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By Richard Pagliaro | @Tennis_Now | Friday, February 23, 2024


Qualifier Anna Kalinskaya soared through 10 of the last 14 games, shocking world No. 1 Iga Swiatek 6-4, 6-4 to charge into her first WTA 1000 final in Dubai.

Photo credit: Robert Prange/Getty

Don’t let her shy smile and polite demeanor fool you.

All-court artist Anna Kalinskaya owns the killer instinct and continues to turn the desert into a burial ground for Grand Slam champions.

Halep: The Nightmare is Over

Roaring back from a 2-4 deficit, qualifier Kalinskaya soared through 10 of the last 14 games, shocking world No. 1 Iga Swiatek 6-4, 6-4 to charge into her first WTA 1000 final in Dubai.

Playing crosscourt combinations and striking some courageous second serves, Kalinskaya saved nine of 11 break points, including a break point when she served it out at 5-4, and battered the top seed’s second serve for her biggest career win.

Stymied by Kalinskaya's depth, Swiatek scattered 14 forehand unforced errors and slammed her Tecnifibre racquet to the court in a rare show of frustration during the second set, incurring a racquet abuse violation warning for the stick slamming.

Afterward, Kalinskaya said her game-plan was simple: keep the ball moving corner to corner and avoid getting destroyed.

“She’s a great player. I know if I don’t stay calm and I don’t stay aggressive, she is gonna destroy me," Kalinskaya said. "So that was my plan: To stay aggressive and move her a lot and I’m happy I won.

"She’s unbelievable. I’m happy I had the chance to play against her and I’m sure we’ll play a lot in the future.”

It’s been a wondrous week for Kalinskaya, who toppled 2017 Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko, 6-4, 7-5, in the round of 16. Yesterday, Kalinskaya battled by US Open champion Coco Gauff 2-6, 6-4, 6-2.

Today, she played dynamic tennis challenging the Doha champion’s forehand successfully and snapping Swiatek’s seven-match winning streak.

It is Kalinskaya’s third consecutive Top 10 win and second straight Top 5 victory as she raised her 2024 record to 11-4, rocketing to a career-high ranking of No. 24 in the live rankings.

The top seed carried a 22-2 career record vs. qualifiers and a 14-1 record in 2024 with her lone loss coming to Linda Noskova at the Australian Open.

None of that mattered much to Kalinskaya, who joins Caroline Garcia as the second qualifier to reach a WTA 1000 final as she takes aim at her maiden title tomorrow.

“Definitely I’m super happy with my team, thank you coach,” Kalinskaya said of her coach, former WTA standout Patricia Tarabini. “It’s a pleasure to work with them. I feel much better physically than last year.

"Big respect to my fitness coach who is watching now. That gives me confidence to play at such a high level.”

The Moscow-born Kalinskaya will face fierce Italian Jasmine Paolini in tomorrow’s final.

World No. 26 Paolini saved six set points in the second set subduing Sorana Cirstea 6-2, 7-6(6) in today’s first semifinal played with both a spot in the Dubai final—and a place in the Top 20—on the line.

It’s the first WTA 1000 final for Paolini, who joins Flavia Pennetta, Sara Errani and Camila Giorgi as the fourth Italian woman to reach a 1000-level final.

The victory vaults a beaming Paolini to a career-high ranking of No. 16 in the live rankings.

A wild ride left Paolini celebrating the pure craziness of the trip.

“I couldn’t believe it,” said a smiling Paolini. “At the [start of] the week, If you were telling me that I’m gonna be Top 20 after this tournament, I would say you are crazy.

“But now I’m really happy and I’m looking forward to play a great match tomorrow.”

Tomorrow’s final is a rematch of the Australian Open round of 16 that saw Kalinskaya beat Paolini, 6-4, 6-2, to reach her maiden major quarterfinal where she fell to eventual-finalist Zheng Qinwen.

“She’s a great player—she fights for every single ball,” Kalinskaya said of Paolini. “I played against her in Australia and it was a very difficult match. I hope it’s gonna be a great match tomorrow and we will show our best.”

Playing for her second straight Dubai final, Swiatek saved a couple of break points in the opening game—using a forehand volley winner and drive to hold.

The 25-year-old qualifier erased a break point matching with a hold in her first service game.

Kalinskaya stayed in step through four games, but netted a forehand trying to change direction to face triple break point a half hour into the match. Kalinskaya saved all three break points then bolted a backhand down the line fending off a fourth break point of the sixth game.

The sliding qualifier was a little late responding to a Swiatek forehand and netted her reply to face a fifth break point.

A barrage of Swiatek forehands opened the court for a blistering backhand to hammer out the break and a 4-2 lead at the 35-minute mark.

Credit Kalinskaya for narrowing her focus and fighting right back to force the love break. Kalinskaya saved a break point to even after eight games.

From 2-4 down, Kalinskaya high percentage crosscourt drives giving the Roland Garros champion little to work with as she reeled off three games in a row breaking for 5-4.

Serving for the set, Kalinskaya continued to challenge the top seed’s forehand with crosscourt drives. Kalinskaya rattled out forehand errors for set point then pounced on a punishing forehand down the line to snatch the 53-minute opener on a four-game surge.

The qualifier’s court coverage, athleticism and her self-belief that she possesses the power and depth to match Swiatek in crosscourt exchanges were all essential elements to this upset.

The four-time Grand Slam champion left the court for a clothing change, but Kalinskaya would not permit her to alter the patterns at play. When an erratic Swiatek dragged a backhand wide, Kalinskaya had her fifth straight game to start the second set with a break.

Polish fans were chanting “Iga! Iga!” in an effort to rouse the three-time Doha champion.

Sixty-three minutes into this semifinal, Swiatek erupted with a rare show of negative emotion slamming her Tecnifibre stick to the court after netting a forehand. Swiatek was hit with a racquet abuse warning and Kalinskaya cruised through the confirmation hold at 15 for a one set, 2-0 lead.

The 25-year-old Kalinskaya was not only beating the world No. 1 to the punch, she looked completely comfortable controlling some exchanges. Dancing around a backhand, Kalinskaya thumped a bounce smash holding for 3-1 with a small smile.

The quandary Swiatek faced was she was getting beat in crosscourt exchanges and when she tried to change direction down the line, she was often misfiring as the set progressed.

Shrewdly sticking to her game plan, Kalinskaya cranked a crosscourt return and scored her fourth break of the night for 5-2 when Swiatek slapped a backhand down the line into net.

Taking a 40-15 lead, Kalinskaya earned double match point.

On match point No. 1, Swiatek snapped a smash, flirting with the sideline, to save it. On the second match point, Swiatek scalded a backhand winner for deuce then drew a running forehand error for break point.

The woman in white saved it, but Swiatek stung a couple of snapping returns to break back for 3-5 prompting a chant of “Iga! Iga!” from fans.

Serving for the final again at 5-4, 30-all, Kalinskaya put a backhand into net to face break point. Swiatek had a clear look at a crosscourt forehand, but missed it—her 13th forehand error of the evening—only to blast a backhand return for a second break point.

A courageous serve saved it then Kalinskaya drew a 14th forehand error for her third match point.

Coach Patricia Tarabini was clapping as her charge Kalinskaya opened the court with a forehand and then finished with a flourish driving a sweet forehand swing volley to end a masterful one hour, 41-minute win.

Comeback queen Cirstea, who fought off an astounding six match points ralling from a one-set, 1-5 deficit to defeat Wimbledon winner Marketa Vondrousova 2-6, 7-6 (1), 6-2 .in yesterday’s quarterfinals, was showing saving grace again today against Paolini.

Staring down match point at 4-5 in the second set today, Cirstea cracked a courageous backhand winner down the line to save match point, eventually holding for 5-all.

Cirstea served at 6-5 to force a final set and earned five set points in a dizzying and dramatic 10-minute game. A relentless Paolini zapped an inside-out forehand return winner to break and force the tiebreaker after one hour, 48 minutes.

Refusing to press the panic button in the face of the Romanian’s rally, Paolini saved a sixth set point in the tiebreaker crushing a shoulder-high forehand crosscourt to level the tiebreaker, 6-all.

Paolini elicited successive errors to close in one hour, 57 minutes.

“I give you a little bit of drama at the end of the match,” Paolini said. “Yeah, I was a little bit nervous but, she’s a great player, she was starting to hit winners. I was worried a little bit because yesterday she did an amazing comeback.

“I’m really happy I managed to win the tiebreaker. It’s amazing.”


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