Caroline Dolehide was playing ITF events in Lexington, Kentucky and Landisville, Pennsylvania as recently as last month. The 25-year-old American lost in the first round of the US Open and, one week later, in the first round of qualifying at the San Diego Open.
Her biggest claim to fame -- her only WTA Tour title -- came in doubles in Monterrey, Mexico, with Asia Muhammad.
How to explain, then, what has transpired this week in Guadalajara, Mexico?
- Dolehide saves four match points, overcomes Trevisan in Guadalajara
- Garcia, Sakkari roll into Guadalajara semifinal showdown
- Kenin beats Fernandez to advance to Guadalajara semifinals
With a 3-6, 7-6(9), 6-3 victory over Martina Trevisan Thursday night, Dolehide advanced to the semifinals of the Guadalajara Open Akron, a WTA Tour 1000 event. The day before, Trevisan upset No.1-seeded Ons Jabeur.
Dolehide -- ranked No. 111 among Hologic WTA Tour players -- trailed a set and 4-1, then fought off four match points, converting her sixth match point.
This wasn’t supposed to happen:
Dolehide has reached her first career WTA semifinal -- her previous best finishes were the quarterfinals reached in Quebec City (2017) and Monterrey earlier this year. She could become the second-lowest ranked player to make a WTA 1000 final since the introduction of the format in 2009 -- ranked higher only than No. 153 Svetlana Kuznetsova four years ago in Cincinnati.
“To be honest,” Dolehide said in her on-court interview, “I just had to find a way today to win. I told myself, do what you do in practice. I’m excited to be in the semis.”
Here’s a breakdown of Friday’s semifinal matches:
Sofia Kenin vs. Caroline Dolehide, 4 p.m. CST
In this event that offers substantial rankings points and prize money, either Kenin or Dolehide -- ranked No. 53 and No.111, respectively, is going to be in Saturday’s final.
In a tournament missing some of the top players, opportunities have abounded for those lower on the tennis ladder. And one of these Americans is going to take advantage of that unlikely opening.
After defeating Leylah Fernandez in the quarterfinals 6-4, 6-7(6), 6-1, Kenin is officially on fire. The 2020 Australian Open champion is now on the verge of advancing to her second consecutive WTA Tour final -- for the first time in her career -- after losing to Barbora Krejcikova in last week’s San Diego final in three sets.
“I managed to get through, so that’s the most important,” Kenin told reporters. “I’m not going to feel a 100 percent every day. What counts is playing, even if you’re not a 100 percent going through, it’s probably maybe even better than better winning than feeling a 100 percent and winning.
“But of course any win is great, so …”
Of course. This is Kenin’s fifth career semifinal at WTA 1000 level or above, and first since Roland Garros 2020. While she won both of her Grand Slam semifinals, she fell at this stage both times she made a WTA 1000 final four, in Toronto 2019 to Bianca Andreescu and Cincinnati 2019 to Madison Keys.
Kenin is only the second player ranked outside the Top 50 to reach a WTA 1000 semifinal this year, after Sorana Cirstea at Miami. She’s looking for her ninth victory in 10 matches.
Kenin, 24, won six of seven games in the third set against Fernandez. She was the more efficient of the big hitters in the thin air of Guadalajara, stroking 33 winners and 44 unforced errors; Fernandez’s numbers were 23 and 58.
Kenin is 9-2 this year against opponents ranked outside the WTA Tour's Top 50 on hard courts, and Dolehide fits that description.
On the other hand, Dolehide has yet to lose a three-set match this year; she’s 4-0. While they have never met in a tour-level match, Dolehide holds a 2-1 head-to-head advantage in ITF $25,000 events in 2016-17.
Dolehide is the first American player to make the semifinals of a WTA event ranked outside the Top 100 since Sloane Stephens in 2017. Another fun fact: Dolehide has won four consecutive matches at the WTA level -- previously, her best was two.
For the first time in her career Dolehide has registered four consecutive WTA wins. She had managed just two previously.
No.2 Maria Sakkari vs. No.3 Caroline Garcia, not before 6 p.m. CST
There’s something about Mexico and Garcia. This is her seventh career semifinal at a WTA Tour event in Mexico after Acapulco 2014 and 2015, and Monterrey 2015, 2016, 2017 and 2023.
Garcia defeated No. 10 Victoria Azarenka 6-3 6-4, winning for the fourth time in five career matches. The champion of the WTA Finals last year in Fort Worth is again getting hot at the end of the season. This is her fifth WTA 1000 semifinal.
The 29-year-old Frenchwoman could not have been more clutch, saving all 11 of the break points against her. She hit 10 aces in the match.
Next up for Garcia will be Sakkari. She ended the surprising run from No.180-ranked Emiliana Arango with a 6-3, 6-4 victory late Thursday night.
Sakkari is now into her ninth WTA 1000 semifinal and her third of 2023, after Indian Wells and Madrid. She reached the same number a year ago. In 2022, she fell to Jessica Pegula in the final of Guadalajara.
Fun fact: Garcia knocked off Sakkari in each of their first three career meetings, and each time, she went on to win the title (Wuhan 2017, Cincinnati 2022 and WTA Finals 2022). Sakkari won the last match, earlier this year in Doha, an encounter that ended in a third-set tiebreak.