Dubai | Qualifier Kalinskaya stuns Swiatek in semi-finals

World No 1 Iga Swiatek was stunned by qualifier Anna Kalinskaya in the semi-finals of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships on Friday night, while Jasmine Paolini defeated Sorana Cirstea to reach the first WTA 1000 Final of her career earlier in the day. 

Today I would say, I mean she [Kalinskaya] played well and, for sure, she deserves to be in the final, but I feel, like, it was more about me, and my level. I wanted to be focused on myself, and I wasn’t really able to implement any tactics that I had. I would say the preparation was the best I could do, anyway, but I wasn’t able to make anything that made sense today on the court. Maybe I did in the first six games, but then it just [went wrong]. Iga Świątek

25-year old Kalinskaya, a Russian ranked 40 in the world and playing her 7th match in 8 days, dispatched an out-of-sorts Swiatek, 6-4 6-4, in an hour and 41 minutes, snapping the top seed’s 7-match winning streak in the Gulf, and advancing to her first Hologic WTA Tour-level singles final.

The loss is just Swiatek’s second in her last 26 matches, dating back to last September’s WTA 500 event in Tokyo, while Kalinskaya becomes the 6th-lowest ranked player to make the final in Dubai, and the first qualifier to reach the final at the tournament.

Swiatek was up 4-2 when Kalinskaya rattled off 4 straight games to take the first set on her way to her 3rd consecutive win over a Top 10 opponent, having eliminated No 3 Coco Gauff in the quarter-finals and No 9 Jelena Ostapenko in the Last 16.

In fact, Kalinskaya won 10 of the last 14 games to score the upset, coming from a break down in the first set, and staying solid from the baseline to unsettle the Swiatek’s resolve, whose errors began to mount.

Serving at 4-4, 30-30, Swiatek struck a backhand long and a forehand wide to hand Kalinskaya a second straight break and the chance to serve out the first set.

Kalinskaya, who had notched her first career Top 5 win one round earlier over Gauff, was unfazed by the occasion to hand the Pole her first loss of a set in the tournament, and, on set point at 40-30, Swiatek misfired again on another forehand, and the Russian completed her come-back to take the lead after 52 minutes.

Swiatek’s consistency continued to waver in the second, affording Kalinskaya the opportunity to break twice more, and lead 6-4, 5-2.

She never faced a break point in the set until she failed to serve it out, and Swiatek saved 2 match points at 40-15 in the 8th game, but she did not falter at her second attempt, and although the 22-year old Pole had a chance to break again for 5-5, she missed another forehand, just wide, and Kalinskaya denied the World No 1 to get back level.

Kalinskaya, who struggled with injuries last year and is coached by Patricia Tarabini, is only the second player to beat Swiatek since September last year, and the World No 1 is now 24-2 in matches.

“I feel physically much better than last year,” Kalinskaya said on court afterwards. “That gives me a lot of confidence to play at such a high level.

“I know, if I don’t stay calm, and I don’t stay aggressive, she is going to destroy me. That was my plan—to stay aggressive and move her a lot. She’s unbelievable. I’m happy I had the chance to play against her.”


Anna Kalinskaya delivered Iga Swiatek her second defeat in 26 matches since September last year

© Christopher Pike/Getty Images

Swiatek was full of praise for Kalinskaya, adding that she felt she was always up against it.

“Today I would say, I mean she [Kalinskaya] played well and, for sure, she deserves to be in the final, but I feel, like, it was more about me, and my level,” Swiatek reflected later. “I wanted to be focused on myself, and I wasn’t really able to implement any tactics that I had.

“I would say the preparation was the best I could do, anyway, but I wasn’t able to make anything that made sense today on the court. Maybe I did in the first six games, but then it just [went wrong].”

Kalinskaya came into the season ranked No 80 and was a dismal 4-13 in her career at the majors, while she had never won a main-draw match in Melbourne, but she made it all the way to the quarter-finals, and, one month later, she is into her first WTA final, and will leave Dubai inside the Top 30 with a new career-high ranking.

Swiatek’s hopes of a Middle East double were dashed, and she admitted after the match that she had run ‘out of power’.

Days after she won the Qatar Open final against Elena Rybakina, Swiatek returned to action in Dubai for the second leg of the hard-court WTA 1000 double, and while she won her first 3 matches comfortably, she looked weary as the tournament progressed and, by Friday, she finally ran out of steam.

The 4-time Grand Slam winner unusually showed her frustration during the match, throwing her racket at one point and receiving a warning from the umpire.

“I felt, like, I didn’t have any more power to give more, which doesn’t happen often,” Swiatek explained in her press conference later. “I just felt a bit out of control because, usually, when I tell myself what to do, I can improve my game but, today, I was so out of power and tired that I just couldn’t.

“Day by day, it was a little bit worse. I was not talking to you about it because it didn’t really make sense to go over it, but, as I say, it has been two weeks.

“I mean I’m angry but, on the other hand, there aren’t many players that actually survive these kinds of tournaments so I just, kind of, have to let it go, and accept it.”


Jasmine Paolini defeated Sorana Cirstea to reach her first WTA 1000 final in Dubai

© Christopher Pike/Getty Images

Kalinskaya will face Jasmine Paolini, ranked 26, on Saturday in the biggest final of both their careers after the Italian held off Romanian Sorana Cirstea, 6-2 7-6 (6), in the earlier semi-final, saving 6 set points in the second set.

“I gave you a little bit of drama at the end of the match,” she said with a smile in her on-court interview. “I had a chance on 4-2, 40-15, but she starting to play better, to hit winners.

“The last two matches I play against her, more or less was the same score. I won the first set, the second set was a little bit complicated, then I won again the third set. I was like, please, if I am going to lose this set, start again in the third set, and to move and to play deep again, to push again, but I was just trying to stay in the present.”

Paolini’s run to the semi-finals included knocking out No 8 seed Maria Sakkari, No 11 Beatriz Haddad Maia, US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez and, in the semi-finals, Cirstea.

It took Paolini an hour and 57 minutes to see off Cirstea in a match between two unseeded players that saw a relatively routine opening set that was followed by a dramatic second.

Earning her first break after 4 deuces in the 4th game, Paolini held her serve to 30 to open up a 4-1 lead, and closed out the first set on her second chance in the 8th game.

Paolini converted her second break point in the 4th game of the second to build up a 6-2, 3-1 lead, but Cirstea broke straight back, before the Italian struck 2 forehand winners to regain the lead at 4-2.

Cirstea, who had saved 6 match points to come back from 6-2, 5-1 against Marketa Vondrousova in the quarter-finals, saved a match point with a backhand winner down the line, and Paolini had to fend off 5 set points as the Romanian tried to serve out the second set at 6-5, and failed.

Paolini saved a 6th set point with a forehand winner in the ensuing breaker, and sealed the win on her 2nd match point when Cirstea struck her backhand wide, sending the Italian into the 5th WTA Tour final of her career.

“It was tough. She’s playing really well when she’s little bit down in the score,” 28-year old Paolini said. “She’s trying to hit more winners, to play faster. I was trying. C’mon, she cannot make it two times in a row. No, I’m joking.

“I just say to myself to move the legs, and try to keep hitting hard the ball, because, if not, she’s going to move me, and she’s going to hit the winner first.”

Paolini played in the Billie Jean King Cup final and reached the 4th round of a Grand Slam tournament for the first time in her career at the Australian Open last month.

She received a nomination in the WTA Awards for the Most Improved Player in December, and, with this result, she will move up to No 16 in the World Rankings.


A relieved Jasmine Paolini saw off Sorana Cirstea in straight sets in their semi-final meeting on Friday

© Christopher Pike/Getty Images

33-year old Cirstea was bidding to become the second oldest player to enter the Top 20 for the first time, after 35-year-old Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in 2017, and to reach a WTA 1000 final for the first time in 11 years, but it was Paolini who maintained her perfect record against the Romanian, improving to 3-0 overall.

Paolini will play her first title match since Monastir last October on Saturday against Kalinskaya, who, with a spot in their first Grand Slam quarter-final on the line, beat the Italian, 6-4 6-2, in Melbourne in January.

“I think she’s moving really well and she’s playing really deep,” Paolini said of Kalinskaya. “When I played against her in Australian Open, she was also returning really deep, and I couldn’t start the point well. She was really also consistent, not many mistakes.

“If you want to beat her, I guess you have to play deep and to try to do not too many mistakes, but also to try to hit winners, to hit the ball, to push her away from the court because if not, she’s going to move you.”

That is precisely what Kalinskaya did to Swiatek on Friday night, and if the Russian can repeat that performance, then she will be the first unseeded champion at a WTA 1000 event since Caroline Garcia in Cincinnati 2 years ago.


Iga Swiatek flung her racket in frustration in a rare loss of cool over her form against Anna Kalinskaya on Friday

© Christopher Pike/Getty Images

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