After the four matches on the women's side on Friday, the four semifinalists in Rome have been determined. Madison Keys and Garbine Muguruza will face each other at noon local time, whereas Serena Williams is going to play Irina-Camelia Begu for a spot in finals at the Foro Italico. René Denfeld recaps the day's action at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia.
Today's order of play started off with a firecracker on paper and it delivered every bit as much within the first one and a half sets — Garbine Muguruza's powerful and aggressive game off the ground matched up perfectly with Timea Bacsinszky's crafty and clever game on clay and it didn't disappoint one bit in reality.
During the first 90 minutes, the pair was engaged in some of the best tennis the women's game has seen all year and particularly on clay, with both players playing well at the same time and competing hard during every single rally — and the Swiss and the Spaniard both agreed on that.
"We raised both our level of play during the first and the second set. So, well, probably it was a great match for the crowd. I hope they enjoyed it. I saw some tweets. You enjoyed it, as well," Bacsinszky laughed after the match in her press conference.
But ultimately it was the Spaniard, whose aggressive game paid off in crucial moments, stealing the first set off of Bacsinszky's serve and then putting her foot on the gas pedal mid-way through the second set. For Muguruza it was one of her best wins of the year — not only in terms of the level she played, but also making the semifinals of a big clay event like Rome.
"I am satisfied. The matches I played with Timea before were very, you know, tough matches and very hard," the third seed said after the close two-set match. "Obviously she's Top 10. She's there for a reason. So it's a great victory for me on clay, also, because she beat Carla yesterday, so that's a sign she's playing well!"
In the semifinals, the Spaniard will face someone who hits the ball even bigger than her in Madison Keys. Just like in Madrid, the American was able to defeat Barbora Strycova, but unlike in Spain, it was a much tighter contest against the experienced Czech, with Keys winning 6-4 4-6 6-3.
"It's difficult," the 21-year-old explained with regards to the many trap doors her opponent's game opens up.
"Her weapon is making you miss and just getting that one extra ball and things like that. There's obviously times I wasn't happy I was making the mistake, but I think you also have to beat her because she's going to stay on the other side and make a lot of balls. I think it was a balance between taking the risk and also having a big target."
The American is hardly someone who'd consider herself an expert on the red dirt, but while she hasn't come to love the clay in the past few years, she has come to acknowledge its existence and accept that it isn't going to go anywhere anytime soon.
"I think over the years I have just eventually accepted this — we're not going to not have a clay court season," Keys laughed, "so going into it, being positive about it, is the only way to deal with it. I think this year it's just been, Okay, let's do a little bit better than last year, and not really getting ahead of myself and really just focusing each match, just trying to do what I'm here for."
The other semifinal will be contested between Irina-Camelia Begu and Serena Williams. The Romanian defeated Japan's Misaki Doi in another quarterfinal of the unseeded, continuing her strong run of form that also got her to the quarterfinals in Madrid.
Begu's opening of 2016 was marred by injury, but after her good week at the Mutua Madrid Open, she has gone one better here at the Foro Italico — not just in singles, but also in doubles (alongside Monica Niculescu), making semifinals in both.
"Well, it's the first time I'm playing against her, I'm really happy I'm in the semifinals and I'm playing against Serena. I will enjoy for sure the match and enjoy being here," Begu told WTA Insider Courtney Nguyen after her match.
Based on tonight, it will be a tough ask of Begu to pull off the upset, since Serena Williams looked in sublime form in her quarterfinal match against Svetlana Kuznetsova, defeating the seasoned clay court expert 6-2 6-0 in under an hour.
Afterwards, Williams was understandably happy with her performance, particularly since she was able to find as high a level as she did tonight in only her third match on the European red clay.
"It's great. It makes me feel good," the world number one said with regards to her performance tonight.
"Like I said, I really feel like she's probably one of the best clay-court players, and having to face her was a task and a challenge. We always have really tough matches, so I'm just really happy to get through that one."
Williams and Begu have never met before, but the American has been keeping an eye on the Romanian's progress over the course of the past few years, aware that she has been constantly improving and recording strong results, particularly in the last two weeks on clay.
"Yeah, she's been doing really well for the past two, two-and-a-half years. I have seen her play a lot. She plays a lot of big matches on courts against a lot of top players. She's had a lot of big wins and had a lot of close losses," the 21-time Grand Slam champion said, anticipating her semifinal match."
"Yeah, it's been really refreshing and fun to watch her. I'm excited for it."
Serena Williams will face Irina-Camelia Begu not before 5pm local time in Rome tomorrow afternoon. (photos: Jimmie48)