Ukraine's Kalinina beats Russia's Kudermetova in Rome semis

ROME -- Anhelina Kalinina's family home in Ukraine was destroyed in a Russian attack last year. Her elderly grandparents have had to relocate from the southern city of Nova Kakhovka, which is held by Russian forces, to Kyiv. Kalinina's parents work as tennis coaches in Kyiv, and she said there was a "huge, huge bomb near them, near their academy" a few days ago.

So when Kalinina beat Russia's Veronika Kudermetova 7-5, 5-7, 6-2 at the Italian Open on Friday to reach the biggest final of her career, it seemed only natural that she dedicated the victory to her war-torn country.

"It's really important to win every match, because of what Ukraine goes through," Kalinina told the crowd. "I really hope that I give a tiny, small light, maybe some positive emotions for my country. I really hope that Ukraine a little bit enjoys [this]."

Kalinina said she could feel the support of the half-filled Campo Centrale, as some fans held up Ukrainian flags.

"The whole stadium was cheering me up," Kalinina said. "... I have never experienced something like that."

She and Kudermetova did not shake hands after the semifinal, which lasted nearly three hours.

Asked if she gets along with Kalinina while their countries are at war, Kudermetova said: "We're here, and we love what we do here. Doesn't matter from which country you are. We're athletes, and that's it. We are here to play tennis."

In Saturday's final, Kalinina will face Wimbledon champion Elena Rybakina, who beat 2017 French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-4 in a semifinal that was suspended midway through the second set due to rain.

Rybakina was born in Russia but represents Kazakhstan. She is friendly with Kalinina, who used to work with her coach, Stefano Vukov.

"I always like cheering for her. Same whenever I win, she's always supporting [me]," Rybakina said. "We have good relationship. I'm happy that we're going to play [the] final."

The men's semifinals Saturday feature Holger Rune against Casper Ruud, and Stefanos Tsitsipas against Daniil Medvedev.

Rome is the last big warmup before the French Open starts in nine days.

It's been quite a run for the 47th-ranked Kalinina, who was coming off the longest match on the women's circuit this season -- a 3-hour, 41-minute victory over Beatriz Haddad Maia in the quarterfinals.

Kalinina also eliminated former Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin in the third round and got by Madison Keys, another established American, in the fourth round.

Kalinina's only previous final was in Budapest in 2021, when she lost to Yulia Putintseva. Kalinina will move to at least No. 25 in the world by reaching the final -- and could be in the top 20 if she raises the trophy. She has been using her earnings on tour for relief efforts in Ukraine for family and others.

The 12th-ranked Kudermetova also reached the semifinals at the Madrid Open last week, where she lost to top-ranked Iga Swiatek.

While Kudermetova had the more powerful serve -- with a 9-2 edge in aces -- Kalinina was able to extend points with her quickness, notably running down a drop shot and replying with a delicate lob winner midway through the second set.

Kalinina also dictated points by stepping further into the court than Kudermetova to find sharper angles.

Still, Kudermetova won 16 straight points to close out the second set and erase a 5-3 deficit.

But Kalinina rushed out to a 4-0 lead in the third and quickly closed out the victory as rain arrived.