Rome | Surprise finalist Kalinina to meet Rybakina in WTA 1000 trophy match

There were no warm handshakes concluding the two semi-finals at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Friday after Anhelina Kalinina upset Veronika Kudermetova, and Elena Rybakina saw off Jelena Ostapenko to reach the final of the WTA 1000 event in Rome, both for the first time.

Their house was attacked. There are huge holes in the house, like huge holes. There are no apartments anymore. So now this home is getting rebuilt, so they can’t live there. So they live in my apartment where I’m living with my husband. It’s a very small apartment for my family, because, like, my mum, my dad, my brother, and they have pets. So they are so happy and we are grateful that they can move, you know, that they have place to move from Irpin city because Irpin city, everyone knows how Bucha, Irpin, is fully bombed. Anhelina Kalinina

Kalinina, Ukraine’s No 1, reached the second WTA final of her career with a 7-5 5-7 6-2 defeat of Kudermetova after 2 hours and 21 minutes of tense play, and pointedly refused to shake hands with her Russian opponent, making no apologies for the snub.

“We didn’t shake hands because the girl is from Russia, basically,” Kalinina explained later. “It’s no secret why I didn’t shake, because this country actually attacked Ukraine.

“This is sport, but it’s also, kind of, a politician thing. It’s nothing personal. But in general, yes, it’s not acceptable.”

On court, Kalinina, who is the lowest ranked finalist at the tournament since 1986 and will rise to outstrip her career-high ranking of 28 next week, dedicated her win to her homeland.

“It’s really important to win every match, because of what Ukraine goes through,” Kalinina told the crowd. “I really hope that I give a tiny, small light, maybe some positive emotions for my country. I really hope that Ukraine a little bit enjoys [this].”

After her marathon win over Beatriz Haddad Maia in the longest match of the season, the semi-final was a test of Kalinina’s fitness and mettle.

“I don’t feel my legs, I’ve played so much tennis last couple of days – all three-setters,” she said afterwards. “I’m barely walking but I’m happy to be able to go through.”

The No 30 seed also eliminated former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin in the 3rd-round, and got by former Rome finalist Madison Keys, another established American, in round 4.

Veronika Kudermetova mounted a second set come-back but was dominated by Anhelina Kalinina in the decider of their semi-final on Friday afternoon

© Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Kudermetova started strongly on Friday afternoon, but the tables quickly turned when the Russian failed to convert 8 of her 9 break-points in the first set, and the 26-year-old Kalinina capitalised on her wastefulness to take a 4-3 lead with a break to love.

The Russian stayed in touch, though, delivering 2 aces to trail 4-5, and she subsequently broke Kalinina when she tried to serve out the set, but the Ukrainian came good on her second chance, pocketing it after 66 minutes, thanks to 18 unforced errors from her opponent.

The second began with a pair of love holds before Kudermetova handed over a break for 3-2 to Kalinina from a long forehand, and the Ukrainian looked to be cruising towards a comfortable win.

With her back against the wall, though, the Russian mounted a spirited come-back, winning 16 straight points to level the match as Kalinina inadvertently loosened her grip on proceedings.

After heading off court for a lengthy bathroom break to regroup, Kalinina returned refreshed and with renewed confidence to win the first 4 games of the decider on her way to sealing a spot in her first WTA 1000 final as the rain arrived.

“I win [the first set] 7-5, then I lost a little bit, maybe, concentration,” Kalinina said after Friday’s victory. “Also too much nerves because I was serving for the match.

“This is my first [WTA 1000] semi-final. I was trying to little bit turn off the emotions, but it’s very tough when you’re playing such tough matches.

“Third set, I think I was much better mentally. I was staying stronger, more focused. I’m really happy and proud of myself how I handled it after the second set.”

There was no hand-shake, and, later, Kudermetova was asked if she gets along with Kalinina while their countries are at war.

“We’re here, and we love what we do here,” she replied, refusing to be drawn. “Doesn’t matter from which country you are. We’re athletes, and that’s it. We are here to play tennis.”

While Kudermetova had the more powerful serve, with a 9-2 edge in aces, Kalinina was able to extend points with her quickness, notably running down a drop-shot and replying with a delicate lob winner midway through the second set, while she also also dictated many points by stepping well into the court to find sharp angles.

A fan shows support with a Ukraine flag watching Anhelina Kalinina defeat Veronika Kudermetova in 3 sets at the Foro Italico

© Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Kalinina’s only previous final was in Budapest in 2021, when she lost to Yulia Putintseva in straight sets.

Dedicating the victory to her war-torn country, Kalinina said she could feel the support of the half-filled Campo Centrale at Foro Italico, as some fans held up Ukrainian flags.

“The whole stadium was cheering me up,” Kalinina said. “I have never experienced something like that.”

Kalinina’s family home in Ukraine was destroyed in a Russian attack last year, and her elderly grandparents had to relocate from the southern city of Nova Kakhovka, held by Russian forces, to Kyiv, where her parents work as tennis coaches.

“Their house was attacked [a few days ago],” Kalinina told Tennis Majors. “There are huge holes in the house, like huge holes. There are no apartments anymore. So now this home is getting rebuilt, so they can’t live there.

“So they live in my apartment where I’m living with my husband. It’s a very small apartment for my family, because, like, my mum, my dad, my brother, and they have pets.

“So they are so happy and we are grateful that they can move, you know, that they have place to move from Irpin city because Irpin city, everyone knows how Bucha, Irpin, is fully bombed.”

Kalinina, who is ranked 47 and will move to at least No 25 in the world by reaching the final, but could be in the Top 20 if she raises the trophy, has been using her earnings on tour for relief efforts in Ukraine for family and others.

“I’m not only helping my family, I’m helping other people. It’s not a pressure, it’s a privilege to play here. It’s a privilege to play every tournament. You go further. You earn more money. Then I’m able to help. So for me that matters.”

Elena Rybakina was a straight sets winner over Jelena Ostapenko and will face Anhelina Kalinina in Saturday’s Italian Open final

© Alex Pantling/Getty Images

In Saturday’s final, Kalinina will face reigning Wimbledon champion Rybakina, who beat Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open winner, 6-2 6-4, in a semi-final that was suspended midway through the second set due to rain.

Rybakina, who was born in Russia but now represents Kazakhstan, is friendly with Kalinina, who used to work with her coach, Stefano Vukov.

“Actually she used to work with my coach,” Rybakina said in her post-match interview. “We just have a good relationship. I’m always cheering for her also. Same, whenever I win, she’s always supporting.

“We have a good relationship. I’m happy that we’re going to play a final,”

Rybakina, who came into Friday’s semi-final trailing the head-to-head 2-1 to Ostapenko, prevailed in a fairly routine opening set in a match delayed by more than an hour, and then interrupted, due to the persistent rain.

The Kazakh came out of the blocks quickly, building a 4-1 lead after breaking Ostapenko twice, the tour’s ace leader keeping control of her service games to seal the opening set with her 5th ace of the match after 43 minutes.

Playing in her first semi-final in her 8th Rome appearance, Ostapenko powered down a forehand return winner to break for the first time for 2-0, and, as the rain began to fall more heavily, she saved a break point to extend her lead to 4-1.

Rybakina shortened the distance to 4-2 just as the rain briefly forced the players off court, and, after a short suspension of play, the Latvian fell behind on her serve, 15-40, before a lengthier rain delay was put into effect.

When play resumed, Ostapenko won just 4 points for the remainder of the match as Rybakina sealed her come-back from 1-4 down, winning 5 games in a row to seal the win.

There was a quick, rather frosty handshake at the net, when the players seemed to exchange a few words, after which Rybakina spoke to the chair umpire and pointed towards Ostapenko, seemingly signalling the umpire to address the World No 20.

“It was a really tough day, overall, with all the rain delays,” Rybakina told a news conference. “I’m just happy to be in the final.

“I didn’t start that well, the second set. A bit low on energy, lost my serve. So it was difficult. Then a few good shots from [Ostapenko], good serves. It changed very quickly.

“I’m happy that, physically, I can maintain and stay so long in the tournament till the end.”

The second-set fightback sealed the win for Rybakina on her first match point as her opponent dumped a volley into the net.

Jelena Ostapenko had some words for Elena Rybakina over a frosty net handshake

© Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Rybakina is into her 4th major final of the season, after the Australian Open, Indian Wells and Miami, and will need a quick turn-around after winning in an hour and 33 minutes on Friday night, aided by 33 unforced errors from Ostapenko.

“It was not easy at all with the starting and stopping,” the winner admitted. “I need to recover for the final.

“It will be a tough match for sure. I think, of course, I’m more consistent, there are still a lot of things to improve.”

The win guarantees that the Kazakh will rise into the Top 5 of the WTA rankings on Monday, while, if she wins the title in Rome, the 23-year-old will secure a Top 4 seeding at the upcoming French Open.

Rybakina said she came to Rome without any expectations due to her previous record at the event where she suffers acutely from hay fever.

“I came without any expectation because I knew the other years were really tough for me coming and play here,” Rybakina said. “Maybe for some people, rain is not good. I guess, for my allergies, it went the other way. It’s helping me a bit to feel better here.

“I’m just happy that I got so many matches now before French Open,” she added.

Since the WTA 1000 tier started in 2009, Kalinina is the second player from Ukraine to make a WTA 1000 final, along with two-time Rome champion Elina Svitolina, and she leads her head-to-head with Rybakina 1-0, having beaten the World No 7 on the green clay of Charleston last year.

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