No.12 Veronika Kudermetova advanced to her second consecutive WTA 1000 semifinal after defeating No.21 Zheng Qinwen 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 in the quarterfinals at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia. She will face Anhelina Kalinina on Friday.
Coming off a semifinal run two weeks ago at the Mutua Madrid Open, Kudermetova has surged during the European clay season. After a solid start to the season, Kudermetova came into Madrid on a three-match losing streak. Her loss to 19-year-old Diana Shnaider in her opening match in Charleston triggered a serious amount of self-reflection.
"I lost my first round in Charleston to a girl who is even younger than my sister," Kudermertova said, laughing. Indeed, Kudermetova's sister Polina, 19, already defeated Shnaider in an ITF event last year.
"It was pretty tough for me. I tried to think what I want to do on the court, where I want to improve. I think this was the key when I started to think positively and work really hard. This is the moment everything changed."
"I was so depressed after that match. It doesn't matter if you lose or win, but the level, how you feel on the court, what is in your mind, this is the most important. If you feel healthy mentally, you start to play better. This is the most important for me. Not to win, but to feel healthy mentally. This is the positive way to play tennis."
Not surprisingly, when she separated her desire for wins from her desire to improve her tennis and focus on tactics, the wins started coming. In Madrid she reeled off four consecutive three-set wins, including back-to-back Top 10 wins over Daria Kasatkina and Jessica Pegula, to make the biggest semifinal of her career.
"The last few weeks I started to play better," Kudermetova said. "A lot of good wins. I started to play more consistently. I think I am a little more calm, focused on improving, and do the right things, because before I tried to play good and show results.
"But this is not the right focus for an athlete."
Her path to the same stage in Rome has been slightly easier. Only two of her four matches - against Zheng and Anastasia Potapova - have gone three sets. She joked that her shorter matches in Rome felt like practice after what she had to do in Madrid. But Kudermetova, who describes herself as an instinctually negative person, says the harder work is happening off the court.
"It's also not easy to maintain that focus, that you just need to work, improve, stay calm, and think positive," she said. "This is the hard work but it's the most important work for me. I try to follow that plan and for the moment it works."
"I try to think and find the positive things. Ok, I lost the match but, Veronika, you served well, you returned well, you played that shot well. Right now I try to find the positive thing even if I do it bad. This is the good thing right now."
That positive mentality was put to good use in her comeback win over Zheng on Tuesday night. Kudermetova dropped the first set but there was little that separated the two. After seeing Zheng overpower her from the baseline, Kudermetova focused on dialing in her serve and taking back control. She served just two aces in the opening set but went on to serve nine over the next two sets. As she eased through her service games and increased the pressure on Zheng's serve, Kudermetova reeled in the 20-year-old to notch her eighth win in her last nine matches.