Nine of the 10 top seeds at the Volvo Car Open departed the draw before Friday’s quarterfinals.
The 10th, world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty, followed them swiftly at the hands of No. 71-ranked Paula Badosa.
Welcome to Charleston’s Saturday semifinals, featuring an eclectic cast of characters who have wildly outperformed their rankings.
One of these four under-the-radar athletes will take home a career-first WTA title:
• Paula Badosa: Before this week, the 23-year-old Spaniard had never beaten a Top 20-ranked player. Now she has two big wins, against Belinda Bencic in the second round and Barty, who was on an eight-match win streak.
• Danka Kovinic: The 26-year-old from Montenegro is ranked No.91 in the world and finds herself in a WTA 500 semifinal for the first time. She’s attempting to reach her first final in nearly five years.
• Ons Jabeur: She’s into her first tour semifinal on clay. The 26-year-old from Tunisia is ranked No.28 and, at No. 12, is the highest seed left.
• Veronika Kudermetova: Coming in, the 23-year-old Russian had lost all four of the clay court quarterfinals of her career. Now the No.38-ranked player is into her second 500 semifinal of the year following a finals appearance in Abu Dhabi.
Here are your unlikely final four matchups:
No. 12 Ons Jabeur vs. Danka Kovinic
After losing to American teenager Coco Gauff twice last year, Jabeur broke through with a sporty 6-3, 6-3 victory in Charleston.
After reaching the quarterfinals five times last year, she’s into her first semifinal in two seasons.
“Maybe,” she said in her post-match interview, “this is a revenge year. I guess it takes me five quarterfinals, or six, to get to the semifinal. It means a lot. I know I’ve been playing good lately. I am looking forward to going further.”
Jabeur didn’t serve particularly well against Gauff, but broke the 17-year-old’s serve six times. Going back to her third-round match against Alize Cornet, Jabeur has broken serve 16 times in the past 25 games.
“The serve didn’t help from Day 1,” Jabeur said. “Maybe the miracle happens tomorrow. I have to serve good [against] Kovinic. She hits the ball really good. I know it’s going to be the key tomorrow.
“I know she likes to hit hard, she likes to take control on the court. She’s playing really good. She beat some really good players this week. Not an easy match. Whatever happens in the semifinals will.”
For Kovinic, 2020 was a time of reflection. She came back after the global pandemic shut down tennis with a new attitude; she began to believe she could beat the game’s best players.
Thursday, she stunned two-time Grand Slam champion Petra Kvitova in straight sets.
“Obviously, I received many messages yesterday and little bit my mind was off the tournament,” Kovinic said. “But in the evening I reset my mind, and I know that today is a new day, a new opportunity to play another great match.”
She followed the biggest win of her career with a rollicking 6-7 (2), 7-5, 6-1 victory over No. 11 Yulia Putintseva. The match required 2 hours, 54 minutes.
Afterward, she credited her composure after losing that first-set tiebreaker.
“Yeah,” she said, “sometimes I was also surprised at myself how composed I was there. I think I’m not too emotional on the court, but sometimes I express my emotions too much. I just tried to stay calm and I think I did a good job.”
Clearly, Kovinic likes the green clay. She says the bounce is just right for her game. Six years ago, she beat the 17-year-old Naomi Osaka in the last round of qualifying, then Belinda Bencic and Jelena Jankovic before losing to Andrea Petkovic in the quarterfinals.
Coming into her marathon match with Putinseva, Kovinic was 3-10 in WTA quarterfinals – 1-9 on clay.
They have met only once, with Jabeur prevailing in a 2018 ITF event in Budapest.
No. 15 Veronika Kudermetova vs. Paula Badosa
Beating Barty was, by far, the best win of Badosa’s career. It was all over in 78 minutes. After going 0-5 against top 20 players, she has an unlikely 2-0 streak going.
“I know I just beat world No. 1,” Badosa said in her post-match press conference. “I still am a little bit shocked.”
When she was younger and producing results that created great expectations, Badosa would get too excited and lose her focus.
“I’m just going to try and have a normal dinner,” she said. “I will wake up tomorrow, another match again. Now I try to keep it low-key and normal.”
Kudermetova handled 2016 Charleston and 2017 US Open champion Sloane Stephens 6-3, 6-4. Kudermetova’s 2021 record is an impressive 15-8.
“I’m really happy about my win today,” Kudermetova said. “I think it’s first [time] I’ve beaten a player who won a Grand Slam.”
She hasn’t dropped a single set in Charleston, the only semifinalist who can say that.
These two have met twice, with Kudermetova winning both. It was a straight-sets result two years ago in Indian Wells and a tighter 6-4, 4-6, 6-1 score back in January in Abu Dhabi.
“She’s a good player, good fighter,” Kudermetova said. “Tomorrow will be a new Paula and new me. I think we both try to play aggressive.”