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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, May 19, 2023


World No. 47 Anhelina Kalinina fought off Veronika Kudermetova 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 to become the lowest-ranked Rome finalist since 1986 and crack the Top 25.

Photo credit: Alex Pantling/Getty

Blitzed by a 16-point surge from Veronika Kudermetova to end the second set, Anhelina Kalinina was reeling on Rome's red clay.

Looking leg weary and beaten down, the 47th-ranked Kalinina was just getting warmed up.

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Unleashing h​er​ inner ​​gladiator, ​a gritty Kalinina dug in with defiance, plugged into her power source and hit her way into history with the biggest win of her life.

Kalina charged to a 4-0 lead in the decider conquering Kudermetova 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 to become the lowest-ranked Rome finalist since 1986.

Continuing her inspired run that saw her outlast No.15 Beatriz Haddad Maia​ in a three hour, 41-minute marathon quarterfinal, Kalinina is the first Ukrainian Internazionali BNL d'Italia finalist since compatriot Elina Svitolina captured her second straight Rome championship in 2018. The victory vaults Kalinina to a career-high ranking of No. 25 in the live rankings.

​Prevailing in a fierce two hour, 51-minute battle, Kalinina skipped the traditional post-match handshake with Russian Kudermetova in condemnation of Russia's unprovoked invasion of neighboring Ukraine and the ongoing war.

"We didn't shake hands because the girl is from Russia basically," Kalinina said. "It's no secret why I didn't shake, because this country actually attack Ukraine.

"So, yeah, this is sport, I understand, but it's also kind of politician thing. So, yeah, it has nothing personal. But in general, yes, it's not acceptable."

Afterward, Kalinina said she feels empowered playing for her country's cause.

"For me, it's important to win every match because you know what Ukraine goes through," Kalinina said in her on-court interview. "I just want to say that I hope I give a tiny, small light, maybe some positive emotions, for my country. So yeah, I hope that Ukraine, a little bit, enjoys."

Tennis Express

​Kudermetova said she tries to tune out political overtones and focus on tennis.

"I mean, here we're athletes," Kudermetova said. "We're here, and we love what we do here.

"Doesn't matter from which country you are. We're athletes and that's it. We are here to play tennis."

The 26-year-old Ukrainian will face a Grand Slam champion in the final when she takes on either Wimbledon winner Elena Rybakina or Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko for the title.

Wearing a black Nike baseball cap, grey Asics shirt, black On skirt and pink Yonex shoes at the start, Kalinina was a kaleidoscope of branding with a singular, powerful purpose. Despite playing six-and-a-half hours of tennis over her last two matches, Kalinina showed pure defiance fending off 9 of 12 break points, including 8 of 9 in the opening set.

If she reviews this match, Kudermetova may well be ruing her decision to drop back deep to return Kalinina's second serve in the opening set she let slip away rather than straddle the baseline and pressure the Ukrainian on some of those break points.

​Some fans waved Ukrainian flags in support of Kalinina's Cinderella Rome run to her second career final and first since 2021 Budapest where she lost to Yulia Putintseva in the final.

​No. 12-seeded Kudermetova cracked an ace down the middle to erase break point in the third game.

Though she's listed at 5'8", Kudermetova can pop her first serve with command. Kudermetova pumped four aces in her first two service games for a 2-1 lead.

Consider the massive challenge Kalinina​, the lowest-ranked Rome semifinalist since 78th-ranked Daria Gavrilova Saville in 2015, confronted today. Coming off an epic three-hour, 41-minute quarterfinal victory over Haddad Maia that left her shedding tears of emotion and exhaustion, Kalinina was contesting her first career WTA 1000 semifinal.

​A crisp running forehand winner down the line helped the Ukrainian dodge three break points and level after four games.

Credit Kalinina for saving seven break points then erasing an eighth break point with her first ace. Kudermetova was winning the deuce side points, but couldn't convert on the ad side when she had break point. Kalinina swept aside eight break points in all by the time she held for 3-3.

Though she was looking a little drained by that spirited stand, Kalinina came right back sweeping a crosscourt forehand for triple break point in the next game. When Kudermetova botched a volley, Kalinina, after so much stress on her own serve, had the first break for 4-3.

The 30th-seeded Kalinina served for the first set, but Kudermetova lashed a sharp crosscourt backhand moving the Ukrainian off the court to earn her ninth break point at 15-40. When Kalinina put a backhand into the middle of the net, Kudermetova finally broke through to level 5-5.

A​ stubborn Kalinina used her crosscourt backhand to break right back for a 6-5 lead.

Serving for the set a second time, Kalinina converted her third set point when Kudermetova sailed a return to take a tense 66-minute opener.

Kudermetova hit 10 more winners in the set (18 to 8), but also committed nine more unforced errors than Kalinina did. Continuing her quarterfinal tradition of playing ​​​hour-plus sets, Kalinina showed both stamina and her toughness under stress saving eight of nine break points to steal the first set.

Ninety minutes into the match, Kudermetova's frustration hit a new high as she clanked her second double fault to face a break point. Kalinina dug out a low backhand and Kudermetova overhit a forehand to gift the break and a 3-2 lead to the Ukrainian.

Putting major mileage on her legs during this Cinderella run, Kalinina served for her first WTA 1000 final at 5-4, but stumbled. Kudermetova benefitted from a net-cord and banged a backhand pass down the line sparking a love break to level after 10 games.

A combination of Kudermetova cleaning up her act and striking with authority and Kalinina looking weary and a little powerless to stop the barrage turned the second set around.

Bursting through eight of the last nine points, Kudermetova went up 6-5.

By then, the world No. 11 was stepping in, taking the ball on and hammering groundstrokes with confidence.

A sharp Kudermetova backed up a shutout hold with a love break streaking 16 straight points to close the second set after two hours of play.

​At that point, the 2021 Charleston champion appeared in complete command and Kalinina was crumbling on the clay.

After a brief break for a clothing change, Kalinina returned to court wearing a black Nike top, a white Yonex headband and branded her fight on the final set.

Recharged, Kalinina showed resilience. Kalinina broke twice in succession charging out to a 4-0 lead.

Pacing slowly at times, Kalinina wasted little time in her service games. Deadlocked at 30-all, Kalinina crashed her second ace down the T that helped her hold for 5-1.

Serving for the final again, Kalinina closed with a series of smart shots and looked too tired for an extensive celebration. Instead, she raised her arms and smiled in appreciation of the fan support before plopping down in her court-side seat to eat some energy paste and try to refuel for the final.


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