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Océane Dodin has endured much since winning her first WTA title as a teenager in 2016. Back into her first outdoor quarterfinal in four years, the 24-year-old French star has lost neither her breathtaking power nor her sense of humor, outlasting Vitalia Diatchenko in two tight sets at the 32nd Palermo Ladies Open.

“It was very hard, especially with my serve today,” the former world No. 46 giggled after the 7-6 (7), 6-4 win. “I think I made something like 14 double faults! But I’m just happy, mentally, with how I was able to go through this and win this match.”

Dodin indeed struggled to rein in her notoriously high toss, but Diatchenko was similarly out of sorts on serve and threw in 16 double faults of her own—including one on match point. Her higher-ranked opposition was able to save a set point in the first-set tiebreak and ultimately recover to reel off the encounter’s final four games.

“I think I was lucky that her serve was not very good too, so I was able to break her many times,” Dodin mused.

Though seeded No. 6, Dodin arrived in Palermo clearly in search of elite-level consistency, having won just two WTA main draw matches all year.


WATCH: Dodin turned heads with her powerful backhand last year in Palermo.


She had successfully navigated an uncertain 2020, one that had begun brightly with back-to-back quarterfinals at the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy—where she scored her second career Top 20 win over Johanna Konta and pushed Elena Rybakina to a deciding set—and the Open 6ème Sens Métropole de Lyon.

The indoor courts could hardly contain Dodin’s fearsome groundstrokes, which musically echoed as she frequently struck the center of her strings. After another three-setter against then-reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin in front of her home crowd, she appeared to have officially announced her return from a prolonged battle with vertigo.

Though she emerged from the subsequent lockdown by reaching her third quarterfinal in Linz, clearing that last hurdle into the Top 100 for the first time since 2018 proved tougher than expected.

“Just before this tournament was another hard time,” she said. “I wasn’t feeling very confident with my game, and I was struggling with my serve. Now I feel like I’m better. I’ve taken some confidence from training with my coach. It’s getting better every day, so I’m just very happy about this.”

I still love the game and love being on tour. Of course, it’s been very difficult with the COVID situation, but I think all that matters is that we love what we do. This is the case for me. Océane Dodin


Now ranked No. 120, Dodin could yet make that milestone leap in Palermo—likely with a run to the final—but would first have to get past rival Jacqueline Cristian or nemesis Zheng Qinwen, who has beaten her twice in the last three weeks.

“It was the love of the game,” she said of what maintained her motivation. “It’s just very important, and the most important thing for me. I still love the game and love being on tour. Of course, it’s been very difficult with the COVID situation, but I think all that matters is that we love what we do. This is the case for me.”

Ending the post-match interview with one last comic flourish, Dodin took me through a self-deprecating riff about her always booming game.

“I would say I prefer my backhand. My forehand is very good but…sometimes not,” she adds after a pause. “I like my serve too, but sometimes that’s like my forehand and not very good either! My backhand is definitely what makes me strong.”

If everything continues falling into place, it may be Dodin laughing last at the end of the week.