The week in tennis: Paolini's inspiring story, Thompson's incredibly busy day and much more

On Saturday, unseeded Jasmine Paolini won the 1000-level trophy in Dubai. Waleed Zein/Anadolu via Getty Images

Entering Dubai, 28-year-old Jasmine Paolini had won just one WTA title on tour, at the 250-level Slovenia Open in 2021. She had never advanced past the quarterfinals at a 1000-level tournament. And even that she had done only once during her career.

What a difference a week makes.

On Saturday, the unseeded Italian capped off her exceptional run -- which included wins over Beatriz Haddad Maia, Leylah Fernandez and Maria Sakkari -- with a comeback victory over giant-slayer Anna Kalinskaya 4-6, 7-5, 7-5 to claim the 1000-level trophy in Dubai. The gleeful smile that emerged on her face after winning the final point didn't seem to fade throughout any of the postmatch festivities or ceremony.

"I think every person has her own steps, [their own] story," Paolini said later during her news conference. "I need some more time to believe maybe that I could play at this level how I did this week. It's not going to be like this I know every week. It's tough. It's the best players in the world.

"But I'm here enjoying my tennis, enjoying the matches on court. I'm just loving what I do, just trying to live the present, to stay there, to make the best I could do in that moment. I'm really, really happy."

It's been a breakthrough season for Paolini so far. She reached the fourth round at the Australian Open -- having never played past the second round at a major previously -- before losing to Kalinskaya, and won the doubles title with fellow countrywoman Sara Errani in Linz earlier this month. Now, following the biggest victory of her career, Paolini holds a career-high ranking of No. 14 in the world and a surge of momentum heading into the upcoming "Sunshine Swing" in Indian Wells and Miami.

Here's what else you might have missed from around the tennis world last week:

Best day ever

If you love stories like Paolini's about athletes who spend years working hard to chase down a dream and finally see results later in their career, you're in luck. Jordan Thompson, a 29-year-old Australian, had never won a singles title on the ATP Tour when he arrived to Los Cabos last week.

But you would never know that by the way he played in the tournament. Thompson was impressive throughout and improbably fought back to beat Alex Michelsen in the quarterfinals after trailing 6-0, 3-0. He then held off Alexander Zverev on Friday in a third-set tiebreak in the semifinals 7-5, 4-6, 7-6 (2). But he truly became part of tennis lore by what he did on Saturday.

After leaving the court after 1 a.m. on Saturday morning following his match against Zverev, Thompson was back in the final later that night. He showed few signs of fatigue or nerves and took control early over the far more experienced Casper Ruud. Thompson broke Ruud's serve three times and ultimately won his first ATP singles title behind a 6-3, 7-6 (4) victory.

"I spent so many hours on the court this week," Thompson said after the match. "In the quarterfinal I could have been double bageled, I could have been losing 6-0, 6-0, and now I'm about to lift the trophy, so I think it's still a miracle. It's been a journey. I'm nearly 30 and I'm lifting a trophy. I never thought I would do that."

But, as you might have guessed, the story doesn't end there. Shortly after winning the singles title, Thompson was back on court to play in the doubles semifinals with partner Max Purcell. Facing Ruud and Will Blumberg, the Australian duo was victorious 7-6 (1), 6-3 and advanced to the final. As it was already late in the evening, there were just moments in between the semifinal and the final, and Thompson then took the court for the third time of the night -- and fourth time in 24 hours.

Facing Aleksandr Nedovyesov and Gonzalo Escobar, Thompson and Purcell continued their dominance and, just before 3 a.m., earned the hard-fought win 7-5, 7-6 (2) for the doubles title. Thompson became the first player in the tournament's history to win both titles during the same year, and the first to do it at any ATP event since Nick Kyrgios did so at the Washington Open in 2022.

Rocking Rio

Sebastian Baez won the biggest title of his career on Sunday with a 6-2, 6-1 victory over fellow Argentine Mariano Navone in the final at the 500-level Rio Open. It was Baez's fifth ATP title overall and second on South American soil.

"Amazing, amazing. All week I felt so good here in Rio," Baez said after the match. "I said before, I liken [it to] home because of the crowd, the people, everything."

The Rio Open was the latest stop on the ATP's South American swing, and like the rest of the events, drew huge and lively crowds. The tournaments and the reception they received drew the attention of former No. 1 and three-time major champion Andy Murray, who has been playing in the Middle East this month.

"South America should have its own dedicated swing on the tennis tour with its own Masters series," Murray wrote. "The way the fans support the tournaments there is incredible."

Many were quick to agree with Murray on social media, including Diego Schwartzman and Boris Becker.

The falcon trophy

Karen Khachanov won his sixth career title -- and first of 2024 -- with a dominant showing in Doha. The 27-year-old didn't drop a set throughout the tournament and defeated 18-year-old Jakub Mensik on Saturday in the challenging final 7-6 (12), 6-4.

While his performance had likely already won over the crowd, he further enamored those watching with his heartfelt words to his wife and two young children after the match.

"My biggest support, my wife and my sons, they are not here. They are supporting me on TV, they are watching now. I wanted them to come [and] they wanted to come to the final but they couldn't. We're parents of two now. The little one has his teeth growing in. There are more and more problems."

Khachanov added that his son had really wanted the falcon trophy given to the champion and had sent him messages about it during the week.

"I'm really happy I could deliver it," he said.

On Monday, Khachanov posted a picture to his Instagram story of his clearly thrilled son holding the falcon trophy in their house.

Mensik's huge week

While one win short of his ultimate goal, it was still a monumental week for Mensik, who became the first teenager in history to reach the final at the event. Khachanov compared Mensik, who hit 16 aces during their match, to John Isner, the ATP's all-time ace leader, and credited him for already having such success at his young age. The Czech teen, who was ranked No. 116, defeated Andy Murray in a three-set thriller (in which every set was decided by a tiebreaker) in the round of 16, and defeated top-seeded Andrey Rublev in straight sets in the quarterfinals.

And it all happened because of an iPhone. As part of the ATP's Next Gen initiative, players who are ranked in the top 250 and under the age of 20 are allowed to pick one 250-level event to which they can receive a wild card for entry. After his win over Rublev, Mensik was asked on court why he had picked Doha -- and his answer was refreshingly honest.

"Because I received [a] free iPhone," he said, with a laugh, before adding some other factors.

Mensik is now ranked a career-high No. 87 and is back in action this week in Dubai.

Coco's time

Coco Gauff fell in the quarterfinals at Dubai, but she still achieved a pretty incredible milestone this week. On Wednesday, the 19-year-old was named to Time Magazine's "Women of the Year" list for 2024, honoring "extraordinary leaders working towards a more equal world."

Gauff is one of 12 women included on the list, and is the youngest and the only athlete to have received the distinction. Other honorees include actress and entrepreneur Taraji P. Henson, "Barbie" director Greta Gerwig and Nobel laureate and economist Claudia Goldin. The magazine cited Gauff's commitment to social activism in addition to her success on the court and her newly achieved status as the world's highest-paid female athlete.

"It's really cool to be on that list among other amazing women," Gauff said during an on-court interview in Dubai about the honor. "Especially making it so young. It means a lot and I'm super grateful they chose me."

Champs on a plane

If you've ever wondered what 46 major titles would like on an airplane, wonder no more. On Friday, while heading to the United States ahead of the upcoming BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, California, Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal found themselves on the same flight. Djokovic posted a selfie of the two together on social media.

No word on if the two shared movie recommendations, compared notes about the in-flight dining, carpooled from the airport or if the man behind them ever noticed they were there.