PALERMO, Italy - Slovenian qualifier Kaja Juvan scored the biggest win of her career to upset No.2 seed Marketa Vondrousova and move into the second round at the Palermo Ladies Open.
Juvan, who had already played three grueling matches in Palermo as she battled through the qualifying rounds, seemed to have reached her limit as she quickly dropped the first set to last year’s Roland Garros finalist Vondrousova, 6-1. But she stayed solid to complete the comeback and score her first Top 20 win, 1-6, 7-5, 6-4 against World No.18 Vondrousova.
“She started off really well and I was a little bit nervous,” Juvan admitted in her post-match press conference. “She’s my first, well, other than Serena [Williams], my first Top 20 opponent.
“The conditions were pretty hard, but then in the second and third set I kind of calmed myself and I started playing much better.
“She wouldn’t let me go easily, but that’s tennis and I just tried to do my best.”
Vondrousova burst onto the scene last year, when she made a surprise run to the French Open final as a 19-year-old. But the Czech teen quickly crashed back down to earth as a left wrist injury hampered her chances of backing it up. Her 2019 season was done after Wimbledon as she underwent surgery and the rehabilitation process.
Before the lockdown halted the 2020 tennis season, Vondrousova had made a strong return to action in her first tournament of the year, making the quarterfinals in Adelaide. But she had struggled to return to her winning ways since, and had yet to advance past the second round in four tournaments.
In Palermo, Vondrousova’s first set joy was short-lived as Juvan raised her level to take a daunting 4-0 lead in the second. Juvan’s mental fortitude was tested as Vondrousova mounted a big comeback, responding with five games in a row of her own to lead 5-4.
But Juvan, who earlier this year turned heads after her epic Venus Williams upset in the first round of Acapulco, was eager to spring another upset - this time to claim her first Top 20 victory. The Slovenian teen peppered her all-court game with smart dropshots, keeping Vondrousova under pressure as she took the second set 7-5.
“It was pretty windy, so we were both playing pretty safe. I think she took more chances in the first set, and then in the second and third set I just told myself, go for the ball, play more aggressive, take the ball when it’s going up instead of down.
“So then I started playing much better, because that’s my game. I think I did that better in the second and third set, but I’m still human so there were still some nerves.”
Juvan powered to another 4-0 lead, breaking the Vondrousova lefty serve twice in commanding fashion. Vondrousova did her best to extend the match, but fatigue seemed to be catching up with her, 4-2. Juvan eventually closed it out to win 1-6, 7-5, 6-4 after two and a half hours.
“Obviously [this Top 20 win] is motivation to keep playing,” Juvan said. “I try not to think about the rankings too much, I just want to play as many matches as I can right now.”
With her second WTA main draw win of the year under her belt, Juvan awaits the winner between Italy’s Camila Giorgi and Rebecca Peterson.