For the second straight week, Saturday’s semifinals in Charleston are brimming with all kinds of career-transforming opportunity.
The MUSC Health Women’s Open final four features:
- The top seed – and the only seed remaining – who needed all of 45 minutes to win her quarterfinal match.
- A 19-year-old from Colombia, in only her fifth WTA main draw, who has won eight consecutive matches.
- An overlooked player from Montenegro, who arrived in Charleston two weeks ago with a 2-5 record in 2021 – and has won eight of nine matches on the green clay.
- The 165th-ranked player in her second career WTA semifinal.
Before this year, none of them had won WTA titles. Maria Camila Osorio Serrano, that startling young Colombian, broke through first with her first title last week in Bogota.
Perhaps as important as the prize money, the points at this late stage can help change the trajectory of a season, even a career. These semifinalists have already earned 110 points for reaching the semifinals, with 180 going to the finalists and 280 to the winner.
The final four matchups:
No.1 Ons Jabeur vs. Danka Kovinic
This exact match actually happened one week ago. Semifinals. Same two players, same court.
Kovinic defeated Jabeur 6-3, 6-2 in a Volvo Car Open semifinal, leveling their head-to-head at 1-all.
"Hopefully, she will play a little bit less drop shots," Kovinic said, laughing. "In the last match, it was way too much. I think definitely [it will give] me some confidence, knowing that I beat her last week here on the same court."
On Friday, Kovinic knocked out No.3 seed Shelby Rogers 7-5, 6-1.
"She played great," Rogers said of Kovinic. "She’s playing super-confident right now and having a great trip to Charleston. So that clearly showed today."
Jabeur, meanwhile, hammered Nao Hibino 6-0, 6-1.
"That was the main goal today for me, to be more aggressive and very dominant on the court," she told reporters afterward. "I tried to use my forehand as much as I can. That was the plan for me today.
"Obviously, it worked pretty good."
The 26-year-old Tunisian is on fire. She’s 17-7 for the year, and those wins place her second for most WTA wins, behind Garbiñe Muguruza (21) and tied with Veronika Kudermetova. It’s not surprising Jabeur is sitting at a career-high ranking of No. 27.
Moreover, she’s won 18 of her past 19 games and needed only an eye-opening average of 22 minutes to win each of those three sets. Jabeur hit three more aces against Hibino to run her season’s total to 115, third on tour behind Kudermetova (130) and Ashleigh Barty (127).
She said she will play this match against Kovinic differently this time.
“I’m definitely going for my revenge,” Jabeur said. “I’m going to really play like I never played before. I really want this win. I will be brave and not let the stress play the match for me.”
Kovinic lives in Herceg Novi, a city of 33,000 in Montenegro, nestled along the Bay of Kotor by the Adriatic Sea. As picturesque as it is, she might want to consider moving to Charleston, South Carolina. In five previous events – one in Abu Dhabi, three in Australia and one in Mexico – Kovinic had produced only two victories. And now, in a span of 11 days, the 26-year-old has won eight matches in the Daniel Island venue.
“Definitely feels good, because this is first time in my career I had a really good week and then the following week I’m still playing good and competing,” Kovinic said. “I still have this fire to beat everyone on the court. It is good for me after the big tournament last week that I’m already on the court keeping my mind busy. It’s not all you, know everywhere. It’s still on the tennis court.”
Kovinic reached that final of the Volvo Car Open – the biggest of her career – beating two-time Grand Slam champion Petra Kvitova on the way, before falling to Kudermetova. That punched her ranking up to No.65 from No.91. Now, after winning her first three matches at the MUSC Health Women’s Open, she’s destined to move inside the Top 60 next week.
Incredibly, her 10 wins through fewer than four months of 2021 are three more than her total for both 2019 and 2020 (seven). The eight match wins on clay, matching Maria Camila Osorio Serrano, are the most among WTA players.
"It’s still me," Kovinic said. "It’s still my game I think it’s just the way I’m thinking. I believe in myself more. I know I can beat the top players, so maybe this is the main thing that’s changed."
Maria Camila Osorio Serrano vs. Astra Sharma
Check out these two great escapes:
Down 3-5 in the third set of her first-round match with No.2 seed Magda Linette, Osorio Serrano wriggled free, winning the last four games to record, in terms of ranking, her best career win. In the second round, she was down to Christina McHale a set and a break. McHale actually served for the match twice in the second set, but Osorio Serrano won two tiebreakers.
The quarterfinals weren’t quite as taxing. Osorio Serrano was leading 6-4, 1-0 Friday when her opponent and friend, 18-year-old Clara Tauson, retired with a left knee injury. It was an unfortunate end to the highly-anticipated first tour-level meeting between the 2019 Australian Open girls' champion (Tauson) and the 2019 US Open girls champion (Osorio Serrano).
"It was really strange for me," Osorio Serrano said. "I didn’t know what to say. It’s tough to be injured. It’s so sad to see her like that. I’m happy to be in semifinals, but not this way."
Osorio Serrano has now won eight matches in 11 days across two continents. The win in Bogota allowed her to receive a special exemption into the MUSC Health Women’s Open draw.
"I wasn’t expecting to be in the semifinal of this tournament," she said. "I’m proud of what I’m doing. I don’t know what’s going to happen tomorrow but, as always, I’ll do my best."
The marvelously named Astra Sharma will stand on the other side of the net. She was steady Friday, beating 15-year-old Linda Fruhvirtova 6-4, 6-3.
"I think I’ve just kept it very simple, tried to use my physicality on court," she told reporters later. "Really, trying to push the opponents around. I think I’ve always utilized that well in a defensive way, but I’m trying to using that more offensively."
Sharma, 25, was born in Singapore and plays under the Australian flag. She advanced from her third career WTA quarterfinal in style. Previously, she made the final at 2019 Bogota. She’s 5-4 for 2021.
To this point, doubles has been Sharma’s area of expertise. She and John-Patrick Smith reached the mixed doubles final at the 2019 Australian Open and made the semifinals in 2020. Sharma has collected seven career ITF singles and four doubles titles.
Before that, she was an All-America player at Vanderbilt University.
"The way I’m trying to play, where there’s a lot more transition stuff, doubles is perfect for that," Sharma said.
After beating one teenager, is she looking forward to taking down another?
"I honestly don’t really look at the age," Sharma said. "In fact, she might be fresher than me because she has so much younger legs. I’m really looking forward to playing her tomorrow. It will be a really good challenge."