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French Open final beyond a dream for Italy's Paolini

football06 June 2024 19:00| Ā© AFP
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Jasmine Paolini said she had never dreamed of reaching a Grand Slam final after setting up a championship decider with reigning champion Iga Swiatek at the French Open on Thursday.


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Italian 12th seed Paolini ended the run of 17-year-old Russian sensation Mirra Andreeva in the semifinals, winning 6-3, 6-1 to make her first Grand Slam final at the age of 28.

"It's a great feeling to be in a Grand Slam final. I don't know. It seems something impossible, you know, but it's true," said a beaming Paolini.

It is an astonishing transformation for a player who had never gone beyond the second round of a major before the start of this year.

The world number 15 had won a total of four matches in 16 Grand Slam appearances before advancing to the fourth round of the Australian Open in January.

Now she is one win away from an improbable title at Roland Garros as she tries to emulate compatriot Francesca Schiavone, who won the 2010 French Open.

"I was watching the other Italians make it in the finals, and also won Grand Slams, but (to) imagine that can be myself was tough," said Paolini.

"Of course, I wished, but now it's something crazy for me. I'm really happy. Also surprised."

Paolini is having the best season of her career hands down.

She claimed her biggest title to date ā€“ and only the second of her career ā€“ in Dubai in February, and is guaranteed to break into the top 10 for the first time after her success here.

"When I started to play tennis, I was just enjoying. Yeah, I was not dreaming too much. I was just enjoying playing tennis," recalled Paolini.

"Then I started to train like a professional tennis player. I was dreaming to become a professional, and I never dreamed to be, you know, No 1, Grand Slam champion. Never dreamed so big. Never."

ANDREEVA FALTERS

Andreeva had become the youngest Grand Slam semifinalist in 27 years with a shock victory over second seed Aryna Sabalenka in the last eight.

But her bid to be crowned the youngest major champion since Martina Hingis at the 1997 US Open was cut short as Andreeva was unable to reproduce the level that saw her put out an ailing Sabalenka.

Paolini snatched the only break of a tight opening set in the fourth game, saving five break chances across her next two service games to keep Andreeva at arm's length.

The errors continued to pile up for Andreeva and Paolini seized her opportunity once more when it arose at 1-1 in the second set, before breaking for a second time to stride towards the finish line.

With Andreeva looking increasingly disconsolate and fighting back tears, Paolini applied the coup de grace with one last break to complete a resounding victory.

"I learned I think a little bit later than other players, to dream is the most important thing in sport and in life," said Paolini.

"I'm happy I could dream this moment. I don't know what to say, I'm so emotional."

What seemed an unlikely outcome two weeks ago could become reality for Paolini in two days' time, but what now appears the toughest assignment in women's tennis still stands between her and glory.

Swiatek is 34-2 at Roland Garros and seeking a fourth French Open coronation in five years after dusting aside Coco Gauff in the first semifinal.

"Iga is unbelievable player," said Paolini, who won a combined six games against the Pole in the previous two meetings, the last coming in the first round of the 2022 US Open.

Swiatek went on to win in New York that year, but a lot has changed since then with the current version on Paolini, fuelled with belief, a far different proposition.

"I feel more confidence in my game, in myself. So, as I said many times, I step on court believing that I can win those matches," said Paolini.

"My goal is to step on court Saturday and try to enjoy the match and to enjoy that moment and to try to play a good match."

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