Jasmine Paolini wins Wimbledon semi-final thriller against tearful Donna Vekic

Jasmine Paolini wins Wimbledon semi-final thriller against tearful Donna Vekic

Jasmine Paolini, the diminutive Italian who until last week had never won a match at Wimbledon, reached the final after a dramatic victory over Donna Vekic.

The 28-year-old seventh seed edged a semi-final for the ages 2-6 6-4 7-6 (10/8) after a heart-stopping match tie-break.

Unseeded Vekic, also 28 and playing in her first grand slam semi-final, was in tears at times during a deciding set of unimaginable twists and turns.

But it was Paolini’s day as a player who, until this year had spent her career bouncing around outside the top 50, backed up her surprise run to the French Open final by making it a bellissimo Wimbledon.

“This match, I will remember forever,” the five-foot-four Paolini said.

“I was just trying to think abut what to do on the court, point by point, because I was really in difficulty.”

Paolini is the first woman to reach back-to-back Roland Garros and Wimbledon finals since Serena Williams in 2016.

Jasmine Paolini celebrates beating Donna Vekic (Aaron Chown/PA)
Jasmine Paolini celebrates beating Donna Vekic (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

“I think these last months have been crazy for me,” she added. “I don’t know, I am just trying to focus on what I have to do on court and enjoying what I am doing.

“I love playing tennis. It is a dream. I was watching finals when I was a kid at Wimbledon. I am just enjoying it and trying to live in the present.”

The pressure was on the Paolini serve from the first game, an eight-minute, five-deuce affair in which she just about held.

But Vekic’s powerful, aggressive returning had Paolini under the cosh and took her a set ahead.

Donna Vekic was in tears during the contest (Jordan Pettitt/PA)
Donna Vekic was in tears during the contest (Jordan Pettitt/PA) (PA Wire)

Suddenly the Paolini smile which has lit up a gloomy south-west London this fortnight had disappeared.

When a double fault brought Vekic a break point early in the second, Paolini looked in serious trouble of being on the end of a hiding similar to the one she dished out to Emma Navarro in the quarter-final.

But a stunning, scampering drop shot saved a hold and a spectacular volley in the next had the crowd on its feet.

Jasmine Paolini reacts to a missed opportunity (Aaron Chown/PA)
Jasmine Paolini reacts to a missed opportunity (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Wire)

Vekic was suddenly feeling the heat and, as she served to stay in the set, a double fault gave Paolini the initiative and a forehand winner levelled the match.

The momentum swung again at the start of the decider with Vekic, running her opponent all over the court, grabbing the break.

But Paolini’s defence was driving her opponent to distraction and, with almost every point becoming a mini-drama in itself the woman from Tuscany – who had previously suffered three first-round exits in SW19 – drew level.

With Vekic on serve – and by now in tears – Paolini had a match point but sent her return wide before another marathon game, at 5-5, was decided when Vekic missed by a hair’s breadth.

A backhand which flew long gave Paolini a second match point but Vekic ended another wonderful rally with a winner down the line.

In the match tie-break the pair were matching each other blow for exhausting blow, until Paolini’s third match point was swept wide by the heartbroken Vekic.

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