Rome | Swiatek sweeps up Keys to meet Gauff in Last 4

World No 1 Iga Swiatek was in imperious mood as she defeated Madison Keys for the second time in 2 weeks to reach the semi-finals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, where she will meet Coco Gauff, who contained her double-fault count to 6 while scoring her first Top 10 win of the season against Zheng Qinwen.

There were some tight games that could go, kind of, both ways. I'm happy that I was really focused in important moments to break, or to not give Maddie a break. Iga Świątek

Swiatek needed only 76 minutes to defeat Keys, the No 18 seed from the USA, 6-1 6-3, extending her current run of match wins to 10.

“Sometimes it’s like a roller coaster, but today I’m proud of myself because I felt I was playing better and it was definitely the best day for me in Rome,” said Swiatek on court afterwards. “Today felt, like, the best day since I came here, It was a solid performance, for sure.

“I felt really in my zone today. I wasn’t really thinking much about the score or what’s really going on, I was just there present, focused on the next rally, it worked really well.”

The 22-year old Pole dominated the quarter-final match against the American, landing 75% and 94% of her first serve and second serves respectively, while she won 71% of points behind her first delivery and 56% from her second, and managed to save all 10 break points she faced in the match.

During the post-match press conference, the World No 1 was informed that she was among the top two in terms of service games won percentage coming into the tournament, and was asked what had led to the significant improvement in her service game.

“Honestly, I keep laughing about my serve, but I know it’s pretty good,” she said. “I wouldn’t be here if it wasn’t. I wasn’t aware of the stat.

“I don’t know. I think even if I don’t serve well, I know I can win points by just playing behind the baseline. I always have a Plan B. I’ve had more and more matches where my serve was working. Having that combined, it just gives you a pretty good confidence. I think I’ve been using that.”

Swiatek added that she has been working with her team to improve the motion of her serve.

“Yeah, we’re, kind of, constantly focusing on the serve and the motion to get it smooth. I’m happy that today it worked because it’s not, like, I had much time to practice it since beginning of Stuttgart.

“Yeah, I’m just proud of it today. I don’t want to take anything for granted. I’ll keep being focused and we’ll see.”


The power of Madison Keys is diminished on clay and she fell again to Iga Swiatek in the quarter-finals of the Internazionali BNL D'Italia

© Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Swiatek is nearly unbeatable on clay these days, not only because of her serve, but also her mobility.

As an example, Keys struck a heavy ball to the Pole’s backhand side that was almost past her, when Swiatek suddenly stopped, and, in a split second, reached out and flicked a lovely little drop-shot that barely cleared the net, and all but died in the dust, prompting a shoulder shrug from the American.

Keys, who has now lost to Swiatek twice in a span of 12 days, missed the first 2 months of the year with a shoulder injury and is playing with a new, lighter racket to ease the stress on that joint.

Chatting with reporters after defeating Sorana Cirstea in the 4th-round, she talked about how her power is diminished on the clay.

“It takes away from my attributes,” she explained. “Everything is dampened just a little bit. That’s the biggest thing. It’s not Cincinnati at 2 in the afternoon on a bouncy fast court. Sounds like a good time to me.”

The only time Keys has beaten Swiatek was 2 years ago, on a Cincinnati hard court, but it is different game on clay, on which the Pole now has beaten her all 3 times.

“She moves on it really well, like no other player,” Keys said. “She slides so well. It’s a tough situation, because you can’t really wrong-foot her.”

The Pole admitted there were games that could have gone either way against the 29-year old American, but was happy to step up in the important moments to avoid giving Keys a break.

“There were some tight games that could go, kind of, both ways,” she said. “I’m happy that I was really focused in important moments to break, or to not give Maddie a break.”


Coco Gauff was nearly nailed on match point and hit the deck against Zheng Qinwen in Tuesday's night match at Foro Italico in Rome

© Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty Images

Swiatek is looking for her 3rd Italian Open title in 4 years, but she still could be challenged because all 8 quarter-finalists are ranked inside the Top 25 for the first time in Rome in two decades.

If she maintains her red-hot form at the Foro Italico, where she has yet to drop a set, her French Open title defence preparations later this month will have been perfect.

“For sure it’s not always the same,” she said. “Every match has a different flavour. When you play like 80 matches a year, it seems like a routine, sometimes you really feel great emotions.

“Like, after the final in Madrid, it was really emotional. Sometimes you feel relief, which maybe isn’t always the best way in life,” she added.

In the Last 4, Swiatek will face her toughest test yet in 3rd-seeded Coco Gauff, against whom she leads their head-to-head, 9-1.

Gauff eased past Zheng Qinwen, the Australian Open runner-up, 7-6(4) 6-1, in the Tuesday’s final match on centre court, after an hour 49 minute contest in which she only faced just 1 break point.

Both had a best-ever Rome result on the line coming into the match, Gauff having last reached the semi-finals in the Italian capital 3 years ago, while Zheng, who had lost in the quarter-finals on her debut 12 months ago to Veronika Kudermetova from a set ahead, was looking to break new ground both at the tournament itself, as well as at WTA 1000 level.

It was a first-time meeting at pro level between the 20-year-old American and the 21-year old Chinese, and, after needing 3 sets to win each of her last 2 matches in Rome, winning the marathon opening set that lasted 71 minutes was key to Gauff’s straight sets win.


Zheng Qinwen pushed Coco Gauff all the way to a first set breaker and then fell away in the second

© Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty Images

Both held their serves in tightly contested games without any break points, with Zheng constantly challenging Gauff’s backhand, while the American prevailed whenever she could comfortably strike her forehand drive.

With the score at 4-3 in her favour, Gauff applied pressure on her opponent’s second serve and secured a crucial break, allowing her to serve for the set, but the Chinese rebounded, and the American conceded the break-back with a double-fault, levelling the affair.

The set moved into a tiebreak, and the 2023 US Open champion kept her composure, winning 5 of 6 points played to pocket the opener from a mini-break down at 3-2.

Gauff then broke serve to start the second, and never looked back, as she raced away with the last 4 games, losing just 5 points in her 3 service games.

The World No 3 needed every ounce of her athletic talent, though, to close it out when, leading 7-6(4), 5-1 and a point away from booking her spot in the semi-finals, with Zheng serving on match point, she was pulled wide to her backhand return and started racing back to cover the middle the court, hit a floating return that should have been an easy put-away for the Chinese star, who mishit it, and fired it directly into Gauff’s path.

The reigning US Open champion is quick on her feet, however, and leapt to avoid being hit to see the ball land well long, her spot in Thursday’s semi-final secured.

“Oh 100 percent [it was going to hit me],” Gauff said after the match. “I saw the ball and it came off her racket so fast. I was completely running the other direction. I just tried to move out of the way because that would have been such a bad way to not win a match point. But I’m glad I didn’t get hit.

“I was trying to make it clear that I didn’t touch the ball. But I feel, like, as fast as it was going, it would have been obvious if I touched it.”


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In the end, she sealed a berth in her 6th career WTA 1000 semi-final, and her second of the season, having first done so on home soil in Indian Wells in March.

A familiar foe awaits in the American next, and although she has lost 9 of her 10 career meetings with Swiatek, 3 of their recent clay-court matches have been the most competitive.

World No 2 Aryna Sabalenka from Belarus collides with Latvia’s Jelena Ostapenko, the 9th seed, in Wednesday’s remaining quarter-finals.

Sabalenka leads Ostapenko 2-0 in their tour-level head-to-head, winning their most recent meeting in Dubai last year.

In-form American Danielle Collins, the 13th seed, then locks horns with No 24 Victoria Azarenka from Belarus for a third time. They have slit their two tour-level encounters, but have not met this decade.


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