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Plíšková passes Mertens test as Vondrousova swats Svitolina

No 2 seed Karolina Plíšková took another step toward her Rome title defence on Saturday after correcting a mid-match wobble to defeat No 11 seed Elise Mertens in the Internazionali BNL d’Italia quarter-finals; while 12th seed Marketa Vondrousova upset two-time winner Elina Svitolina, the 4th seed, to advance to meet the Czech in the semi-final.

I played with Marketa [Vondrousova] couple times, not in this lockdown but couple times on tour, maybe two or maybe one, I'm not sure. I think Miami was the last time we met. She's a strong opponent, especially on clay. She can play quite ugly game on clay. It's semi-finals, still kind of preparation for Paris. If I play like today I think I should not be worried. Karolina Plíšková

Plíšková needed 2 hours and 8 minutes to overcome the Belgian, 6-3 6-3 6-0, and while the World No 4 was untroubled as she started the match, she lost her focus in the second set and Mertens upped the ante to level the match.

“I think I played a great match. Even the second set I think there was some good moments,” said Plíšková. “But just started way too strong in the third, and I think definitely was maybe one of the best matches of course of this season, but it’s not so difficult because there was not many matches.

“I felt great. Especially the first set I think was maybe one of my best sets that I have played on clay ever.”

Plíšková’s regrouping in the third set gave Mertens no opportunity to extend her second-set momentum or to wrestle the match from her higher-ranked opponent.

Speaking in the post-match press conference, Plíšková said: “I thought I played great set and a half, but of course she’s a great player too, so she played some good shots and she made it difficult for me end of the second set.

“But I just changed my clothes, and I came back to the game which I was playing the first set, which worked.”

The Czech has now won 8 consecutive matches at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, dating back to her 2019 run to the title.

Plíšková wasted no time opening up a 3-0 lead to start the match, although Mertens made sure to give her a battle as the Belgian held 3 break points in the Czech’s first service game.

She held off the challenge, bossing the rallies and leaving Mertens to overhit and draw out unforced errors.

With the first set in the bag, 6-3, Plíšková looked ready to run away with the match as she started the second with another early break, but Mertens showed why she is the current WTA match wins leader, with 24 victories so far this year, and continued to fight her way back.

The Belgian kept Plíšková under pressure, creating break opportunities in each of the Czech’s first 3 service games, before finally breaking through at 3-3.

She held firm in her own serve as Plíšková looked to get the quick break back, and suddenly the floodgates opened as Mertens reeled off the last 5 games in a row to send them into a decider, 6-3.

Plíšková quickly put the mid-match wobble behind her, and the former World No 1 started the set with a daunting lead, 3-0, finding another level to close out the match in flawless fashion, claiming the final set with a bagel.

The second half of the draw semi-final will be a Czech derby between the Plíšková and 12th seed Marketa Vondrousova.

They are Billie Jean King Cup teammates representing the Czech Republic, and the pair teamed up again during the lockdown in a series of domestic exhibition matches.

“We had a lot of fun,” she recalled. “You know, just seeing these players and just to be somehow with them and just to practice in those long, six or five months which we were home I think is just great.

“I played with Marketa couple times, not in this lockdown but couple times on tour, maybe two or maybe one, I’m not sure. I think Miami was the last time we met.

“She’s a strong opponent, especially on clay. She can play quite ugly game on clay. It’s semi-finals, still kind of preparation for Paris. If I play like today I think I should not be worried.”


Marketa Vondrousova demolished two-time Rome champion Elina Svitolina in straight sets on Saturday

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images

Vondrousova upsets Svitolina

2019 French finalist Marketa Vondrousova continued her great run in Rome by crushing Elina Svitolina, 6-3 6-0, in just an hour and 20 minutes.

“I didn’t do so many errors, and I hit so many great drop shots,” Vondrousova said. “I also served really well, and overall, I think I played a great match today.

“She’s a great player and she beat me three times already. She’s a great runner, she hits hard and serves really well, but I think I just played better today.”

This is the first Premier 5 final for the 21-year-old, who stunned the two-time Rome champion to advance to her first semi-final since Roland Garros where she will play Karolina Plíšková.

Vondrousova struck 25 winners to Svitolina’s 9 throughout the match, with the former champion accumulating 26 unforced errors.

Svitolina won the Rome title in 2017 and 2018, beating Romanian Simona Halep, the top seed this year, both times.

The Czech left-hander secured her first Top 10 victory in over a year, showcasing the clay-court prowess that took her all the way to the French Open final last year.

After playing a marathon three-setter against Polona Hercog in Friday’s third round, in which the Slovenian served for a win, in the last match on Court Centrale, the Czech looked none the worse for wear less than 24 hours later against the World No 6, but revealed after the match that she overcame the quick turnaround to play her best.

“I finished at midnight yesterday, so it was kind of tough and I didn’t sleep much. I think I played an amazing match today. I didn’t even expect this, but I’m just happy to be through and happy with this win,” Vondrousova said.

“I didn’t do so many errors, and I hit so many great drop shots. I also served really well, and overall, I think I played a great match today.

“She’s a great player and she beat me three times already. She’s a great runner, she hits hard and serves really well, but I think I just played better today.”

In an opening set which saw a plethora of break points for both players, it was the No 12 seed who used her chances to greater effect.

Vondrousova fought off 6 break points across her first 2 service games and secured the deciding break of serve for the set in the 4th game, ultimately opening up a 4-1 lead.

After Svitolina fought off 3 chances for the Czech to lead 5-1, 2 more break points passed the World No 6 by in the 7th game, as she ultimately went 0-for-8 on opportunities in the set.

Growing in confidence, the Czech used her variety to great effect by opening up the court with her swinging left-handed forehand and routinely drawing Svitolina in with perfectly-placed backhand drop shots, and ran off the last 7 games of the match to seal her 3rd career Top 10 win and 1st win over the Ukrainian in 4 attempts.

Having previously beaten Simona Halep twice last year for her other two victories against the world’s elite, Vondrousova bids for a place in the final against defending champion Plíšková.

“I didn’t play very well in the US so it was kind of tough for me, but now on clay, of course, it changed. I’m just very happy with this result,” the Czech added.

“Karolina is playing amazing here. She won it last year so I think she feels really well here… so it’s going to be a tough match.”


Elina Svitolina relinquished a bagel set after finding no answers to Marketa Vondrousova's clay-court play

© Clive Brunskill/Getty Images



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