Jasmine Paolini reaches second consecutive Grand Slam final

WIMBLEDON, England — Jasmine Paolini reached her second straight Grand Slam final at Wimbledon on Thursday with a 2-6, 6-4, 7-6 (10-8) victory over unseeded Donna Vekic in a thrilling match that lasted 2 hours, 51 minutes.

“This match,” said Paolini, a 28-year-old Italian, “I will never forget.”

Like many on Centre Court, Paolini kept coming back, coming back, coming back — after losing the opening set, after being two games from defeat at 4-all in the second, after being down twice by a break in the third at 3-1 and 4-3 on Centre Court.

“It was,” she said, “an emotional roller coaster.”

Consider this: Vekic, making her debut in a Grand Slam semifinal, ultimately won more points (118-111), delivered more winning games (42-26) and broke her serve more often (4-3).

But seventh-seeded Paolini never gave up and eventually cashed in her third match point, a feat on the grass courts of the All England Club following her second-place finish behind Iga Swiatek on the red clay court of Roland Garros last month.

Paolini is the first woman to reach the title fights at Roland Garros and Wimbledon in the same season since Serena Williams in 2015 and 2016.

“The last few months have been hectic for me,” Paolini said with a laugh.

On Saturday she will face either Elena Rybakina or Barbora Krejcikova for the championship; their semi-final is later on Thursday.

Paolini’s victory was anything but easy for either woman. Vekic often looked in distress, crying between points or sitting in her changeover chair late in the third set. She froze her right forearm between games or looked up at her guest box with a red face.

How surprising was this rise for Paolini?

She had never advanced beyond the second round of a major tournament — she had lost in the first or second round in 16 straight appearances — until reaching the fourth round at the Australian Open in January. And then there’s this: Paolini’s career record at Wimbledon was 0-3 before this fortnight. She didn’t even record a tour-level victory on grass until a warm-up in Eastbourne last month.

Paolini got going late in the second set, earning her first break points of the afternoon and keeping things exciting. Her never-give-up attitude was evident at 4-all, when she sprinted with her back to the net to lob her racket, which she somehow managed to get back over the net, and Vekic miserably missed an overhead.

“She hit winners everywhere. I struggled a little bit in the beginning,” Paolini said. “But I kept telling myself to fight [for] every ball.”

Paolini held on to lead 5-4, but then took the set with a forehand winner. She looked up at her guest box – where her family members stood up after almost every point she was awarded – and shouted: “Forza!” (“Let’s go!”)

Vekic, playing her fifth three-setter in six matches, went to the locker room before the final 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.

Vekic quickly led 3-1. After a series of breaks, she was ahead 4-3.

But Paolini persevered and now gets a second chance to play for her first Grand Slam trophy.

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