The 2021 Volvo Car Open will crown a first-time WTA singles champion, as No.15 seed Veronika Kudermetova and unseeded Danka Kovinic swept into the final with straight-set victories on Saturday.
Kudermetova ended the upset-laden run of Paula Badosa, 6-3, 6-3. Badosa had ousted World No.1 Ashleigh Barty in Friday's quarterfinals but was unable to stop Kudermetova as the Russian surged to a win in an hour and a half.
In the earlier semifinal, Kovinic advanced to the biggest final of her career with a 6-3, 6-2 upset of No.12 seed Ons Jabeur.
Kudermetova has not dropped a set all week as she continues a breakthrough season. The 23-year-old reached her first singles final in the season-opening event in Abu Dhabi, which included a win over Badosa before she fell to Aryna Sabalenka. She now finds herself into another championship match after improving to 3-0 against Badosa.
"I expected a tough match, and I think it was a really tough match," Kudermetova told the press after her win. "Paula plays really good, she has a lot of weapons, she served unbelievable today. But I think today, I was more consistent than I played [against her] in Abu Dhabi. I followed my plan to just fight and be aggressive today."
World No.38 Kudermetova powered her way to 28 winners, two more than her unforced error total, while 71st-ranked Badosa had 15 winners and 22 unforced errors on the day. Kudermetova converted four of her six break points to ease to victory, while Badosa was only 1-for-5 on break points.
Kudermetova said that this week, she "started to play smarter than I played before. I tried to use more of my weapons, and tried to play aggressive. Also sometimes, I can just play rallies, to feel the conditions and everything. I also think it’s very important [that] here I took everything in my hands, and kept it until the end. It doesn’t matter if something’s not working, I just fight and work, and do everything that I can."
Kudermetova earned a love break in the very first game of the match as she ended a rally with a sterling crosscourt winner. That was a strong start to a nearly flawless opener as she held on to that advantage through 5-3, then earned another break to end the set, closing it out with a return winner.
Badosa erased an early break deficit in the second set as the Spaniard began to use her rocketing forehand to greater effect. Badosa had a chance to take a lead in the set as she held two break points at 2-2, but Kudermetova ultimately persevered in a grueling 12-minute game to hold on for 3-2 and keep herself in front.
Kudermetova would come out on top down the stretch, charging to triple break point at 4-3, then breaking on her third chance of that game by forcing an error with another sturdy forehand return. Kudermetova closed out the clash with two consecutive aces as she booked her spot in her second final of the season and her career.
"Of course, if I win tomorrow, I think I will be really happy and proud of myself," Kudermetova said. "Right now, it’s my dream to win the first title, and tomorrow I will do everything for a title!"
Montenegro's Kovinic is also just one win away from her first WTA title after the 78-minute victory over World No.28 Jabeur. Kovinic is into her first WTA singles final in nearly five years and her first-ever at WTA 500-level; her previous runner-up showings came at 2015 Tianjin and 2016 Istanbul.
In her post-match press conference, Kovinic said that she "didn’t even think about winning or even playing the final, I was just trying to play every match as it’s the last one, to try to give my best.
"I didn’t feel 100 percent confident in my first round, or even in my second round against Leylah [Fernandez], and just match by match, my game improved and I raised my confidence a little bit, and then everything came together and I’m in the final right now."
Not only had World No.91 Kovinic lost to Jabeur in their sole previous meeting, she was coming off a nearly three-hour victory over Yulia Putintseva on Friday, where she was two points from defeat at one stage.
Nevertheless, Kovinic stormed back in the semifinals, breaking Jabeur's serve four times to romp to victory. Jabeur was just 1-for-6 on break points.
"I was feeling a bit tired, but somehow I didn’t show that on the court," Kovinic said.
Kovinic dropped serve in the opening game but swiftly regained parity as Jabeur double faulted down break point for 1-1. The pair held serve through to 4-3, as Kovinic’s pinpoint groundstrokes were bolstered by matching Jabeur’s signature dropshot plays from time to time. In that game, Kovinic claimed a pivotal advantage, converting her third break point after a netted forehand by Jabeur.
Serving for the set at 5-3, Kovinic used solid serves to fluster Jabeur on return and was rewarded with a quick hold. The combatants had seven winners apiece in the opening frame, but Jabeur was undone by 13 unforced errors, while Kovinic converted two of her four break points with sturdy play.
Kovinic began to regularly outfox Jabeur in all-court rallies as she built a commanding 4-0 lead in the second set. Jabeur regrouped and slammed a winner down the line to hold for 5-2 and put pressure on Kovinic to serve out the match, but the Montenegrin was up to the task, converting her third match point to book a spot in her career-best final.
"It surprised me the most, how I stayed calm and composed during the tough moments, and I think that was the main change in my game or in my personality on the court," Kovinic said. "I think that was the main thing today, because I didn’t even think, ‘Wow, I’m in the semifinals, I might be winning this match or this tournament.’ I was just staying in the moment, and playing point by point, and I think that made a big difference in my game."
Additionally on Saturday, No.1 seeds Nicole Melichar and Demi Schuurs also reached a Charleston final, as they eased into Sunday's doubles championship match with a 7-5, 6-1 win over Gabriela Dabrowski and Asia Muhammad.
Melichar and Schuurs are 2-0 in WTA doubles finals since pairing up last season. To extend their undefeated record as a team in finals, they will have to overcome unseeded Czechs Marie Bouzkova and Lucie Hradecka.
Bouzkova and Hradecka upset No.4 seeds Alexa Guarachi and Desirae Krawczyk, 6-3, 0-6, [10-7] in the last semifinal of the day. The Czechs rebounded from being blanked in the second set by going on a five-point winning streak to 8-4 in the match tiebreak, then held on from there to collect a 73-minute win.
Bouzkova is seeking her first-ever WTA doubles title, while doubles expert Hradecka is aiming for her whopping 25th, in her 50th career doubles final.