Wimbledon semi-final: Paolini reaches final after huge slog with Vekic | Tennis | Sport

Jasmine Paolini staged a stirring comeback on Centre Court to become the first Italian woman to reach the Wimbledon final.

Donna Vekic raced to the first set in only 35 minutes and seemed set to reach her first Grand Slam final at the 43rd attempt.

But the Croatian was in tears before the end of the biggest match of her life as she fought injury and fatigue. And the French Open finalist had the heart and lungs to fight back to win an extraordinary semi-final 2-6 6-4 7-6 under brilliant sunshine on Centre Court

She took her third match point after two hours and 51 minutes of a rollercoaster encounter.

The world No.7 with the beaming smile is the first woman to reach the final at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon in the same year since Serena Williams in 2016.

And it is an incredible feat as the Italian had never won a Tour-level match on grass until beating Katie Boulter in Eastbourne last month

She will play the winner of the second semi-final between Elena Rybakina and Barbora Krejcikova.

This was a match between two in-form players. Vekic, who reached the final in Bad Homburg, had the most WTA main draw grass court wins in 2024 with a record of 10-3.

And French Open finalist Paolini had the most Grand Slam main draw wins in 2024 (14) after also reaching the Australian Open third round.

The opening service game gave an early indication of Paolini’s early problems. She saved one break point before finally holding after eight minutes. By contrast, Vekic dropped only one point in her first two service games and forced the first break to lead 3-2 when the Italian’s forehand found the net.

The Croatian made the double break to lead 5-2 and serving for the set, she fired down four first sets to win her fifth consecutive game.

Vekic won 91% of points on her first serve in the opening set while Paolini won 29% on her second serve.

The Centre Court crowd unleashed a huge roar when Paolini stopped the rot by holding serve in her first game of the second set. And the Italian got to deuce for the first time on the Vekic in the fourth game – and the Croatian then served a double fault to face her first break point.

But the world No.37 responded with a 115mph first serve – her biggest of the match – before drawing level at 2-2.

At 15-15 in the ninth game, Paolini chased down a lob and Vekic fluffed the smash as the Italian held.

And serving to stay in the second set, Vekic served her fifth double fault to go 0-30 down and Paolini took her first set point with a forehand winner after one hour and 28 minutes.

The Italian, who is 5’4”, compensates for her lack of size with her speed around the court. And speaking at the French Open, she laughed: “My mom is Polish, but my grandfather is from Ghana. I think I’m fast because of Ghana!”

But Vekic broke the Paolini serve for the third time in the opening game of the third set and saved a break point to go 0-3 down. But Paolini held and took her second break point when Vekic slapped a forehand into the net to bring the match back level at 3-3.

The tension was now getting to both players and Vekic broke back immediately when she whacked a forehand winner off a weak 66mph second serve.

But the Italian broke straight back to take the score to 4-4 after Vekic followed a double fault with a wild forehand on the first break point.

The Croatian saved a match point at 4-5 3–40 when Paolini set a forehand return out – and she held serve on a big net cord.

Vekic had two break points in a mammoth Paolini service game and was in tears in her chair at the changeover before attempting to serve to stay in the match at 5-6.

The Croatian saved a second match point with a forehand winner to end a lung-busting 17-shot rally before forcing the match tiebreak.

But on the third at 8-9 in the tiebreak, she hooked a forehand into the tramlines to spark Paolini’s celebrations.

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