Sometimes, sports victories mean a lot more than points and prize money: today at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia Anhelina Kalinina captured her first ever WTA 1000 final by defeating 11th seed Veronika Kudermetova. At the end of a mental and physical battle that lasted almost 3 hours, the Ukrainian overcame the doubts that cost her the second set to storm through the decider and claim a special victory. 7-5 5-7 6-2 the final score for the world number 47, who is sure of a career highest ranking on Monday regardless of the outcome of the final as she will be world number 25 at the very worst.
Kudermetova started the first set with a love hold, showing immediately why she had the most number of aces in the tournament so far. Kalinina looked more tense, but managed to hold her serve and slowly, but steadily, found her game. The Kazan-born saved a break point in the third game thanks to an ace before holding, while the Ukrainian saved three in the following game – the first of which with a stunning forehand winner on the run.
On 3-3, Kalinina was tested by the aggression of the 11th seed and had to save 5 break points. But the hold was a swing of momentum and confidence: Kudermetova got broken to love. But last year’s doubles winner here in Rome, Kudermetova, took advantage of the nerves showed once more when the Ukrainian went to serve to close the set and broke back for 5-5.
But the Ukrainian showed the fighting spirit that took her so far in the tournament: she started hitting strongly with her backhand once again and by breaking her opponent’s serve, she got a chance to serve for the set again. From 40-0, the third and last set point was the good one: 7-5 for Kalinina.
The second set started just like the first one: Kudermetova held to love, but this time the match went on serve until 2-2. The world number 12 suddenly looked nervous and with a double fault and an unforced error, she gifted the break to her opponent, who held in the next game with a gorgeous counter-drop shot.
Kalinina got to 5-3 up, but nerves suddenly got back to her, while Kudermetova played free of any doubts and won 16 consecutive points to take the match suddenly and unexpectedly to the third set.
The Ukrainian took a toilet break in between sets to try and clear her mind, which undoubtedly was the cause of the black out of the previous set. She changed outfit and found her old self: she broke her opponent in the first game and then rode the wave of confidence by playing some exquisite controlled aggressive to go 4-0 up. Kudermetova tried to fight back, but Kalinina looked more composed than in the previous set and even if she failed to close a tough game on 5-1 -she had no match points on her opponent’s serve-, she calmly served it out in the next game.
“I don’t feel my legs actually,” joked Kalinina after the match having come out as winner of the longest match of the WTA season just two days ago: “it was so much tennis in the last days with so many three sets, but I am so happy to win today”.
Obviously, the victory today was dedicated to her home country, as her town is still under occupation: “With what Ukraine is going through, I hope I give the tiniest and small light, maybe some positive emotion for my country”.
The match finished just in time as a heavy downpour hit the Foro Italico, but with the hope that it will not last long, soon the Ukrainian will discover the name standing between her and what would be the biggest title in her career. The semfinal between Jelena Ostapenko and Elena Rybakina will decide it.