Issue #5 | If You Don't Know, Now You Know

Issue #5 | If You Don't Know, Now You Know

The instant that forehand left the strings of Anna Kalinskaya’s Wilson Ultra, I knew it was going long. Kalinskaya probably knew it before anyone. Jasmine Paolini definitely knew it. Before Hawkeye could call the ball long, I jumped up from the edge of the sofa and yelled upstairs to my wife, “She did it! Jasmine did it!” My arms straight up in the air in victory formation, were perfectly in sync with Renzo Furlan’s. My eyes, much like Furlan’s, were trying their hardest to not do that ridiculous thing that grown ass men aren’t supposed to do. I sat back down, cupped the sides of my face with my hands and stared at the television at a loss for words. After a few minutes, I let out a heavy sigh. Eventually, one word would come out. “Wow.”

A giddy Paolini had just defeated the favorite, a red hot Anna Kalinskaya. After leveling the match at a set a piece, Paolini ran off four straight games from 3-5 down in the third, capturing the Dubai Duty Free Championship in epic fashion. Her second tour level title would be a huge one, catapulting her into the Top 20 (number 14 to be exact), for the first time in her career.

Despite the finals loss, Kalinskaya would have the best week of her career. After coming through qualifying she’d go on to defeat Jelena Ostapenko, Coco Gauff, and world number one, Iga Swiatek, en route to the final against Paolini. Kalinskaya, who’s been fantastic this season, ran through the draw with an unwavering confidence and stoicism, all week rarely flashing her signature wry smile from the jokes in her mind that only she is in on. Throughout the week, Kalinskaya remained unbothered and untouchable right up to the point where it mattered most. Between the nerves, exhaustion, a slew of unforced errors in the third set, and a relentless Paolini, Kalinskaya just couldn’t string together one last burst of consistency to get her across the finish line.

Paolini too had a stellar week in Dubai. After coming back from a set and break down against Beatrice Haddad Maia in the first round, she’d finally get a win against Leylah Fernandez, and would win a tough semi final against Sorana Cirstea. And in the final, she couldn’t get the first set break she needed, but remained diligent in the second and became stronger as the match went on. 

The momentum in the final changed slowly and Kalinskaya didn’t manage to fight it off despite having several chances. In the third set, Paolini would hit ten forehand winners to Kalinskaya’s one. And for the match, Kalinskaya would commit 35 backhand errors to Paolini’s 22. Kalinskaya’s winner count would diminish (from 13-10-4) across each set, while Paolini’s would increase (5-11-13) during the match. Numbers aside, this match also boiled down to poise under pressure, an advantage Paolini had over Kalinskaya.

This was Paolini’s fifth tour level final. To this point she was 1-3 in finals, 1-1 head-to-head against Kalinskaya, Kalinskaya winning their most recent meeting in Melbourne. It would be Paolini who would remain focused and unphased by the moment. She never panicked. She just continued to be patient and continued to be consistent. She’d hold serve at 4-5. Would get a much needed break pushing the score even. Paolini would hold again to go up 6-5 and would secure the win with a love game (see what I did there) break of Kalinskaya to clinch the title. Paolini always believed she could win the match. She’d been there before and this time she’d take full advantage of the opportunity.

In moments of this magnitude, we typically see winning players (both men and women) collapse to the ground in perfect timing with an uncontrollable and completely understandable emotional rush. But there’s nothing typical about Jasmine Paolini. When the final Kalinskaya forehand went long, Paolini celebrated with an infectious joy and authentic excitement unique to her personality. If you’re having a bad day, I encourage you to watch Paolini’s reaction after the final point, I guarantee it will make you beam with happiness. If that’s not enough, Kalinskaya’s reaction when she received the finals trophy will make you laugh your ass off too.

I’m still in awe of the little Italian powerhouse who’s potential and big forehand I’ve hitched my tennis fandom to for the last three plus years. Jasmine Paolini took advantage of the biggest opportunity of her tennis career and I’d gladly trade her three finals losses for this 1000 title. This made it all worth it. Speaking of worth, your girl also bagged a cool $525K for the finals win, setting her up for a career year in earnings (Kalinskaya didn’t make out too badly either, taking home $308K). And with only a few points to defend through May, Paolini should be securely in the Top 20 well into early summer.

Six weeks ago, I ended my first piece about Jasmine Paolini with these words: 

“Jasmine Paolini is quietly on the cusp of venturing into the upper echelon of the WTA rankings, where there's plenty of space for her. Space in which she belongs and where to many, she'll still very likely be considered an underdog. Until she isn’t. Jasmine Paolini will have her day(s) in the sun, I'm sure of it.”

Call me clairvoyant if you want to. Call it coincidence if you must. Call it luck if you dare. Last weekend in Dubai, Jasmine Paolini had a well deserved day in the sun, and now the real work begins. Paolini will have a target on her back and has found her way onto everyone’s radar. She’s also in the upper echelon of the WTA rankings, right where she belongs. No longer an underdog. Christopher Wallace said it best, “If you don’t know, now you know.” But I always knew. And yeah, I told you so.

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