Jasmine Paolini Storms into Second Straight Slam Semifinal

Jasmine Paolini French Open

When 2024 dawned for Jasmine Paolini, she was ranked World no. 34. In the six months since, she has risen to World no. 7, reached the finals of the French Open, and now becomes the first Italian woman to reach the Wimbledon semifinals in the Open Era.

It would appear that the no.7 seed Paolini was in a hurry to reach that last milestone, taking just 58 minutes to steamroll the no. 19 seed Emma Navarro, 6-2, 6-1.

With a head-to-head lead of 3-0, Navarro looked on her way to win number four when she broke Paolini early in the first set. But Paolini had other plans–reeling off 11 of the next 12 games to advance to the Wimbledon semifinals for the first time.

“I played a really good match, no mistakes. I played a perfect match,” Paolini said in press afterwards.

Playing with house money

It’s not unusual for players who have faced down match points to play with a newfound freedom and Paolini is another example of an escape artist playing with so-called “house money.”

In her fourth-round match against Madison Keys, as Paolini was staring down a 1-5 deficit in the third set, no one would have faulted her for musing about getting back on the clay for the upcoming Olympics. But after Keys suffered a hamstring injury that forced her to retire at five all, Paolini found herself with an opportunity to make history and the deepest run of her career at SW19.

Still in the tournament against the odds, she stepped on court to face Navarro looking at ease and relaxed, unleashing her blistering forehand and outplaying Navarro for most of the match. Exceptional court coverage and aggressive play saw Paolini hit 19 winners over the two sets and win all 10 points on Navarro’s second serve.

Partnering with fellow Italian Sara Errani, Paolini’s recent doubles success (her current doubles rank is World no. 13) has brought yet another dimension to her game. Against Navarro, she approached the net 17 times, winning all but one of those points.

Success on grass has been a long time coming

As another Italian “born on clay,” Paolini’s play style–heavy topspin, lots of angles and deft touch–doesn’t (at first glance) spell success on grass.

And in fact, prior to this season, Paolini had posted only three Tour-level wins on grass.

Starting in 2017, Paolini made three attempts at qualifying for Wimbledon and fell short on all three occasions. As a direct entrant into the main draw in 2021, 2022, and 2023, she faltered in the first round; twice to Petra Kvitova and once to Andrea Petkovic, two veterans who know their way around a grass court.

But since the start of the 2024 grass season, she’s notched eight wins–five so far en route to the semifinals at Wimbledon and along the way to the semifinals at Eastbourne, where she lost to eventual champion Daria Kasatkina.

Asked in press after her win over Navarro what is different now, she told a tale of confidence and self-belief.

“Maybe I didn’t realize before, but my coach [Renzo Furlan] was telling me I can play well here, but I wasn’t believing too much,” she said. “I felt great in Eastbourne, I was hitting the ball well on this surface, moving well. So I was repeating to myself, ‘ok it’s nice to play on grass, you can do well.’ But I didn’t expect to do the semifinals here.”

The challenge of the French Open back-to-back with Wimbledon

After her loss to Swiatek in the finals in Paris, it might have been easy to skulk away, content with the memories. But Paolini has built on that experience to fuel her confidence and her growing momentum.

She’s also leaning into her strengths: her devastating forehand, agile movement, quickness around the court, a never-say-never attitude, and an arsenal of tools at her disposal.

Winning the French Open and Wimbledon in the same year–the so-called Channel Slam–is so rare, only a handful of women have achieved it in the Open Era.

The mental and physical toll required to play two Majors so close together on entirely different surfaces is huge. That Paolini is on the verge of competing in both finals is a testament to the confidence she’s feeling in 2024.

Donna Vekic awaits in the next round

In the semifinal, Paolini will face another inspired 28-year-old and first-time Wimbledon semifinalist, the big-hitting Croatian Donna Vekic.

Unlike Paolini, who was riding high after her run to the French Open finals, Vekic said in press after her Wimbledon quarterfinal victory over Lulu Sun that she was forced to regroup after a disappointing first round exit in Paris. Taking that time turned her mindset around and allowed her arrive at Wimbledon with a new focus she said.

So who will prevail on Thursday?

Vekic has a big serve and is a big hitter who will likely not be rattled by Paolini’s aggressive play. She will also be keen to dictate play from her end of the court. Likewise, Paolini has shown she can go toe-to-toe with the biggest ball strikers on tour. It’s a huge opportunity for both players to advance to their first Wimbledon women’s final. With so much on the line, it will likely come down to whoever can better handle the occasion.

Main Photo Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports


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