and Jelena Ostapenko in the previous rounds.

Paolini had upset Beatriz Haddad Maia, Leylah Fernandez and Maria Sakkari to take on World No 3 Elena Rybakina in the Last 8, but the former Wimbledon champion from Kazakhstan pulled out due to illness, leaving the Italian to deal with Sorana Cirstea, who was on a winning spree of her own, for her spot in the final.

Russia’s Kalinskaya, ranked 40 in the world, had beaten Paolini at Melbourne Park last month, and took the opening set, but the diminutive Italian mounted a come-back and levelled the tie, only to then find herself in trouble in the decider as she slipped to within a game of defeat at 3-5.

The 28-year-old, though, held her nerve to fight back again and seal the win, becoming only the 4th player in 24 years to win the final in Dubai after dropping the first set.

“It was really tough. I tried to stay focused on every point to believe it,” a beaming Paolini said in her post-match interview. “I’m really proud of myself!”

Paolini, who had won her first title at the 2021 Slovenia Open, becomes just the second Italian champion in Dubai after Sara Errani.

Paolini took home her first career singles title at WTA 250 Portoroz in 2021, defeating Kalinskaya on the way to that trophy too, but since that triumph, she had been in 3 finals and lost them all.

Currently ranked 26 in the world, Paolini will make her Top 20 debut on Monday, while Kalinskaya will also rise to a new career-high ranking inside the Top 30.

Despite the disappointing end to her Dubai campaign, Swiatek was quick to congratulate Paolini on her big win, posting on X: “Gratulacje (congratulations) Jasmine! What a week.”

Anna Kalinskaya led by a set and a break and served for the match but fell to Jasmine Paolini in Saturday's Dubai final

© Francois Nel/Getty Images

Before coming back from a set down to beat Kalinskaya, Paolini was close to losing the match in 2 sets and then was staring down the barrel of defeat in 3 sets.

At one point, Kalinskaya was up by a set and leading in the second set before Paolini claimed breaks in the 6th and 12th games to overturn the deficit and force the decider.

Kalinskaya turned the first set in her favour by breaking for 5-4 with a passing winner, and closed out the one-set lead with ease, before cracking a return winner to break Paolini in the opening game of the second set on her way to leading 6-4, 3-1.

Paolini then started to use strong forehands and her sterling foot-speed to wear Kalinskaya down, slamming a return winner to break back for 3-3, and then holding firm to be rewarded with a break in the last game of the second set, forcing an error on the set point with a crosscourt backhand.

Kalinskaya’s serve helped her build an early lead in the decider, holding for 4-2 with an ace.

Approaching the finish line, Kalinskaya served for the title at 5-4, but she could not fend off Paolini’s now impenetrable defence in that game, and the Italian levelled affairs at 5-5, seemingly breaking the spirit of the Russian qualifier, who now looked weary, having played 8 matches in 9 days.

Paolini held all the momentum from there, winning the next 4 games to turn the tables and complete her extraordinary come-back win, reaching triple championship point at 6-5 after a double-fault by Kalinskaya.

On her first, Paolini drew another long error from the Russian, polishing off the come-back win by finally outlasting Kalinskaya in 2 hours and 13 minutes.

“I’m really happy how I managed to come back. It’s unbelievable. I don’t know. I’m just so happy,” Paolini said. “I’m proud of all the work I made this year.

“It’s not easy to bring this work in the match sometimes. Yeah, I’m playing good tennis. I played well at the end of the last season. I started well the season with second week in Australian Open.

“Now I try to be more relaxed on court, to try to think more what I have to do, to be more present every point. I think it works.

“It’s not going to be every week like this, of course, but I’m trying to do my best.”

The diminutive Jasmine Paolini mounted two impressive come-backs against Anna Kalinskaya to win the Dubai title in 3 sets

© Francois Nel/Getty Images

In the match, Paolini was slightly more effective behind her first serve, winning 60% of those points to Kalinskaya’s 53%, and the Italian No 1 was also a hair better returning first serves, winning 46% of those points to her opponent’s 39%.

Paolini becomes the 3rd Italian to win a WTA 1000 title, following in the footsteps of Flavia Pennetta at 2014 Indian Wells and Camila Giorgi at 2021 Montreal.

“It’s special to have this trophy in my hands,” Paolini said. “Was such a great tournament. Every player was here. Yeah, was really, really tough draw. I’m just happy.”

The 28-year-old was ranked No 64 this time last year, but finished inside the year-end Top 30 for the first time in 2023, and now is projected to make her Top 15 debut on Monday.

Dubai champion Jasmine Paolini and Anna Kalinskaya show off their trophies after the final on Saturday

© Francois Nel/Getty Images

In the earlier doubles final on Saturday, Australia’s Storm Hunter & Katerina Siniakova from the Czech Republic, the No 4 seeds, won their first title of the 2024 season after defeating American Nicole Melichar-Martinez & Ellen Perez, also from Australia, the 3rd seeds, 6-4 6-2.

Hunter & Siniakova won their first title together in a one-off pairing at 2022 Berlin, but the two former No 1s now have teamed up for the 2024 season to form a formidable pair.

Siniakova parted ways with long-time partner Barbora Krejcikova in the off-season, while Hunter forged a similar path, splitting with Elise Mertens.

The Australian-Czech duo did not lose a set in Dubai, defeating Japan’s Miyu Kato & Aldila Sudjiati from Indonesia, Japanese Shuko Aoyama & Aleksandra Krunic from Serbia, and Canada’s Gabriela Dabrowski & Erin Routliffe from New Zealand, the No 2 seeds, to make Saturday’s final.

“I think we served and returned really well,” Hunter said. “We had really tough opponents throughout the tournament who put net pressure on, they came in and were super aggressive at the net.

“So we had to back ourselves, especially from the back, and when we were at the net to take our chances. If we missed the down the line shots, we didn’t get too negative or passive, we went for it and it payed off.”

(L-R) Doubles champions Storm Hunter & Katerina Siniakova with Nicole Melichar-Martinez & Ellen Perez of Australia hold their trophies after the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships doubles final on Saturday afternoon

© Francois Nel/Getty Images

Little separated Hunter & Siniakova and Melichar-Martinez & Perez through the first set, and neither team generated a break point until the 8th game of the match.

Facing down a deciding point at 3-4, Perez misfired on a double-fault to give the eventual champions the only break of the set.

“It was 4-all, sudden-death deuce, and sometimes those little points that change the match,” Hunter said. “We played the tight moments really well and made them have to come up with something. We did that really well all week.”

With Siniakova patrolling the net and Hunter stepping in on baseline exchanges, the duo rode their momentum through the second set.

Melichar-Martinez & Perez were unable to break serve in the match, while Hunter & Siniakova broke in the opening game of the set, and protected their lead to seal the win after 1 hour and 16 minutes.

“I think we needed to play aggressive and, I think, we played really well,” Siniakova said. “We put great serves, put pressure on them, and because they are really aggressive players we had to be a step ahead.”

Siniakova & Hunter dominated the deciding points in the match, converting on 3 of 4 in the match.

Melichar-Martinez & Perez were competing in their second final of the season, having made their first earlier in the month in Linz, and were bidding to snap a 7-match losing streak in tournament finals.

The victory is Hunter’s 8th career doubles title and Siniakova’s 23rd, and they now head to America to compete at next week’s Cymbiotika San Diego Open before turning to the back-to-back WTA 1000 tournaments at the BNP Paribas Open and Miami Open.



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