World number 38 Veronika Kudermetova has reached her second singles final of 2021, today earning a 6-3, 6-3 win over Paula Badosa in the semifinals of the Volvo Car Open in Charleston, South Carolina. Similar to Kudermetova’s quarterfinal victory yesterday versus Sloane Stephens, the highway curved, a winding road of early dominance, a physical and emotional sag in the second set that threatened to go viral, followed by recovery and just enough finishing firepower.
The 23-year-old Kudermetova is Russian and has cited compatriot Maria Sharapova as her tennis idol. The Sharapova influence is clear, most of all in the form of groundstrokes struck flat and early, including a frequently devastating two-handed backhand. Better yet, Kudermetova has a service motion far more concise and mechanically sound than the delivery that Sharapova often struggled with due to various injuries. But also like Sharapova, Kudermetova seeks to impose herself instantly, demonstrated today when she broke Badosa at love in the opening game of the match and broke again at 3-5 to handily take the first set.
Badosa had been the tournament’s Cinderella. Ranked 71 in the world coming in, the 23-year-old Spaniard took out fifth-seeded Belinda Bencic in the second round and, more impressively, outplayed world number one Ash Barty in the quarters.
Volvo Car Open/Chris Smith
But while Barty was the one who looked tired yesterday, today was Badosa’s turn. During the early stages of today’s match, Badosa played unconvincing, weary tennis. Kudermetova dictated the tempo of one rally after another. And when Badosa dropped her serve at 0-1 in the second set, no would have been surprised had the second set flown by.
Credit Badosa for at last digging in. She broke Kudermetova and soon it was 2-all. As was the case against Stephens, Kudermetova at this stage went from crisply dialed-in to distraught, even sullen. Badosa’s challenge was to sustain rallies long enough, command a reasonable share of court space, and eventually help the bubbling Kudermetova reach full boil. As Kudermetova told Tennis Channel’s Steve Weissman after the match, “I showed a lot of emotion today.”
Normally, this is when the crowd comes alive, a spring Saturday afternoon in scenic Charleston the ideal day for lots of cheering. But this is Pandemic Era pro tennis, an eerie mix of hyper-solitude and sparse stadiums.
The near-tipping point came with Kudermetova serving at 2-all. Over the course of 12 seesaw minutes, the game went to seven deuces. Badosa held two break points. But Kudermetova stepped up on both occasions, saving the first with a down-the-line backhand winner, the second with an excellent serve. In time, she won the game.
Having avoided a potential abyss, Kudermetova eventually broke Badosa at 3-4. Kudermetova finished impressively, at 5-3, 30-all snapping off two aces.
Kudermetova’s final opponent will be 91st-ranked Danka Kovinic. Each is seeking her first WTA singles title. The two have only played one another once, Kudermetova winning 6-4, 7-5, in the qualifying of Shenzhen back in 2019. Conceding she had no memory of that match, Kudermetova said, “No expectations, just fight.” Hopefully, the punches will be aimed only at the opponent. Kudermetova is far too skilled to battle versus herself.