Rome WTA Premier Preview: Serena Williams could face her sister Venus in blockbuster second round clash - UBITENNIS
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Rome WTA Premier Preview: Serena Williams could face her sister Venus in blockbuster second round clash

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Serena Williams (photo by chryslène caillaud, copyright @Sport Vision)

The draw ceremony for the WTA Premier 5 Internazionali BNL d’Italia was held at the Pietrangeli Court at the Foro Italico in Rome.

 

Reigning US Open and Australian Open champion Naomi Osaka and this year’s Sydney and Stuttgart champion Petra Kvitova are the top 2 seeds. Four-time Rome champion Serena Williams is set to play in her first tournament since the Miami Open last March.

Top seed Osaka has been drawn in the top section and will open her Rome campaign against either Aliaksandra Sasnovich or Dominika Cibulkova, German Julia Goerges in the third round and this week’s Madrid finalist Kiki Bertens in a very tough quarterfinal. Osaka is on a collision course for a potential semifinal against two-time Rome finalist Simona Halep. The top half of the draw features three Madrid semifinalists Halep, Bertens, and Stephens.

Osaka has never advanced from the third round in the Eternal city. The 21-year-old Japanese player started her clay season with a semifinal in Stuttgart and the quarter-final in Madrid, but she has never won a match over a top 20 on the clay surface. At this week’s Madrid Mutua Open Osaka served for the match against Belinda Bencic only to lose 7-5 in the third set.

Simona Halep is chasing her first Rome title after finishing runner-up to Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina in 2017 and 2018. The 2018 Roland Garros champion could face a first match against Czech teen Marketa Vondrousova, who beat the Romanian player in their recent clash at Indian Wells last March.

Halep could face a blockbuster quarter-final against either Serena Williams or Sloane Stephens. Serena will make her come-back to Rome for the first time since 2016 and will play in just her fourth tournament this season and the first since she withdrew from Miami due to a knee injury before the third round.

Williams will start against a qualifier before a potential blockbuster second-round clash against her sister Venus, who will have to overcome a tough obstacle against Belgium’s Elise Mertens. Serena and Venus could meet on European clay for the first time since the 2002 Roland Garros final.

Stephens, who reached the semifinal in Madrid this week, will start her campaign against either Johanna Konta or Alison Riske.

Second seed Petra Kvitova will play her first match against either Yulia Putintseva or Lesia Tsurenko before possible clashes against Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit (quarterfinalist in 2017 and semifinalist in 2018 in the past two editions of the Rome tournament) in a re-match of this year’s Stuttgart final in the third round and this year’s Miami champion Ashleigh Barty in the quarter-final.

Kvitova is set to return to Rome for the first time since 2016. The 2019 Australian Open finalist was beaten by Kiki Bertens in the quarter-final this week in Madrid. This defeat ended a seven-match winning streak on clay. Kvitova is looking to advance from the quarter-final in Rome for the first time in her career.

Kvitova could face a potential semifinal against two-time Rome champion Elina Svitolina is looking to become the first player since Conchita Martinez to win three consecutive titles in the Foro Italico. Martinez won the Rome title four times in a row from 1993 to 1996. However, the Ukrainian player is still recovering from a knee injury and was upset by Pauline Parmentier 6-4 7-6 in the first round in Madrid.

Svitolina could face Victoria Azarenka in the second round if the Belarusian player overcomes Zhang Shuai in the opening round match. Svitolina is on a collision court for a possible quarter-final against Karolina Pliskova.

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Pliskova And Konta Advance To Rome Final

Johanna Konta edged world n.4 Kiki Bertens while Karolina Pliskova scored a straight-set victory against Maria Sakkari

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Johanna Konta in Rome during the 2019 Internazionali BNL d'Italia (photo Roberto Dell'Olivo)

After a washout on Wednesday and a double duty day on Thursday, the Internazionali BNL d’Italia were bracing for another wet afternoon on Saturday. Eventually, the very cold spell of Italian spring that has so far marred the 2019 Italian Open decided to spare the Foro Italico on the first day of the final weekend and allowed the two women’s singles semifinals to take place with only one very short interruption.

 

In the first match, 28-year-old Brit Johanna Konta came back from one set down and only two points away from defeat to overcome Mutua Madrid Open champion and world n.4 Kiki Bertens 5-7, 7-5, 6-2. The Dutch woman seemed to be in control of the match after she swooped the first set winning the last three games in a row (from 4-5 to 7-5) imposing her offensive and defensive game over a nervous and tentative Konta, who also failed to consolidate an initial break in the second set by losing her serve for the third time in a row. However, as the match progressed Konta started shaking off her initial jitters and held her subsequent service game with authority. At 4-5 30-30, a shanked smash pinched the line and the following forehand volley winner sealed the 5-5, signing a progressive decline in Berten’s sharpness and aggressiveness. “I think everything was hard today to ignore – said Bertens in the post-match press conference – the court was really slippery, so it’s tough to move on. Especially I like it when it’s not so slippery so I can move a little bit better. With the wind, it was really tough. She played really smart with the dropshots. She did a good job in there. I was all the time getting myself together and trying to push for more energy. But, yeah, it was not there”.

At her first final on clay and at her first final in a Premier Five/Premier Mandatory tournament after her triumph in Miami in 2017, Konta describer her effort on court as a “continuous adjustment, a continuous openness to figure it out within the match. I stayed very open in trying to find a solution in each point […] after I lost the first set, I didn’t do much wrong. It was a very good set of tennis. Equally the second set, as well. There wasn’t anybody putting a bad foot out of line. In the third, I definitely felt that I was able to maintain my level a bit better than her. I think that gave me the upper hand in stringing some more points together”.

Konta will face in the final n.4 seed Karolina Pliskova, who during the late afternoon match defeated Greek qualifier Maria Sakkari 6-4, 6-4. Sakkari started the match extremely well taking an early 4-2 lead, but could not continue to produce the same level of tennis in the second part of the set and was surpassed by her better ranked opponent. “Your intensity just dropped by one percent – said Sakkari’s coach Tom Hill during an on-court coaching session at the end of the first set – that’s the only difference between the first games and the last in this first set”.

During the second set, Pliskova was always ahead in the score, and despite she was the player more under pressure on her serve during the first half of the set, she eventually managed to break her opponent to love on 5-4 closing the match after one hour, 27 minutes. “I’m super happy for this result because I don’t feel I have been playing my best tennis – said Pliskova after the match – coming into this week I felt I would probably win one match, possibly two, I’m very confident for Paris now”.

The head-to-head between Pliskova and Konta see the Czech having won four of the previous five matches at WTA level, plus further two at ITF level. The only win for Konta came in Beijing in 2016, when the Brit reached her first Premier Mandatory final.

 

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Johanna Konta Reaches Biggest Semi-Final Since 2017

Johanna Konta advanced to her first semi-final in Rome by beating Vondrousova in three sets, while Pliskova beat Azarenka.

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Johanna Konta (@InteBNLdItalia on Twitter)

Johanna Konta will contest the biggest match of her career since Wimbledon 2017 when she takes on Kiki Bertens in the semi-final of the Italian Open.

 

The Brit, who is celebrating her 28th birthday today, looked in excellent form during her 6-3 3-6 6-1 victory over rising star Marketa Vondrousova and she fully deserves her place in the last four.

Konta’s win seems even more impressive when you consider the two players the Czech, 19, beat to reach the quarter-final stage: Simona Halep and Daria Kasatkina.

With those scalps under her belt, Vondrousova would surely have fancied her chances against the Brit. However, that confidence quickly eroded after the World No.42 controlled the opening set.

Konta made a great start. She hit a series of deep backhands which pushed the Czech back as she almost got an immediate break.

Although Vondrousova held on, the Brit then earned three more chances in game three. She took the second to move into a 2-1 lead.

Konta dominated her service games to maintain her advantage for the rest of the set, and then broke the Czech again in game nine to clinch it.

To Vondrousova’s credit, she fought back well in the second set and eventually won it 6-3. However, the Brit knew what to do in the decider. She stepped into the court and attacked anything short. This enabled her to win six games in a row and seal her spot in the semi-final.

Azarenka’s impressive run comes to an end

Karolina Pliskova (@InteBNLdItalia on Twitter)

It has been a brilliant week in Rome for Victoria Azarenka, but her participation in the singles event is now over after a 6-7(5) 6-2 6-2 loss to Karolina Pliskova.

The Belarussian, 29, impressed during her three-set win over another top ten player – Elina Svitolina – in the second round, but she could not repeat the feat against the World No.7.

For Pliskova, the match against Azarenka represented a significant hurdle to negotiate. But she responded superbly to losing the first set by raising her game considerably to win the next two.

“Azarenka was playing good tennis today. She wasn’t missing much,” the Czech said in her press conference.

She continued, “It was a little bit windy, so I didn’t feel at my best in the first set. I don’t think my level was that bad, but I was too passive. To begin with, I wanted to kill myself after that set. Then I calmed down a bit and went for my shots a little bit more, which paid off.”

Pliskova’s reward will be a semi-final against either Maria Sakkari or Kristina Mladenovic. If it is the Greek, it will bring back memories of their encounter last year when the Czech famously lost her temper and damaged the umpire’s chair.

“I haven’t played Sakkari since Rome last year, so I think everybody is going to be waiting for this match – even me,” the World No.7 said. “The rematch has almost happened in a couple of tournaments recently, but she always lost before. I think she was scared to face me!”

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Kiki Bertens receives a walkover into the semifinal, as Naomi Osaka withdraws from the quarter final due to a right hand injury

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Last week’s Madrid Mutua Open champion Kiki Bertens overcame 2015 Rome finalist Carla Suarez Navarro 6-4 1-6 6-3 after 1 hour and 49 minutes to extend her winning streak to eight consecutive matches.

 

A rain wash-out on Wednesday forced Bertens to postpone her Rome campaign until Thursday and play two matches to advance to the quarter final.

Bertens overcame Amanda Anisimova 6-2 4-6 7-5 after being just two points from defeat in her first Thursday match before surviving another three-set battle against Carla Suarez Navarro.

Bertens went up a double break to take a 3-0 lead and held on her service games to seal the opening set on her fourth set point.

Suarez Navarro broke serve twice to clinch the second set 6-1 forcing the match to the third set.

Bertens broke twice in a row to race out to a 4-0 lead in the  decisive set. Suarez Navarro pulled one of the two breaks back. Bertens held on her next service games to seal the win to secure her spot in the quarter final.

“It was only fight today that got me through. It wasn’t the best tennis, but sometimes that happens where you just have to find a way. Luckily I found it. I got to hit yesterday morning because I was first on, so at 9 AM, I warmed up until 9.30, when I thought that maybe we will be able to go on court, but it did not happen. I was on site from 8 AM to 6 PM, so it was a long day, but for everyone. This morning I saw the schedule for 10 AM, so the alarm went off at 6.30. Not my best morning. After the first match, I felt more mentally fatigued, but a long second match, you feel it physically”, said Bertens.

The Dutch player has received a walkover into the semifinal after her quarter final rival Naomi Osaka was forced to withdraw from the tournament due to a right hand injury. Osaka also had to pull out of the Stuttgart Open because of an abdominal problem, but she reached the biggest clay quarter final of her career in Madrid, where she served for the match, but she lost to Belinda Bencic 3-6 6-2 7-5.

 

 

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