RIDING HIGH IN THE LOWCOUNTRY: BADOSA STUNS NO. 1 BARTY
JABEUR, KOVINIC, KUDERMETOVA ROUND OUT FINAL FOUR AT CHARLESTON OPEN, GUARANTEEING FIRST-TIME WTA TITLIST
Spain’s Paula Badosa posted the biggest win of her career on Friday at the Volvo Car Open, stunning top seed and World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty of Australia, 6-4, 6-3, at the LTP Daniel Island Tennis Center.
The New York-born/Barcelona-raised baseliner hadn’t defeated a Top-20 player until scalping 12th-ranked Belinda Bencic of Switzerland in the second round in Charleston. Now the 23-year-old is into her first WTA 500 semifinal.
“I can’t believe it. I still can’t believe that I just beat No. 1 in the world,” gasped Badosa, who totaled seven aces and won 71 percent of her first-serve points (32 of 45) in the one-hour, 16-minute victory. “I was quite nervous today, but I think I served very well. I think that was the key of the match. It was a tough match, but I was there until the last moment.”
Barty, the Miami Open champion, saw her eight-match win streak come to an end on the green clay in her first appearance in Charleston since 2018. Remarkably, this was her first event on clay since winning the Roland Garros title in 2019.
“I thought she served exceptionally well, made a lot of first serves on big points,” said Barty. “She was able to keep good depth on the court, and I think that’s an important part of clay-court tennis, is allowing yourself to push your opponent off the baseline. I think she did that really well tonight.”
While media/fans might raise an eyebrow at the outcome, Barty said she isn’t surprised in the least that the 71st-ranked Badosa could produce such a result.
“She’s a great player, a quality opponent,” said Barty, who plans to unwind for a few days in Charleston before heading over to the red clay of Stuttgart. “Everyone here is deserving of their place. Everyone here is a professional athlete who goes about their business in the best possible way for them. There are a helluva lot of good players out here. It’s important to respect that. Of course, I respect all of my opponents. I know that every single time that I walk on the court, I have to compete at my very best to be able to match up with them.”
Standing between Badosa and her first WTA 500 final is 15th seed Veronika Kudermetova of Russia, who scored a 6-3, 6-4 win over 2016 champion Sloane Stephens. A first-time WTA Tour finalist earlier this year in Abu Dhabi, Kudermetova proved an unyielding force from the baseline, repeatedly swatting return winners.
Two-time Volvo Car Open quarterfinalist Danka Kovinic of Montenegro is into her first-ever semifinal in Charleston after storming back from a set down to defeat 11th seed Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan, 6-7(2), 7-5, 6-1.
It marked Kovinic’s first win over Putintseva in three head-to-head encounters, though they hadn’t faced each other since 2015. She converted seven of eight break-point chances in the two-hour, 52-minute match, and saved nine of the 12 she faced on her serve.
“Last year, when we returned back after corona, somehow I changed my mindset on the court, where I really believed I could beat the good players, maybe the best in our sport,” said Kovinic, who upset two-time Wimbledon champ Petra Kvitova, 6-4, 6-1, in the Round of 16 — the biggest win of the Montenegrin’s career. “This step forward in my game is showing today.”
Kovinic’s opponent in the semis will be 12th seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia, who advanced with a 6-3, 6-3 win over 14th-seeded American Coco Gauff.
Gauff, who came into the match with a 2-0 edge over her opponent, would battle her body early on. After a tumble to the court, she received a visit from a trainer trailing 3-2. She was seen down on the court receiving treatment, in tears, her right hip the apparent cause of concern. (She would later withdraw from the doubles draw.)
To her credit, Gauff returned to the court to level the opening set at 3-all. However, her movement was clearly compromised. She would finish with 13 double faults, and had her serve broken on eight occasions. As expected, Jabeur showed plenty of variety, effectively employing her trademark dropshots in key moments.
“The drop shot saved me so many times on many important points,” said Jabeur, at No. 28 the highest-ranked Arab player in tour history. “The serve wasn’t here today, but I’m glad that I got to break her so many times. I was trying to close out some angles for her, so she was a little bit confused with the serve. That helped me a lot to get some double faults.”
“I was thinking for myself to be patient, to never really give up,” she continued. “She’s a tough player. She gets every ball. She doesn’t give you any opportunities. For me, I was focusing on my game and changing the rhythm.”