Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit stopped top seed Petra Martic’s march to the Palermo Ladies Open final with a decisive straight sets win on Saturday, and the 4th seed will next meet France’s Fiona Ferro in the trophy match on Sunday.
It has been great to see Anett on the match court this week because, even despite the restrictions and everything else, it is great that they are playing again. People are taking precautions and doing what they can, but it’s nice to be back at a tournament. It’s been a long time, I have missed it. That is what you train for. The only way you can judge progress is through matches. Nigel Sears, coach to Anett Kontaveit
“It’s always difficult to tell how it’s going to be on court,’ Kontaveit said. “I can feel well practiced, but it might not turn out like that right away.
“I feel like I’m really fit and I feel like I’m moving well. I feel confident with my groundstrokes. I’m serving well. I’m pleased it’s paid off.”
Her next opponent, Ferro, who is ranked No 53 to Kontaveit’s No 22, came back from a set down to beat Italy’s Camila Giorgi, 2-6 6-2 7-5, to reach her first final of the season.
In the first official event for women or men since March, Europeans have been competing on continental clay and Kontaveit’s coach, Britain’s Nigel Sears, is thrilled to be back on the road after the suspension of both tours due to COVID-19.
“It has been great to see Anett on the match court this week because, even despite the restrictions and everything else, it is great that they are playing again,” Sears said in Sicily. “People are taking precautions and doing what they can, but it’s nice to be back at a tournament.
“It’s been a long time, I have missed it. That is what you train for. The only way you can judge progress is through matches.”
The 63-year old is pleased with his charge’s form this week, and the way she has adjusted to the various new health and safety regulations in place at an event that is being played in front of a reduced capacity crowd of 350, down from the usual 1,500.
“The protocols are pretty clear,” Sears said. “You are asked to stay in the hotel and go no further than the courts.
“You wear a mask at all times when you are in the club, and also when you are walking around the hotel.
“They’ve segregated hotel guests from our eating area, which is just for the WTA players and staff. Otherwise, we eat at the club.
“The restrictions are limiting, of course, but it’s something we have to do at the moment. We are getting tested every five days.”
The 24-year-old Estonian is through to her 6th WTA final, chasing her second title following a 6-2 6-4 triumph over Martic in an hour and 29 minutes, avenging a defeat to her in Dubai in February.
Kontaveit had to fight to hold her serve in the first game of the opening set at deuce, but then took control of the match by breaking in the 4th to open up a 4-1 lead.
Martic won only 56% on her first serve in the opening set. Kontaveit came back from 0-30 down to hold serve in the 7th game before breaking for a second time to win the first set, 6-2.
The Croatian earned an early break in the opening game of the second, but Kontaveit broke straight back to draw level, and saved a break point before holding serve to take a 2-1 lead.
The Estonian saved 5 of the 6 break points she faced and broke for the second time in the 4th game to open up a 4-1 lead.
Martic held serve at 2-5 down before breaking serve at 15 in the 9th game to claw her way back to 4-5, when she took a medical time-out.
It did not phase Kontaveit, who broke for a third time to love to close out the second, 6-4, and secure her place in the final.
“I felt like I played a very good match today,” she said. “I was quite aggressive, consistent, and I served especially well in the first set.
“It got a bit close in the end, but I played a good game at 5-4 and I am happy to be in the final.”
Martic praised her opponent’s quality, stating: “It was a tough one. I thought I didn’t play badly. I had a few chances I missed, and in the end that makes a difference.
“Anett played well, she played smart and was the better player today.”
It took Fiona Ferro 2 hours and 6 minutes to get past Italy’s Camila Giorgi, 2-6 6-2 7-5, both claiming 88 points and staying neck and neck until the end.
It was the Frenchwoman who stayed the calmer in the closing stages to cross the finish line first, after suffering 5 breaks from the 10 chances offered to Giorgi, and earning 6 breaks on the other side to help her over the top.
The Italian made the better start, breaking twice in a row to open up a 4-0 lead and saving 3 break points before holding serve for 5-0.
Ferro managed to pull one break back but Giorgi closed out the set with another break to love, 6-2, and was hoping for more of the same in the second.
“The first set was very tough for me, because she was playing fast and I was always late,” Ferro said. “She’s not the player I usually like to play because she’s trying a winner on every shot, so it’s not easy to play against her.
“But then I tried to focus more on my game and not hers, to prepare earlier and just be more aggressive. And I think I served better in the second and third set.”
Ferro responded to the deficit by earning an early break in the first game of the second set, and held her serve after saving 2 break points to open up a 2-0 lead.
She went up a double break in the 5th game to race out to a 4-1 lead, but Giorgi got one break back for 2-4 when Ferro broke again in the 7th game and served out the second set, 6-2, the momentum now firmly on her side.
The third set was a tense affair with both players in their rhythm, and it was Ferro who, once again, claimed the early break to open up a 3-1 lead.
Big-hitting Giorgi played more fearlessly as the match reached its final stages, and she blasted pinpoint accurate returns to break Ferro, who was serving for the match, levelling the score at 5-5.
After grabbing a brief reprieve, Giorgi promptly lost 8 of the last 11 points to send the Frenchwoman into the final and missing the opportunity to chase the crown in front of home fans.
“You always hope to be in the final in the beginning of the week, but you never know if it’s going to happen,” Ferro said. “I had a good preparation for this tournament because I played some matches in July in France. I think that helped me when I got here, because I was ready.”
Giorgi was aiming to become the first Italian player to reach the final in Palermo since Sara Errani and Roberta Vinci battled for the title in 2013, while Ferro had taken out two Italians in a row one day after her win over Errani.
“I would have never won those matches two years ago,” Ferro said. “I used to focus on my opponent when she was playing aggressive, and I did not find solutions.
“Today I am very happy to be through because I managed to focus more on my game and not on my emotions.”
As for Giorgi: “I have no regrets. I felt in good shape and I tried to play my own game. The break in the third set made the difference,” she observed.
Kontaveit now awaits in the final and Ferro is seeking her first title on clay.
The pair will contest their second career meeting, although it will be their first WTA-level clash, with Kontaveit leading their head-to-head 1-0 after defeating Ferro at an ITF event in 2016.
“It feels so good [to be in the final]. Right now I’m a little bit tired, but so is she,” said Ferro.
“She’s a player who serves very well. I played her in France four years ago, I think, and I lost in three tight sets.
“The challenge is that she’s aggressive, she’s consistent and she serves well, so I will try to focus on my own game and be aggressive and try to play with my forehand. And we’ll see how it goes.”
As Palermo draws to a close, players and coaches normally accustomed to a routine on tour are having to adjust with the impact of coronavirus.
While the US Open looks likely to go ahead on 31 August, few are confident about the prospects for the European clay-court swing in September, with the Madrid Open cancelled earlier in the week and concerns rising over cases in Paris, where the French Open is due to start on 27 September.
“We have actually amended the schedule already because things are changing all the time,” Sears explained. “When it was looking as though the American tournaments were not going to happen, we had to think about playing both Palermo [this week] and Prague [next week].
“Now they are happening, we have pulled out of Prague to give us more time. That’s the kind of adjustment that you have to make once you know that tournaments are confirmed.
“I hope that the powers that be can manage to salvage something safely for the rest of the year, but it’s going to be difficult because different countries are in different situations, so it’s hard to be sure about anything at the moment.
“As soon as there is a spike in cases, obviously there are problems. If multiple people test positive at an event — fortunately it hasn’t been an issue here — it will have to be addressed.”
Some players and coaches have decided against travelling to the United States, and Sears, who is the father of Andy Murray’s wife, Kim, admits that he did consider the health risks before he and Kontaveit booked their flights to New York.
“It’s better to have tennis this way than nothing at all,” Sears feels. “Obviously it is a calculated risk, and I had to weigh things up.
“But for me it wasn’t really a difficult decision. I felt that I wanted it enough to be back out here on the tour.”
Before all that, though, Kontaveit has a final to play as both she and Ferro aim for their second WTA titles.
Kontaveit’s only previous success came on grass in Rosmalen, Netherlands, in June 2017, while Ferro raised the trophy in Lausanne, Switzerland, last year.