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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Saturday, February 24, 2024


Jasmine Paolini reeled off 16 of the final 19 points fighting off qualifier Anna Kalinskaya 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, in a dramatic Dubai final comeback.

Photo credit: Christopher Pike/Getty

An engaging Jasmine Paolini speaks several languages.

Pouring passion into every point, Paolini showed competitive eloquence under pressure to capture the biggest title of her life.

Halep: The Nightmare is Over

Paolini reeled off 16 of the final 19 points fighting off qualifier Anna Kalinskaya 4-6, 7-5, 7-5, in a dramatic Dubai Duty Free Championships final comeback victory.

Exuding energy and defiance, the 5’4” Italian stood tall snapping Kalinskaya’s seven-match winning streak to win her second career title.

“It’s so special—I’m really happy,” Paolini said. “It was a really tough match. She’s playing unbelievable. She played unbelievable all week.

“I’m really happy to come back it was really tough. I tried to stay focused every point, to believe it, it went really well. I’m really proud of myself.”

In a title match of surprise finalists, Kalinskaya put herself in position to win her maiden title. Kalinskaya served for the title at 5-4 only to falter with some unforced errors unleashing Paolini’s most dynamic tennis of the night.

From 3-5 down in the decider, the pumped-up Paolini broke twice in a row winning eight of the last nine points played on Kalinskaya’s serve.

All this from from the 28-year-old baseliner, who was down and very nearly out in the opening round before rallying fora 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 win over 14th-ranked Beatriz Haddad Maia. Paolini showed sheer guts saving six set points in the second set of her 6-2, 7-6 semifinal win over Sorana Cirstea yesterday.

The power in pink never blinked in the face of a third-set deficit today.

It is Paolini's second career title and first since 2021 Portoroz as she joins Sara Errani (2016) as the second Italian to raise the Dubai title trophy. This rousing run vaults Paolini to a career-high ranking of No. 14 in the live rankings. 

“I’m really surprised—I don’t know what to say,” Paolini said. “I’m just happy. I believe to win every match.

“It was tough because I remember the first match I was a set and a break down and I came back—everything changed—I could have lost first round and I’m here winning the title. It’s unbelievable.”

It’s incredibly painful for Kalinskaya.

The Australian Open quarterfinalist delivered the best tournament of her life knocking off three Grand Slam champion, Top 10 players in succession to become just the second qualifier to reach a WTA 1000 final. Kalinskaya played smart, assertive tennis for much of the match opening up a 5-3 lead in the final set only to blink at closing time. Fatigue likely played a factor too: The qualifier was playing her eighth straight match.

Still, it was an exceptional effort for the Moscow-born baseliner, who rises to No. 24 in the live rankings. Kalinskaya showed complete class praising Paolini as the worthy winner.

“I want to congratulate Jasmine on your first big title,” Kalinskaya said. “You totally deserve it, you fight for every ball—and enjoy the moment.

"Thanks for the crowd for coming. I never played so much tennis in one week but it was a pleasure playing in front of you. You make it very special and give a lot of energy and support so hopefully see you all next year.”

The depth of Kalinskaya’s returns helped her bang out four breaks in sweeping world No. 1 Iga Swiatek 6-4, 6-4 in yesterday’s semifinals.

Today, Kalinskaya burst out of the blocks quickly, breaking at at when Paolini netted a forehand, then sliding a forehand winner down the line to consolidate for 2-0.

Settling in, the 28-year-old Italian fired a couple of forehand winners to get on the scoreboard after eight minutes.

The pair traded breaks in the fourth and fifth games. The 5’4” Paolini was hitting her forehand with more vigor, breaking back in the sixth game for 3-all.

Sweeping a crosscourt forehand winner, Paolini held for the second time and a 4-3 lead.

Contesting her eighth match of the week, Kalinskaya was moving well as she exploited a cluster of errors to gain triple break point in the ninth game. On her second break point, Kalinskaya cracked a clean two-handed pass down the line breaking at 15 for 5-4.

The Moscow-born baseliner toppled three Top 10 Grand Slam champions in succession—2017 Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko, US Open champion Coco Gauff and three-time Roland Garros champion Iga Swiatek—en route to the final making notable history. She is the second qualifier to defeat two Top-3 players in a WTA event in the last 40 years after Amelie Mauresmo beat Lindsay Davenport and Jana Novotna at the 1998 Berlin.

Closing the opening set with confidence, Kalinskaya spread the court beautifully with stinging forehands snatching a one-set lead after 35 minutes of play.

When Paolini missed her first serve, Kalinskaya gave her few second chances to get in exchanges.

Stepping inside the baseline, Kalinskaya crushed a backhand return winner off a second serve scoring her fourth break—and winning her fourth game in a row to start the second set.

All week, Kalinskaya has slid her slice serve wide on the deuce side to open the court and frequently fired her forehand down the line to punctuate points. Applying that play perfectly, Kalinskaya backed up the break at 15 for her fifth consecutive game and a 2-0 lead.

Conquering the spunky Italian 6-4, 6-2 in last month’s Australian Open fourth round, Kalinskaya knows the problems Paolini poses.

“She runs very good. She fights every single ball,” Kalinskaya said of Paolini. “She’s very tricky. She has good hands. Of course, she has a boost of confidence I’m pretty sure. This year she’s doing great.”

Digging out of a love-30 hole, Kalinskaya won four points in a row earning a hard-fought hold for 3-1.

Riding a new career-high rank of No. 16, Paolini pumped a drive down the line breaking back in the sixth game to level the second set.

Dropping to a squat, Aga Radwanska-style, Paolini flicked a backhand winner into the corner from nearly her knees. By then, the Italian had reeled off 12 of the last 15 points surging to a 4-3 lead for the second straight set.

This time, the feisty Italian refused to relinquish the lead. Paolini ripped a series of sharp-angled backhands breaking for the fourth time to force a final set after one hour, 23 minutes.

The qualifier left the court to regroup after committing 16 unforced errors in the second set.

A pumped-up Paolini had the momentum, but committed her first double fault of the night to give up the break to start the decider.

Shrugging it off, the gritty Paolini broke right back with a scream.

A running backhand pass gave the world No. 40 the second straight break and a 2-1 lead.

Elevating, Kalinsksaya was leaning into her backhand, taking the ball early and driving the ball down the line issuing a love hold for 3-1.

Serving at 4-3, Kalinskaya confronted a break point with calm clarity. She stood toe-to-toe with Paolini in a rousing rally, dodging break point when the Italian’s backhand sailed long. Paolini kept fighting, but Kalinskaya prevailed in another crackling baseline exchange and allowed herself a small smile holding for 5-3 to move within four points of her maiden title.

An intense Paolini was not done.

Tightening up a bit as she served for her first title at 5-4, Kalinskaya hit some shaky shots to face double break point. A Kalinskaya drop shot flirted with the top of the tape crawling back on her side as Paolini broke to level after 10 games.

A relentless Paolini was hurling herself into her forehand, trying to attack the ball at crunch time. Plugging into a surge that saw her win 12 of 15 points, the energized Italian held at 15 to edge ahead 6-5.

Drilling a passing shot right at the body, Paolini rattled out a defensive volley error followed by a floated forehand for love-30.

Unraveling, Kalinskaya double faulted to face triple championship point just minutes after serving for the crown.

One final forehand from Kalinskaya flew long and Paolini tossed her head back and broke into the wide smile of a champion.

Unseeded, unheralded and often under-the-rader, Paolini showed the power of self belief can create magic moments.

“Incredible,” Paolini wrote on the court-side camera summing up the sentiments of many after a stunning comeback.


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