[15] Veronika Kudermetova vs. Danka Kovinic

Montenegrins aren’t exactly known as a trophy-clutching force in the arena of professional tennis.

So it was only inevitable this week that, as she quietly slashed her way through a draw that included such world-bests as No. 1-ranked Ashleigh Barty and multi-major titlists Petra Kvitova and Garbiñe Muguruza, Danka Kovinic would field a few questions about her homeland. Asked about the character of her people, Kovinic, 26, a real-time pioneer in the Balkan nation of 620,000, was most forthcoming.

“We are known to be lazy,” she said with a laugh.

Of course, the 91st-ranked Kovinic, who in 2015 became the first player from Montenegro, man or woman, to reach the second round of a Grand Slam at Roland Garros, hasn’t had a whole lot of time of late to sit back on the couch and kick her feet up, remote, not racquet, in hand. Making her fourth main-draw appearance at the Charleston Car Open in Charleston, S.C., she’s been busy out-hustling the likes of seeds Petra Kvitova (ranked 11th in the world), Yulia Putintseva and Ons Jabeur.

Which brings us to the next quality: Montenegrins are dogged competitors.

“When I’m at home, I’m lazy a little bit. But when I’m on the court, I never give up,” Kovinic confided. “It’s not only me, also others, especially when they’re playing for the national teams. They are very fierce. They go with the heart. They give everything. This is what I really like about my country, because we know we’re a small country and there is not a lot of us. Even at the Olympics, maybe it’s going to be 30, 40 of us total to represent our country. Every moment we can, we’re trying to represent Montenegro in the best way.”

Now into the biggest final of her career, her first on the green clay of the LTP Daniel Island Tennis Center, Kovinic will try to tap into that ferocity, that national pride when she takes the court against the Armani-stamped Veronika Kudermetova of Russia on Sunday.

The 15th seed Kudermetova has been playing some dominant tennis herself. In fact, she hasn’t dropped a set all week. The 23-year-old reached her first WTA final earlier this year in Abu Dhabi, taking out 5th-ranked Elina Svitolina in the process, yet she arrived in the Palmetto State an unknown quantity.

Well, we sure know her now. The daughter of a onetime ice hockey champion is a bruising baseliner with heavy groundstrokes and a momentum-changing serve. The 38th-ranked Kudermetova has smacked 25 aces this week to bring her season total to 119, second only to the top-ranked Barty (127) on the WTA Tour. But it’s her intensity on the court that may be her most formidable weapon. Between points, she regularly chides herself or swats her racquet against her leg — just about anything to spur herself on. Her husband Sergei Demekhine, who formerly mentored Vera Zvonareva, and coach Vlado Platenik can only watch from the side of the court.

“I try to fight until the end every time,” she said, moments after dispatching Paula Badosa of Spain, 6-3, 6-3, in the semifinals. “Sometimes I get a little bit emotional, but I try to focus on the work and what I need to do.”

These two finalists have met only once before, two years ago in Shenzhen, with Kudermetova claiming a 6-4, 7-5 victory. But that result seems irrelevant now. There’s so much more on the line this time, as they go to battle for their maiden WTA title.


Nicole Melichar/Demi Schuurs [1] vs. Marie Bouzkova/Lucie Hradecká

Punctuating their 7-5, 6-1 win over Gabriela Dabrowski/Asia Muhammad on Saturday with a victory dance on the green clay of the LTP Daniel Island Tennis Center, the top-seeded tandem of Demi Schuurs and Nicole Melichar moved into the doubles final at the Charleston Open.

It’s yet another successful run for the Dutch-American duo, which followed up a semifinal finish at the Australian Open by capturing the title at the Qatar Total Open 2021 last month in Doha.

Their opponents on Sunday will be the all-Czech team of Marie Bouzkova and Lucie Hradecká, who downed 4th seeds Alexa Guarachi/Desirae Krawczyk, 6-3, 0-6, 10-7, in their semifinal. Hradecká is no stranger to success on the doubles court, having won 22 WTA doubles titles, and two Grand Slams — Roland Garros in 2011 and the US Open in 2013, partnering on both occasions with countrywoman Andrea Hlaváčkov.