Karolina Pliskova is the sole seed in the lower half of the draw and takes on Jelena Ostapenko, the 2017 French Open champion, in the quarter-finals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, while Petra Martic and Jessica Pegula will contest the last quarter on Friday.
Karolina is really good player, too. Her game is more kind of built on the serve, I guess. I know how to play against her. We played already this year in Stuttgart. Of course, it's going to be much more different because we're outdoors. There, I mean, she played incredible match, served so many aces. I guess here it's going to be a little bit different, especially if there is some wind. Jelena Ostapenko
Pliskova, the 9th seed and last year’s finalist, is finding her form here in Rome and despite being still far from her best, the Czech managed another solid performance to take down Russian veteran Vera Zvonareva, 7-5 6-3, and gets a chance for a spot in the semi-finals against Ostapenko.
It took the former World No 1 an hour and 36 minutes to get past Zvonareva, a former World No 2 who had to qualify for her spot in the main draw this year after maternity leave.
Pliskova, the Italian champion in 2019 and a runner-up to Simona Halep last year, bolstered her win-loss record at the event to 13-5 with her win over the Rome semi-finalist back in 2004 and 2005.
“I think [Zvonareva is] a big fighter,” Pliskova told the press, after her win. “I think she’s now back at a certain level, which is quite difficult to beat.
“Definitely I had to win that match because she’s not going to give anything for free. That’s what I know. Also I remember from the past how she played.”
Zvonareva had upset Pliskova in their only prior encounter, at 2018 Moscow, but the Czech turned the tables at a tournament where she has had substantial recent success.
For her second match in a row, the big-serving Czech supported her sterling deliveries with excellent returning, winning exactly two-thirds of points off of Zvonareva’s second serve.
Two-time Grand Slam finalist Zvonareva notched a massive win over another top Czech, Petra Kvitova, in the previous round, and her performance this week means she is projected to return to the Top 100 in the WTA singles rankings on Monday.
The Russian’s run, however, came to an end against Pliskova, as her 8 winners were outpaced by 19 unforced errors.
Pliskova earned an early 2-1 lead by knocking off 2 straight games with divine drop-shot winners, but that was simply a precursor to a returner’s paradise in the first set in which 7 of the 12 games went against serve, including when the Czech served for the one-set lead at 5-4.
She got out of trouble again at 2-1 in the second, saving 4 break points in that game to maintain level footing before jumping ahead 4-3 and riding out the win for a 4th quarter-final in the last 5 years.
Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia came from a set down to overhaul Germany’s Angelique Kerber, 4-6 6-3 6-4, on Thursday.
“She was playing really well today,” Ostapenko said after the match. “It was tough conditions also. It was very windy.
“Right in the first game, I felt it was much tougher to play today… especially on serve I felt it a lot.
“I think the key today was that I stayed aggressive even I was losing some points and missing some balls. I was still staying aggressive in the deciding moments.
“I think the last game I won because I was staying aggressive and it helped me. I think for sure that gives me a lot of confidence because I was losing 3-1 in the third set.
“I was fighting like every point. It was deuce, advantage in one game, a very long game, a very important one. I never gave up. I was fighting till the last moment. I was just there on the court, trying to play my best and be aggressive even, as I said, when I missed it.”
Twist and turns characterised the continuous momentum shifts, but also gave a great show to the fans.
At 3-3 in the decider, Ostapenko won a 22-point-game, saving 6 break points, almost all with winners.
The missed chance reflected on a bad service game by the German and that, eventually, cost her the match after 2 hours 11 minutes.
For the spot in the semi-finals, Ostapenko’s first since winning the BGL BNP Paribas Luxembourg Open in 2019, the former French Open champion faces Pliskova for the second time in the last four weeks, who leads the overall head-to-head, 4-3, but the Latvian beat her in the second round of last year’s French Open.
“I think it’s going to be completely different match,” Ostapenko added. “Angie was running so well today, getting all the balls back. Not just getting them back, but hitting some great winners from crazy positions.
“Karolina is really good player, too. Her game is more kind of built on the serve, I guess.
“I know how to play against her. We played already this year in Stuttgart. Of course, it’s going to be much more different because we’re outdoors. There, I mean, she played incredible match, served so many aces. I guess here it’s going to be a little bit different, especially if there is some wind.
“I’ll just try to play my game and serve well, just try to break her serve couple times in a set, then I can show my best and have opportunities then.”
In the quarter left open by the upsets of Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka, Jessica Pegula easily handled the threat posed by Ekaterina Alexandrova, while Petra Martic came back from a set down to beat Nadia Podoroska.
The two will fight for a maiden semi-final spot in Rome on Friday.
World No 25 Martic from Croatia overcame Argentina’s Nadia Podoroska, 3-6 6-1 6-2, in their round-of-16 clash.
It is the first quarter-final appearance in Rome for Martic, as she stopped Podoroska in a hair under 2 hours.
Martic was particularly clutch on her second-service, as she won 76 percent of those points to assist her in saving 9 of the 12 break points she faced.
“Today was a tough one,” Martic said, in her post-match press conference. “I started slow again.
“The last couple of matches I started 3-0, 4-0 down. That’s definitely something I need to pay attention to, start the match a bit sharper from my side.
“I think it took my rhythm a bit too long. That was one thing I was not happy with today.
“But I’m really proud with the way I picked up and I just kept on fighting.
“Even in the first set, I thought I had some chances to get back in it fully. From the second set on, I feel like I played my best tennis so far this year.”
Podoroska, who vanquished Serena Williams in the previous round, was broken 5 times in the last 2 sets as her trek through the Internazionali BNL d’Italia came to a close.
Martic will now take on another unseeded player, Jessica Pegula, for a prestigious spot in the semi-finals, bringing a 3-1 head-to-head lead over the American into that matchup.
The 30-year old Croat has partnered with new coach and former Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone, and is reaping benefits from her test run with the Italian, which started mere weeks ago.
“I called her up, and she was happy to take on this challenge, start working with me,” Martic said. “So we started just before the clay-court season started.
“This is our trial period. But I really hope that we are going to continue throughout.”
After winning two straight matches just once during the first 4 months of the year, Martic has now claimed 3 victories in a row in Schiavone’s home country, culminating with her comeback victory over Podoroska to make the quarters.
Williams, meanwhile, has taken a wild card into next week’s Emilia-Romagna Open in Parma, saying that after losing to Podoroska she felt in need of more matches, having not played since the Australian Open.
Coach Patrick Mouratoglou wrote on Twitter: “Change of plans: Serena hasn’t been competing for a while, and we want to get as many matches under our belt as possible before Roland-Garros – so we’re adding the Emilia-Romagna Open to our schedule. We’ll be back in action next week.”
Jessica Pegula was having a nice season when she ran into Aryna Sabalenka in the Round of 16 at Madrid and lost, 6-1 6-2, which caused her to rethink her clay-court strategy.
“Sabalenka killed me,” Pegula said. “[Coach] David [Witt] was saying she was playing really far back. With the bad bounces and stuff on clay, I’m usually trying to step in a little bit more, take the ball early, look to come in.
“That’s something we adjusted coming into Rome. I can stand back a little bit and still play aggressive, just kind of adjust my margins. Is it perfectly how I want to play? Not really. But I think it’s working.”
To prove the point, the American defeated Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova, 6-2 6-4, in a tidy 73 minutes to continue her great run in Rome.