15th-seeded Veronika Kudermetova made it into the Volvo Car Open trophy match in Charleston where she will meet unseeded Danka Kovinic, both unlikely and surprising finalists from a field that was led by World No 1 Ash Barty and 4th-ranked Sofia Kenin among 9 of the Top 20.
Today, I tried to play more aggressive than I played in Abu Dhabi [against Badosa]. It was a good match for me because I was really nervous. I showed a lot of emotion — I crushed my racket — but I like this match. Veronika Kudermetova
23-year old Kudermetova rolled past Spain’s Paula Badosa, the dark horse in the draw, 6-3 6-3, continuing a run at the year’s opening clay-court tournament where she has yet to lose a set.
Kovinic , the World No 91 from Montenegro, cruised past No 28-ranked Ons Jabeur from Tunisia, 6-3 6-2, to move through to the biggest final of her career at a WTA 500 event.
Badosa, ranked 71st in the world, had reached the semi-finals with a 6-4 6-3 upset of Barty, just the second win of her career over a top-20 player, the first coming in the second round against 12th-ranked Swiss Belinda Bencic.
Kudermetova, ranked 38th in the world, fired 28 winners, which was 2 more than her 26 unforced errors, and converted 4 of her 6 break chances to beat the Spaniard, who only was able to take advantage of 1 of her 5 break point opportunities.
The influence of Maria Sharapova on Kudermetova is clear in her groundstrokes, which she strikes flat and early, and her two-handed backhand.
She also has devastating serve and looks to impose herself instantly, demonstrated on Saturday when she broke Badosa to love in the opening game and broke again at 3-5 to handily take the first set.
The Spaniard was a shadow of the player who stormed past the top seed on Friday, playing weary tennis and allowing the Russian to dictate the tempo of one rally after another.
When Badosa dropped her serve at 0-1 in the second, it looked but over until she at last dug in, breaking Kudermetova and levelling at 2-all.
The effect was to dampen down the Russian, who looked sullen and distraught, a sharp contrast to the dialled-in player of the first set, but she calmed herself, overcoming her nerves
A 12-minute game followed in which Kudermetova saved 2 break points to pull ahead, before winning 4 of the final 5 games to reach her second final of the season.
She fell to Aryna Sabalenka in the title match at Abu Dhabi in January.
“Today, I tried to play more aggressive than I played in Abu Dhabi,” said Kudermetova, who needed three sets to get past Badosa in the third round there on the way to the final.
“It was a good match for me because I was really nervous. I showed a lot of emotion — I crushed my racket — but I like this match.”
In the other semi-final, Montenegro’s Kovinic defeated Tunisian Ons Jabeur 6-3, 6-2 to give herself a chance at a first WTA crown.
After labouring almost 3 hours to beat Yulia Putintseva on Friday, she needed just 78 minutes to beat the No 13 seed.
It looked like there might be some fatigue for Kovinic very early on against Jabeur on Saturday as she dropped her serve at 15 in the opening game, but she broke right back, and after the two traded holds until 3-all, the Montenegrin came alive, winning 7 games in a row to build a 6-3, 4-0 lead.
They stayed on serve the rest of the way until Kovinic sealed the deal, missing out on her first 2 match points but closing it out after an hour and 18 minutes after a Jabeur backhand into the net.
It was a stark contrast to their only other meeting, which Jabeur dominated, 6-2, 6-1.
“Obviously both of us have been developing our games over the years, and Ons, she’s a Top 30 player now,” Kovinic said. “I just went on the court today trying to win, trying to show what I can do. Hopefully I’m doing well.”
At the end of the day, Kovinic’s numbers were just too clean for Jabeur, finishing with 13 winners to 15 unforced errors, while the Tunisian had 16 winners to 27 unforced errors.
Kovinic is now through to her third career WTA final, and first at the WTA 500 level, while Jabeur remains the only player in the Top 30 of the WTA rankings without a WTA title.
“I feel wonderful right now, to be honest,” Kovinic said on court after converting her third match point.
“Even though I’m a little bit tired, I gave my best on the court today to make it through. I was very decisive today.”
Kovinic upset her third-seeded opponent in Jabeur, having previously toppled No 3 seed and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova on Thursday, and then dropping the opening set against 11th seeded Putintseva in the quarters before rallying to victory.
The 26-year-old had no illusions that would change when the week began.
“To be honest, I didn’t feel 100 percent confident,” she said on entering this tournament. “Match by match, my game improved and my confidence raised a little bit and everything came together. I’m in the final right now.”
Kudermetova and Kovinic have met just once previously, the Russian taking a qualifying round match for the Shenzhen Open in China in December 2018.