A career-best Tour-level run for Jasmine Paolini ended with triumph at the Zavarovalnica Sava Portoroz on Sunday, as the 25-year-old Italian claimed her first WTA singles title.
Currently ranked at a career-high World No.87, Paolini defeated No.3 seed Alison Riske of the United States, 7-6(4), 6-2 in the final, storming back from a double-break down in the first set in the process.
In her maiden WTA singles final, Paolini gritted out the lengthy opening frame before easing through the second set to notch victory over World No.38 Riske after an hour and 45 minutes of play.
"I think it’s been an amazing week here in Portoroz," Paolini said, after the match. "I feel just very happy, it’s a big achievement for me, to win my first title. On hardcourts, it’s special."
Paolini knocked out four seeded players during the event, including No.6 seed Dayana Yastremska in the opening round, No.4 seed Sorana Cirstea in the quarterfinals, and No.2 seed Yulia Putintseva in the semifinals. The Italian defeated three Top 50 players consecutively in her final three matches this week.
"It wasn’t easy to go through to the final," Paolini said. "I’m proud of myself because I never gave up."
Two-time WTA singles titlist Riske, a former Top 20 player, was unable to convert her big opening-set lead into another title, as she fell to 2-8 in WTA singles finals during her career.
Paolini had only two more winners than Riske in the clash, but the major difference was in the unforced error count, where Riske outpaced Paolini by 44 to 33. Paolini won exactly two-thirds of Riske's second-service points, helping her convert six of her 10 break points on the day.
The match began nearly three hours late due to persistent rain showers, but once the players hit the court, it was Riske who initially held the upper hand. The American eased to a 5-2 lead, helped along by some beautiful backhands at key moments.
However, Riske was broken at love while serving for the set in that game, and she faltered again at 5-4, failing to hit through fleet-footed Paolini. The Italian scampered all over the court, extending rallies until she could find superb winners of her own, and the set came down to a tiebreak.
In the breaker, Paolini saw a 5-2 lead winnowed to 5-4, but a long miscue by Riske gave the Italian two set points at 6-4. There, another incredible rally took place, with Paolini chasing down all of Riske's shots until the American finally sent an overhead long after over an hour of play.
"I think I was maybe a little bit more relaxed," Paolini said, regarding her first-set comeback. "I understood more about the game, I tried to change the rhythm of the game with higher balls, and I think that was the key."
The second set was more straightforward for Paolini once she broke for 3-2 with a divine forehand winner down the line. All told, Paolini reeled off the final five games of the affair, closing out the championship sublimely with an error-forcing forehand.
"I’m working really hard in the past couple of months," Paolini said. "I understood more about my game, I think. I just want to keep this level for all the season that is almost finished, and to stay strong and keep this level."
Just before the rains came, the Zavarovalnica Sava Portoroz doubles final also got completed, with Anna Kalinskaya of Russia and Tereza Mihalikova of Slovakia upsetting No.2 seeds Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia and Lesley Pattinama Kerkhove of Netherlands, 4-6, 6-2, [12-10].
The 1-hour and 37-minute showdown came down to a topsy-turvy match-tiebreak, where Kalinskaya and Mihalikova saw a 9-4 lead and five championship points slip away.
By virtue of winning six straight points, Krunic and Pattinama Kerkhove held a championship point of their own at 10-9, before Kalinskaya and Mihalikova got back on track to pick up the last three points of the tilt and obtain a whisker-thin win.
The victory brings Mihalikova the first WTA title of her career. Kalinskaya now has won two WTA doubles titles, with her first coming in Prague in 2019 alongside Viktoria Kuzmova.