Jasmine Paolini outclasses Emma Navarro to reach first Wimbledon semi

Jasmine Paolini outclasses Emma Navarro to reach first Wimbledon semi

The dolore didn’t last long. After Jannik Sinner’s defeat by Daniil Medvedev, the Italian flags on Centre Court were soon fluttering again as Jasmine Paolini defeated Emma Navarro 6-1, 6-2 to become the first Italian woman to reach a Wimbledon semi-final. Not bad for a 28-year-old who, until this year, had not won a single tour match on grass.

This was the first time in four attempts Paolini had made it past the first round at this tournament. She had lost to the American every time they had played before – three times in the past nine months.

“Mentally it was tough to play against her,” said Paolini, who will face Donna Vekic in the semi-final after the Croatian beat Lulu Sun. “I love the way she plays. The last three matches I was really struggling with her. I was repeating to myself that it’s a different match, different surface, so to try to be aggressive. I think I played a really, really good match.”

If the Sinner-Medvedev match was a David Lean epic, this was a Pixar short. Paolini raced to the first set in under half an hour, and finished the job 30 minutes later. Her American opponent held her serve only twice in the match, while Paolini commanded the stage, and in particular the net, where she won 16 points and lost only one.

Both women arrived on the back of grand slam personal bests in last month’s French Open, but Paolini is in the form of her life. In Dubai in February she won only the second singles title of her career. Last month she reached her first ever grand slam final at Roland Garros, before taking another runners-up trophy in the women’s doubles.

Her doubles work was in strong evidence here with nifty work around the court. For someone giving away three inches to her opponent, she seemed to have enormous reach. She hit 19 winners to Navarro’s six and no rally lasted longer than the 15-shot one that began the match.

Curiously, this was Paolini’s second game against an American billionaire heiress in as many days. On Monday, she and her partner, Sara Errani, lost to Jessica Pegula and Coco Gauff in the fourth round of the women’s doubles. Pegula is the only tennis player worth more than Navarro, whose father owns not only the bank that sponsors her kit but also her home town tournament, the Charleston Open.

Navarro grew up in the South Carolinian city, whose antebellum charm is riddled with horrible histories, and which remains a place of fine living for the ultra-wealthy. Her father, Ben, whose financial firm specialises in credit cards and debt collection, has bought large chunks of it, including the 11,000-seater stadium where his daughter made her WTA debut in 2019. Tennis has always been a rich person’s sport, but these may be its nepo baby years.

Emma Navarro in action against Jasmine PaoliniView image in fullscreen

Navarro is proving her credentials nevertheless. The 23-year-old won the first tour title of her career at Hobart in January, and reached the fourth round of the French Open last month. Having started the 2023 ranked 149th, she came into this match No 17; her run here will take her to a new career high.

This match was full of brisk intent from the outset. Both women hustled between points, Navarro snatching at the balls as they were fed to her. The American took the first break at 1-1, pouncing on Paolini’s second serve and slamming home a fierce forehand.

But Paolini broke her next game to love, and soon the Italian’s unrelenting pace seemed to rattle Navarro, whose shots grew increasingly hurried and harassed. She lost four games in a row, and her backhand was running wild.

She fought to regain composure in the second set, and showed a couple of flashes of fire. A flutter of errors, including a backhand volley taken too early, suggested Paolini might be getting over-eager, and there might have been a way back in for Navarro at 3-1, when Paolini hit long at 30-30.

But Navarro lost the fourth of the five break points she had in this match. From then on, Paolini jammed a heavy foot on the accelerator and Navarro won only two more points in the match. It was very different from her dominant display in her fourth-round win over Gauff, with whom she is due to play doubles at the Paris Olympics next month.

“I just faced a really, really tough opponent today that played lights out and didn’t give me anything” an admiring Navarro said of Paolini. “She was a totally different player today … she was on top of me from the very first point.”