PRAGUE, Czech Republic - Rising teenager Elisabetta Cocciaretto continued to surge at the Prague Open 125K, where the No.2 seed reached the biggest semifinal of her young career with a 3-6, 6-2, 6-1 defeat of No.24 seed Anna Karolina Schmiedlova in two hours and one minute.
The 19-year-old Italian, who rose to her current career high of World No.144 after reaching her maiden WTA quarterfinal at home in Palermo a month ago - having been ranked as low as World No.779 last May - adjusted her tactics well to turn the match around, demonstrating greater aggression and creativity as she took control of the final two sets.
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Initially it was former World No.26 Schmiedlova whose claycourt strategy seemed more solid. The Slovak's careful shot selection meant that she was adept at turning the longer exchanges her way, instinctively able to reset defensive points with pinpoint lobs but also to take control with canny use of extreme angles. Schmiedlova kept her nose in front during an early four-break sequence and then, after Cocciaretto squandered a chance to level at 4-4 with consecutive double faults, took advantage, flashing a forehand crosscourt to move up 5-3 before serving out the set.
Cocciaretto's renewed intensity was apparent from the off in the second set. An excellent dropshot in the opening game was the first of several that would prove a useful weapon in her arsenal for the rest of the match; displaying greater alacrity to move up the court also paid dividends, hitting her spots more often than not with both her smashes and touch volleys. A marvellous forehand pass, hit while running backwards, was also one for her highlights reel in the second game.
Increasing the efficacy of her serve was also crucial for Cocciaretto, who had won 54% of the points behind her first delivery in the first set but upped that number to 73% in the second and 75% in the third. Having been broken three times in the first set, the youngster would not drop serve again, facing only two more break points in the match - both in the decider, and both saved.
This meant that Cocciaretto could swing away on the Schmiedlova serve with ease. A pair of stellar forehand winners garnered her the first break of the second set for 3-1, and she broke again for the set by finding an extreme angle of her own before putting the ball away with ease.
Schmiedlova would fail to take a break point in the first game of the decider, Cocciaretto finding a service winner when she needed it, and thereafter the highest remaining seed began to dominate. Rattling through 19 out of 21 straight points, Cocciaretto raced into a 5-0 lead, impressively negating Schmiedlova's use of angles by repeatedly smacking down-the-line winners off them. A pair of double faults proved a mere minor delay to serving out the match: another forehand winner brought up a third match point for Cocciaretto, on which Schmiedlova's increasingly unreliable forehand let her down once more.
In the semifinals, Cocciaretto will meet the quietly in-form No.12 seed Nadia Podoroska, who is yet to drop a set this week and who reached her second WTA 125K semifinal of the year with a 6-2, 6-2 dismissal of Russian World No.209 Marina Melnikova in one hour and 10 minutes. The Argentinian, a Pan American Games gold medallist last year, reached the last four in Newport Beach at the end of January as the culmination of the 14-match winning streak with which she opened the season; today's win improves the World No.165's win-loss record in 2020 to a phenomenal 30-5.
The top-half semifinal will pit two former Top 100 players against each other. Slovak No.18 seed Kristina Kucova, a 2016 Montréal semifinalist with a career high of World No.71, was ruthless against unseeded 19-year-old Francesca Jones, dismissing the Briton 6-2, 6-0 in one hour and 16 minutes; while former World No.86 Ivana Jorovic continued her successful comeback with a 6-3, 6-3 defeat of 2016 Istanbul champion Cagla Buyukakcay. The Serb had been sidelined for much of 2019 due to a back injury: this week marks the 23-year-old Jorovic's first tournament since last year's US Open, and second since last year's Wimbledon.