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Paolini battles back to win Dubai Open title

tennis24 February 2024 18:00| Ā© AFP
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Jasmine Paolini Ā© Getty Images

Jasmine Paolini capped an "incredible" week in Dubai with a 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 victory over Russian world number 40 Anna Kalinskaya to claim the second WTA title of her career and first at the 1000 level on Saturday.

The Italian world number 26 snapped Kalinskaya's seven-match winning streak, which including qualifying, and avenged her defeat to the Russian from last month's Australian Open with a brave comeback performance.

Paolini was a set and 1-3 down, and also trailed 1-3 in the decider, against Kalinskaya but was at her grittiest best to ensure she became the second Italian woman to triumph in Dubai, following in the footsteps of Sara Errani.

"It's so special, I'm really happy, it was a really tough match. She's playing unbelievable, she played an unbelievable week and I'm really happy I managed to come back," said Paolini, who will make her top-15 debut when the new rankings are released on Monday.

Paolini began her campaign in Dubai with a come-from-behind win over 11th seed Beatriz Haddad Maia, who led the Italian by a set and a break before getting bagelled in the decider.

Impressive victories over former US Open finalist Leylah Fernandez, eighth seed Maria Sakkari, and an in-form Sorana Cirstea followed for Paolini before her heroic effort against Kalinskaya.

"I tried to stay focused every point to believe it and I'm really proud of myself," said the 28-year-old Paolini, who scribbled the word "incredible" on the camera lens to celebrate her triumph.

Kalinskaya was contesting her first tour-level final and was coming off three consecutive victories against top-10 opponents.

The 25-year-old knocked out world number nine Jelena Ostapenko, number three Coco Gauff, and number one Iga Swiatek, in her previous three rounds and is projected to make her top-25 debut on Monday. She started the year at 80 in the world.

Both Kalinskaya and Paolini enjoyed breakthroughs at the Australian Open, with Paolini making the second week of a major for the first time and Kalinskaya reaching her maiden Grand Slam quarter-final.

'ARE YOU CRAZY?'

In front of a packed house in Dubai on Saturday, a topsy-turvy opening set witnessed five breaks of serve but it was Kalinskaya who kept asking the questions and the Russian was rewarded with a one-set lead in 36 minutes.

Kalinskaya carved out a 2-0 opening early in the second set but Paolini struck back, finding the massive groundstrokes that carried her to the final to level things up at 3-3.

A break in the 12th game earned Paolini the second set as the final fittingly went to a decider.

The third set began with three consecutive breaks of serve, two of which went Kalinskaya's way as she built a 3-1 advantage.

Serving for the championship, Kalinskaya netted a drop shot to allow Paolini back in the clash, the Italian evening things up at 5-5.

With the wind in her sails, Paolini never looked back, benefitting from a double fault to go up 0-40 on the Kalinskaya serve and converting her first opportunity to wrap up the victory in two hours and 13 minutes.

"Congrats Jasmine on your first big title, you totally deserve it. You fight for every ball. Enjoy the moment," said Kalinskaya during the trophy ceremony.

Kalinskaya has won 15 of the 20 matches she has played in 2024 -ā€“ through qualifying and main draw -ā€“ and is now 1-2 head-to-head overall against Paolini.

Paolini gave a shoutout to Patricia Tarabini, Kalinskaya's coach, who predicted the pair would meet in the final.

"Before the quarter-finals I met Patricia and she said, 'We're going to see you in the final'. And I said, 'Are you crazy?' But here we are," laughed Paolini.

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