Jasmine Paolini wins Wimbledon's longest women's semifinal to reach a second Grand Slam title match

LONDON — Jasmine Paolini kept coming back, kept coming back, kept coming back, against Donna Vekic in what would become the longest Wimbledon women’s semifinal on record — after dropping the opening set, after being two games from defeat in each of the last two sets, after twice trailing by a break in the third.

And all the while, this is what Paolini kept telling herself Thursday: “Try, point by point” and “Fight for every ball.”

Paolini never had won a match at the All England Club until last week and now will participate in her second consecutive Grand Slam final, thanks to a rollicking 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (10-8) victory over the unseeded Vekic across 2 hours, 51 minutes on Centre Court.

“This match,” said the No. 7-seeded Paolini, a 28-year-old from Italy, “I will remember forever.”

As will many of the thousands who were present or the millions watching on TV.

“It was,” Paolini said, “a rollercoaster of emotions.”

Consider: Vekic, a 28-year-old from Croatia making her debut in a Slam semifinal, ended up claiming more points (118-111), delivering more winners (42-26) and breaking serve more often (4-3).

“She was hitting winners everywhere,” Paolini said.

But Paolini never went away, eventually converting her third match point when Vekic sent a forehand wide. This showing on the grass courts at Wimbledon follows Paolini’s runner-up finish to Iga Swiatek on the red clay at the French Open last month.

Paolini is the first woman to get to the title matches at Roland Garros and the All England Club in the same season since Serena Williams in 2016.

“These last months have been crazy for me,” Paolini said with a laugh.

In Saturday’s final, she will face No. 4 Elena Rybakina or No. 31 Barbora Krejcikova. They’ve both been a major champ already: Rybakina won Wimbledon in 2022; Krejcikova won the French Open in 2021.

The men’s semifinals Friday are Carlos Alcaraz vs. Daniil Medvedev, and Novak Djokovic vs. Lorenzo Musetti. Like Paolini, Musetti is Italian.

Paolini’s win was anything but easy for either woman. Exhausting would be a more appropriate word.

Vekic often was in obvious distress, crying between points and while sitting in her changeover chair late in the third set — because, she said afterward, of pain in an arm and a leg — and often looked up at her guest box with a flushed face. She iced her right forearm between games.

“I thought I was going to die in the third set,” said Vekic, who repeatedly closed her eyes, sighed or shook her head during her news conference.

“I didn’t know how,” she said, “I could keep playing.”

How surprising is Paolini’s recent surge?

She never had managed to make it past the second round at any major tournament — losing in the first or second round in 16 appearances in a row — until she got to the fourth round at the Australian Open in January.

And then there’s this: Paolini’s career record at Wimbledon was 0-3 until this fortnight. Indeed, she did not own a single tour-level win on grass anywhere until a tuneup event at Eastbourne last month.

After a one-sided first set — Vekic won 16 of 19 points on her serve, and two of the ones she ceded were on double-faults — Paolini finally got going late in the second. Her never-give-up attitude was apparent at 4-all, when she sprinted with her back to the net to put her racket on a lob, somehow getting it back over the net, and Vekic badly missed an overhead.

Paolini held there to lead 5-4, then broke for the set with a forehand winner, looked up at her guest box — where her doubles partner, Sara Errani, and her relatives were on their feet after nearly every point that went her way — and screamed, “Forza!” (“Let’s go!”)

Vekic, playing her fifth three-setter in six matches, headed to the locker room before the last set, recalibrated and came out strong. She broke in the opening game, helped by a forehand return winner on a second serve, followed by Paolini’s missed forehand on an 11-stroke exchange.

Soon Vekic led 3-1. After a later trade of breaks, she was up 4-3.

“I believed I could win,” Vekic said, “until the end.”

But Paolini steadied herself, her racket and her resolve — and now gets a second chance to play for her first Slam trophy.

There was something else on her mind as she got ready to head to the locker room, though.

“Now I’m going to the ice bath,” Paolini said, “because my legs are a little bit tired.”


AP tennis: https://apnews.com/hub/tennis

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