By the third set, both Dalila Jakupovic and Sabina Sharipova had grown accustomed to long drawn rallies. Only Jakupovic had a weapon her opponent had not been able to read. At 3-3 in the third set, the pair engaged in another slugfest until the Slovenian cushioned a backhand to kill the point with a drop shot.“I too used to be a powerful baseliner, but I liked playing drop shots,” she says. “Because of that I learned how to vary my game and adapt.”
The perfectly measured drop shot gave her three break points. Sharipova double-faulted to concede the break, and could not recover as Jakupovic would go on to win 3-6, 6-3, 6-3 to enter her first ever WTA tour event singles final at the Mumbai Open 125K Series.
Jakupovic had played a marathon 101-minute semi-final at the CCI Courts, but her work for the day wasn’t quite done. She still had to sit in the ‘coach’s’ chair for Amandine Hesse in the second semi-final.
“Friends on tour are hard to come by at this level because of the competition,” says the world no 265. “She’s one of my best friends and she’s come here after a long injury. Her coach had to stay at home, so I said if she needs me, I’m here for here.”
Jakupovic understands the value of every ounce of support a player can get, especially since she hails from a country which doesn’t have a strong sporting culture. “Even football, which is famous everywhere, isn’t too big in Slovenia. All footballers have side jobs to sustain themselves,” she explains.
Her father Senad, once a semi-professional himself and now her coach and fitness trainer, watched from the stands as Jakupovic set up a meeting with no 1 seed and world no 96 Aryna Sabalenka – a powerful teenager who recently led Belarus to a finalist finish at the Fed Cup. The 19-year-old took just over an hour to dismantle Hesse to a 6-2, 6-3 win, with Jakupovic watching from the sidelines.
But the Slovenian isn’t too bothered. She has the fitness to strive through a slugfest, and the variation to give her an edge.