Simona Halep’s frustrating year continued with a surprising 2-6 7-5 6-3 loss to Marketa Vondrousova at the Italian Open.
The Romanian, 27, has lost two WTA Premier finals in 2019 – in Doha and Madrid – and she lost to Serena Williams in the fourth round of the Australian Open.
Halep was also defeated by Vondrousova at Indian Wells, which could have made today’s loss even more difficult to accept. However, she seemed quite relaxed about it in her press conference.
“It’s been a little bit tough because we had to stay here till late yesterday,” the Romanian said. “But it was the same for everybody so I cannot complain about that. I just couldn’t win today.”
She continued, “Actually, I have extra days off, which is good, so I will enjoy the rest of the days here and try to be ready for the French Open.”
The World No.2 played well in the opening set. She got the better of the Czech in all the big moments and saved all four of the break points she faced. Crucially, Halep was also clinical when she got the chance to break Vondrousova. She seized two out of three break points to win the set 6-2.
Vondrousova finds a way to beat Halep again
But the World No.44 began to disrupt the Romanian’s rhythm with her variety in the next two sets – much like she did at Indian Wells.
Vondrousova used the drop shot particularly well. When Halep was trading with her from the baseline, she picked her moments to employ the stroke perfectly and ended up with 14 drop shot winners as a result.
The Czech also held her nerve superbly as the tight second set came down to one game right at the end when she led 6-5. She put Halep under pressure and took her second break point to level the match.
In the decider, the Romanian appeared to be struggling with a leg injury. This ruined the contest somewhat, but Vondrousova was undeterred as she clinically closed out the set 6-3.
The Czech will face Daria Kasatkina in round three after the Russian overcame Katerina Siniakova 2-6 6-4 6-1.
Keys suffers shock loss
Madison Keys followed Halep out of the exit door after shock 6-7(2) 6-3 6-4 loss to compatriot Sofia Kenin. The American, 24, won her first clay-court tournament in Charleston last month. However, she has struggled to reproduce that form since.
She was not the only American who had a bad day. Sloane Stephens, the 2018 French Open finalist, lost 6-7(3) 6-4 6-1 to Johanna Konta.
It was an excellent performance from the Brit, who is starting to look more comfortable on clay since her recent run to the final in Rabat. She will face Venus Williams next.
Amid all that seeded carnage, four of the most prominent WTA players survived. Garbine Muguruza outlasted Danielle Collins 6-4 4-6 6-2. Madrid Open champion Kiki Bertens edged out rising star Amanda Anisimova 6-2 4-6 7-5. Naomi Osaka beat Dominika Cibulkova 6-3 6-3. And Petra Kvitova demolished Yulia Putintseva 6-0 6-1.
Kristina Mladenovic also continued her recent resurgence with an impressive 6-2 2-6 6-1 win over the in-form Belinda Bencic.
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
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.
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.
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
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!”
Kiki Bertens receives a walkover into the semifinal, as Naomi Osaka withdraws from the quarter final due to a right hand injury
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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