Rome | Swiatek and Badosa advance to quarters after rain delay

Playing catch-up after rain delayed their Round 16 matches on Monday night at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, Iga Swiatek and Paula Badosa made it into the Last 8 on Tuesday, where they will meet Elena Rybakina and Jelena Ostapenko respectively in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.

I would say, for now, I don’t have any mindset. I would say it’s, kind of, neutral. I just want to treat this match as any other one. Coming back to my previous matches against Elena, it doesn’t make sense. It was on hard court. I know how I felt. This time I don’t have any expectations. I’m just going to come out and play the best game possible. Iga Świątek

Swiatek, the World No 1 and defending champion, was made to work somewhat harder than of late against Donna Vekic, the No 21 seed from Croatia, but prevailed 6-3 6-4 after an hour and 36 minutes.

Later, in a contest between two unseeded players, Badosa eventually saw off Karolina Muchova after a 3 hour, 4 minute tussle, 6-4 5-7 6-2.

Swiatek has now won 14 straight matches and 24 consecutive sets at the Foro Italico, while the last player to win a set from her in Rome was Barbora Krejcikova in the 2021 3rd-round, and the only player to have defeated her at this tournament was Arantxa Rus in the 2020 1st-round.

Only 5 other players in the Open Era have won 14 or more consecutive matches in Rome, namely Chris Evert, Conchita Martínez, Gabriela Sabatini, Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams.

The 21-year old from Poland broke Vekic in the early stages to build a quick lead for herself, but the Croatian conjured up a handful of break points on the Swiatek serve in the 7th game of the set, and, although the top seed saved the first two, she was unable to save the third, and handed the break back to her opponent.

Trying to serve to level the opener at 4-all proved too much for Vekic, and she handed the break right back.

Serving for the set, Swiatek held both her nerve and her opponent at bay comfortably enough to clinch the opener.

The second saw no breaks, not even any chances to break, until Vekic dropped her serve in the 9th game.

As Swiatek served for the match, she faced a couple of break-back points but staved them both off and secured her 4th win over the 26-year old Croatian, having saved 6 of the 7 break points against her while converting all 3 she created on the Vekic serve.

Donna Vekic pushed Iga Swiatek hard, but still lost in straight sets on Tuesday in Rome

© Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

The three-time Grand Slam champion, who finished with 19 winners, 5 more than Vekic, will take on 7th-seeded Rybakina, the reigning Wimbledon champion from Kazakhstan, in the quarter-finals.

The two will be playing each other for the 4th time, and the 3rd time this season, Rybakina winning both previous encounters this year without dropping a set on hard courts.

This occasion, however, is on Swiatek’s favoured clay in their first pro clay-court meeting, although they did play on the surface once at junior level, when, in Italy, Rybakina won the 2017 Milan Grade A final, 1-6 7-6(5) 6-3.

Swiatek’s recollection of that match was that she was not focused on the tennis, or the result.

“It was [my] first match that was streamed live on the internet,” she said. “It really stressed me out. Rookie mistake! But I was really happy to be in the final. It was like I started to believe more a little bit in myself.”

Swiatek insists she is treating her next encounter with Rybakina as ‘any other match’, the player who has inflicted 2 of her 5 defeats this year.

“I would say, for now, I don’t have any mindset,” Swiatek said. “I would say it’s, kind of, neutral. I just want to treat this match as any other one.

“Coming back to my previous matches against Elena, it doesn’t make sense. It was on hard court. I know how I felt. This time I don’t have any expectations. I’m just going to come out and play the best game possible.”

Rybakina is aware that Rome, more than any other venue on tour, is Swiatek’s territory.

“I think [clay] changes it a lot,” she said after her 4th-round defeat of Marketa Vondrousova on Monday. “It’s more rallies, it’s more physical, she has more time, I have more time. I think it’s much different than the hard courts for sure.

“I’m not expecting much. For me, it’s a practice. I’m taking it this way. Hopefully, it will help me perform at the French Open.”

Nonetheless, Rybakina acknowledges the excitement surrounding what is fast becoming one of the sport’s most intriguing rivalries.

“I’m not thinking about it so much, but, of course, I see some comments,” she added. “It’s good if [fans] think that way, and that it’s entertaining to see us play against each other. It’s a good thing.”

In a match delayed over from Monday, Paula Badosa needed more than three hours to outlast Karolina Muchova to round out the quarter-finalists at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia

© Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

The last 4th-round match saw Badosa clinch a tough 3-setter against Muchova from the Czech Republic, to set up a Last 8 contest with Ostapenko, the 20th seed from Latvia.

The former World No 2 from Spain has found a new gear in Rome, reaching her first WTA 1000 quarter-final in over 12 months after scoring back-to-back wins over 4th-seed Ons Jabeur and Marta Kostyuk before facing Muchova.

Back to her aggressive best, Badosa broke the Czech 7 times in 3 sets, and struck 36 winners to 38 unforced errors, completing the Last 8 line-up after rain kept her from taking the court on Monday.

She won the first set from a break down, came from 3-5 down to lead 6-5 in the second set, but ultimately needed a third set to claim victory.

The Spaniard broke serve in the first game of the decider, and never looked back, losing only 5 points in 4 service games of the set, and adding an insurance break in the 7th game after denying Muchova a game point.

“I’m super proud, especially mentally. It was so tough,” Badosa said later. “She was playing a very high level.

“I think we both played an amazing match. I’m very happy I got through this one, because it was very important for me.

“We were both pushing each other a lot. She was playing amazing, and then I was playing very well, so it was like a rollercoaster match.

“The second set was super tough and, for me, the third set, it was tough mentally to reset, but I’m really pleased that I could do that.”

Karolina Muchova managed to take the middle set but could not stop Paula Badosa advancing to the quarter-finals to play Jelena Ostapenko at the Foro Italico

© Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Badosa’s win was the 32nd match this year to last more than 3 hours, and the 3rd in Rome.

The former World No 2 has not reached a WTA 1000 quarter-final in over a year, not long after reaching that longed-for career-high ranking for which she arguably sacrificed her 2022 season.

A heavy spring schedule with an eye on challenging for the tour’s spot in the wake of Ash Barty’s shock retirement seemingly caused the Spaniard to burn out, and she struggled with injuries and consistency for much of the subsequent 12 months.

Further health struggles threatened to derail her start to 2023 when she was forced to withdraw from the Australian Open, but, after taking Indian Wells winner Rybakina to the brink of defeat in Miami, Badosa has looked stronger with each passing week, pushing Aryna Sabalenka to 3 sets in Stuttgart and dropping a 6-0 set on Coco Gauff in Madrid.

Badosa was playing well, but she needed a good draw in Rome and she got one that kept her away from the likes of Rybakina and Sabalenka in the opening rounds.

Landing in the same section as Jabeur, who was returning from an injury that prevented her from mounting a Mutua Madrid Open title defence, Babosa defeated the Tunisian in straight sets, and continued her momentum with another upset of Kostyuk, the 30th seed from Ukraine, to book a meeting with Muchova, who herself has dealt with numerous setbacks since reaching her career pinnacle in 2021.

Awaiting her in the quarter-finals is 20th-seeded Ostapenko, whom Badosa beat en route to her breakthrough 4th-round appearance at Roland Garros in 2020.

A former French Open champion, Ostapenko is in the midst of an impressive event of her own, scoring back-to-back wins over Barbora Krejcikova and Daria Kasatkina to reach her 3rd quarter-final in Rome.

A general view of the Pietrangeli court at the Foro Italico in Rome

© Alex Pantling/Getty Images



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