Rain continued to disrupt play at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome on Monday, but 6 of the 8 Last 16 matches were completed, which saw Elena Rybakina, Veronika Kudermetova, Beatriz Haddad Maia and Jelena Ostapenko amongst those to advance to the quarter-finals in the drizzly conditions before the rain finally put an end to play just before 10pm.
There were some moments it was up and down but overall it was a good match, good serving from me. For sure now I need as many matches as I can to be more confident at the French Open. Elena Rybakina
Top seed Iga Swiatek’s evening match with Donna Vekic, though, was postponed until Tuesday alongside that of Paula Badosa and Karolina Muchova when the rain became too heavy to continue.
Rybakina, the reigning Wimbledon champion, is the 7th seed at the Foro Italico, the highest left standing behind Swiatek, who could well prove to be her next opponent in her first Last 4 appearance in Rome after the Kazakh defeated Marketa Vondrousova from the Czech Republic, 6-3 6-3.
Swiatek is the two-time defending champion here, and is looking in formidable form, but Vekic, seeded 21 and from Croatia, will not be taken lightly by the 21-year old Polish World No 1.
Rybakina, who may have made a slow start to the clay-court season after being forced to retire in Stuttgart due to a back injury and then was knocked out of Madrid in the 3rd-round by Anna Kalinskaya, is back on song in Rome.
“Coming here I didn’t expect much because, unfortunately, Rome, for me, is the worst for my allergies,” Rybakina said, referring to the heavy pollen associated with the tournament. “I’m happy that I’m managing to win and get these matches.”
Before the weather, Rybakina, facing Vondrousova for a second time in her career, powered her way past the former French finalist, 6-3 6-3, breaking her 5 times, including two quick ones to go up 3-0 in the second to seal the win, and striking 28 winners to the Czech’s 13 to level her head-to-head to 1-1 against the crafty left-hander.
“I’m happy to stay aggressive,” Rybakina said. “There were some moments it was up and down but overall it was a good match, good serving from me.
“For sure now I need as many matches as I can to be more confident at the French Open.”
A match against Swiatek would be the third between the two this season, with Rybakina having won all 4 sets they have played, but those wins came on the hard courts at the Australian Open and at Indian Wells, where the Kazakh won the title.
“I think it changes it a lot,” said Rybakina, acknowledging that the switch to Swiatek’s favoured clay could easily change the dynamic. “It’s more rallies, it’s more physical, she has more time, I have more time. It’s going to be a tough one for sure. I think it’s much different than the hard courts for sure.
“I’m not expecting much. If Iga wins, or against Donna, for me it’s a practice. I’m taking it this way. Hopefully, it will help me perform at the French Open.”
Meanwhile, Kudermetova, the 11th seed from Russia, continued her clay court renaissance with a comfortable win over Czech Marie Bouzkova, the 27th seed, 6-2 6-2, in an hour and 19 minutes.
Kudermetova, a semi-finalist in Madrid last week, has got her season back on track over the past month.
The 26-year-old started at a career high of World No 9, and has reached two semi-finals and two quarter-finals in her first 5 tournaments, but since her defeat to Swiatek in the quarters at Doha, she lost 5 of her next 6 matches through Stuttgart.
Against Bouzkova, Kudermetova won an impressive 85% of her first serve points, and saved the only break point she faced.
Kudermetova will meet the 22nd-seeded Zheng Qinwen next, who moved past her countrywoman Wang Xiyu, 6-4 3-6 6-1, in 2 hours and 30 minutes.
“After I went up a break in the second set, I had a lot of chances to hold my serve but I couldn’t make it,” Zheng said afterwards. “I was really nervous because I wanted that game, I really wanted to get the win.
“She was playing good at the end of the second set, and I couldn’t do anything.
“At the start of the third set I just said to myself, ‘Start playing your game and we’ll see what happens. Don’t focus too much on the result’.
“I’m still trying to find my game here. The serve isn’t as strong as before so I have to adapt my game a little bit, be more consistent from the baseline.”
Elsewhere, the No 12 seed from Brazil, Beatriz Haddad Maia, dismissed Colombia’s Camila Osorio, 6-3 6-3, in an all-South American affair that lasted an hour and 21 minutes in intermittent rain.
Haddad Maia was stellar with her delivery in the match, never dropping serve and facing only a single break point, winning 71% of her first-service points and 82% of her second-serve points.
Neither held a break point until the Brazilian chased down a drop-shot and hit a backhand winner at 3-3 in the first set, and Osorio fired a forehand long to cede the 4-3 lead to Haddad Maia, who broke serve again 2 games later to wrap up the one-set advantage.
Haddad Maia won 7 games in a row to lead by a set and 3-0 before Osorio held, but then took a medical timeout.
Although the Colombian erased a match point in a hold for 5-3, Haddad Maia routinely served out the match to take the win.
After the milestone meeting, Haddad Maia had reached her 5th Hologic WTA Tour quarter-final of the season where she will meet No 30 seed Anhelina Kalinina from Ukraine, who, earlier on Monday, improved to 3-0 against 2016 Rome finalist Madison Keys with a 2-6 6-2 6-4 win over the 19th seed from the United States.
“I think it was just about playing point by point,” Kalinina said after reaching her second career WTA 1000 quarter-final. “It sounds very usual, but I think it was the key, because Madison started today unbelievably.
“I almost didn’t have any chances in the first set, because it was really sort of a fast, aggressive game from her. … I was like, ‘OK, you have to do something, you have to try to play more balls, to reach more points,’ so the game would become more dynamic.”
Former French champion Jelena Ostapenko also advanced to the quarters following her upset of 8th-seeded Daria Kasatkina, bagelling the Russian in the third set, 6-4 4-6 6-0, and leaving only two Top 10 players in contention in the draw.
Ostapenko advanced to the quarter-finals in Rome for the third time in her career after an extraordinary 2 hour performance by the No 20 seed from Latvia, who also reached the Last 8 here in 2018 and 2021, and improved her career head-to-head against Kasatkina to 5-2.
In the opening set, Ostapenko battled back from a break down, twice, at 1-0 and 4-3, but after winning 3 straight games to take the set, the Latvian dropped serve in a tremendous 5-deuce game to start the second, and surrendered the frame to the top Russian.
She also battled the umpire, Marija Cicak, challenging a line call at 2-4, 15-30 down on her serve after she got down from her chair to check the mark and declaring it as in.
The Latvian, who was unconvinced and refused to accept the decision when Cicak called her to show her the mark, asked to refer the decision to higher authorities, but the umpire refused the request.
“They cannot help you with my decision,” Cicak said. “They can explain it to you later.”
The 25-year-old was furious, declaring: “You will never be at another one of my matches!”
Ostapenko has a bit of history with officials over line calls, be it with a line umpire or the Hawk-eye technology.
“I’m not really happy with the system they are using,” she said at the 2023 Australian Openabout the Hawk-eye calls. “But I cannot do anything about it.”
Clay-court tournaments, such as the Italian Open, do not have electronic calling and rely on line umpires, who Ostapenko is infamous for challenging over line calls.
Kasatkina prevailed in the second set, saving 4 break points in a 6-deuce second game, and 3 more in another 6-deuce 8th game in a nearly hour-long middle set to take the battle into a third set.
There, although Ostapenko had lost that second set as she failed to break Kasatkina’s serve, she steam-rolled over her opponent in the third, serving a bagel and booking a place in the quarters where the Latvian will face Paola Badosa or Karolina Muchova for a spot in the semi-finals.