The youngest player in the girls’ singles draw from one of the smallest countries in the world, 14-year-old Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva, upset Robin Montgomery, the No 2 seed, in the quarter-finals, 1-6 7-5 6-2, to reach her first Grand Slam semi-final.
At the beginning, my legs weren’t moving much, I wasn’t playing my best tennis... I turned on [in set two]. I played my tennis. When I’m doing that, it’s usually how I win. There was a moment I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, my match is going to end here,’… I just… I don’t know how I did it. But this is incredible. To be in the semi-finals, I didn’t think I would get here. I’m going to keep fighting. Victoria Jimenez Kasintseva
There was a moment on Thursday when it appeared that she would soon be packing her bags to go back to her home country of Andorra, down a set and 4-1 to the American, but her fighting spirit turned the match around.
In the clash of the two left-handers at Melbourne Park, Montgomery, the reigning Orange Bowl champion, raced to a 6-1, 5-5 lead before the match was suspended for nearly 2 1/2 hours due to the extreme heat.
A cold shower and a chat with her dad, Joan Jimenez, who is also her coach, buoyed Jimenez Kasintseva to make her comeback.
The American dropped serve on resumption of play and Jimenez Kasintseva held at love to take the set and force a decider.
She broke in the 3rd game of the final set and consolidated for a 3-1 advantage.
Montgomery dropped serve again and her Andorran opponent served out the match to book a spot in the semi-finals after 108 minutes of play where she next faces China’s No 13 seed, Zhuoxuan Bai, who upset the No 8 seed Polina Kudermetova in straight sets, 6-4 6-4, to reach her slot.
“At the beginning, my legs weren’t moving much, I wasn’t playing my best tennis,” said the No 9 seed, who saved 3 match points in her previous round, also a 3-setter.
“I turned on [in set two]. I played my tennis. When I’m doing that, it’s usually how I win.
“There was a moment I thought, ‘Oh my goodness, my match is going to end here,’… I just… I don’t know how I did it.
“But this is incredible. To be in the semi-finals, I didn’t think I would get here. I’m going to keep fighting.
Born in Andorra, a micro-state with a population of 77,000 people, Jimenez Kasintseva spent 3 years living in Kentucky, USA, where her dad, a former ATP player, and now a teaching pro.
“He never made me play tennis, I chose,” Victoria told ausopen.com. “He told me many stories about his playing days. He was a bit crazy I think.
“He didn’t have somebody behind him and he wasn’t serious in his tennis and that’s why he’s there for me every day, he’s trying to make me not make his same errors.”
A popular ski destination located in the eastern Pyrenees, Andorra is not a hotbed for tennis players like its neighbouring countries of Spain and France.
“We are from a very small country, with very big difficulties to play tennis because we are a ski country. We have only one indoor court in the whole country,” says Joan.
“We had very difficult moments for practice, because we have to practice early in the morning because we didn’t have courts and traveling to Barcelona to have competitions.
“But I have a daughter that loves tennis, that has tennis in the blood and we are a family doing the best thing for her to be a good person, respect and the values, and she’s doing great.”
Victoria is now based in Barcelona, where she trains and studies at her father’s academy.
She speaks Catalan, Spanish, English, Russian and French and says languages are her favourite subjects to study.
“It’s really nice because Andorra is a super nice country. It’s small but it’s lovely. I’m really proud to be from there,” says the affable 14-year-old.
“I’m kind of the first tennis player [from there], so I would like to encourage Andorran tennis players to fight for it because I’m sure there’s a lot of people there that want to be living this dream.
“So I want to encourage them to get there, because I know somebody else can do it and maybe even better than me.”
The top half of the girls’ draw features Poland’s Weronika Baszak, ranked 39th, against Alexandra Vecic of Germany, the junior World No 34, who stunned top seed Elsa Jacquemot in the 2nd round earlier in the week.
Vecic, without expectations heading to Melbourne, said she was coming into the tournament after a successful pre-season, training in Germany with the national team there, as well as her private coach, Torsten Popp, and her father, Srdjan.
“Every match has been a new, amazing feeling,” said Vecic, who turned 18 earlier this month. “I feel like I’m fitter than my opponents.
“I feel very confident in my footwork and don’t make too many unforced errors.”
She will need that against Baszak, who says she trusts her big serve and forehand as a one-two punch.
Baszak was cheered on by fellow Polish player Iga Swiatek on Thursday, the 2018 Wimbledon junior winner who made the 4th round of the women’s main draw here, as well as the quarter-finals of the mixed doubles.
In Melbourne with her father, Baszak has been video chatting with her coach, Krzysztof Czubak, who remains in Poland.
“[My coach] hasn’t been sleeping,” she said, laughing. “He stays up all night to watch my matches.
“He makes sure to set an alarm. We talk about the tactics, all of the things we need to know for a match.”
While Vecic listens to tunes pre-match, Baszak enjoys a vanilla or chocolate ice cream post-match, but only if it is in reward for a match well-fought.
On Thursday, Baszak had little issue with Hong Yi ‘Cody’ Wong, winning, 6-4 6-2, behind 23 winners, including 5 aces.
“The heat was exhausting,” she admitted. “I was trying to play aggressive and return well, so I was taking a lot of risk.
“I’m very happy with that win. My first semi-final of a Grand Slam. It feels amazing.”