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By Richard Pagliaro | Friday, September 18, 2020

 
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Former Roland Garros champions Garbine Muguruza and Simona Halep both scored sharp straight-sets wins to reach the Rome quarterfinals.

Photo credit: Internazionali BNL d'Italia Facebook

The red clay of Rome is traditionally a bit faster than Roland Garros' red clay.

Adapting to the fast track—and tough heavy hitters—Roland Garros champions Garbine Muguruza and Simona Halep continued their Rome rolls.

More: Osaka Withdraws From Roland Garros

The top-seeded Halep extended her winning streak to 11 matches defusing Dayana Yastremska 7-5, 6-4.

The 29th-ranked Yastremska drew first blood posting a 3-0 lead. Halep responded playing with a bit more topspin to displace the hard-hitter from the baseline.

“It’s not easy against her because you really don’t have the rhythm,” Halep said. “She hits it very strong. It’s tough to return her balls, but after I lost the first three games I had to focus a little bit better and to stop giving her the ball that she liked.

“So I tried to change a little bit—to make her move, [play] a little bit of height. So I think during the match I found some solutions that were good to win.”



The second-ranked Romanian improved to 17-2 on the season.

A two-time Rome runner-up to Elina Svitolina, Halep is pleased with her play and both confident and a little jittery about making a run at her first Rome title.

"I’m a little bit nervous; I know that I have the game to win this tournament because I’ve been two times in the final and two times in the semifinals," Halep said. "So I think there is a good chance [to win the title].

"But all the opponents are very tough, the level is very high. So I have no expectations. I just want to go there and like today to fight for the match."

Halep will play Yulia Putintseva in the quarterfinals.

In the first Tour-level clash of Kazakhstan compatriots, Putintseva fought back from a one-set, 2-5 deficit battling by 10th-seeded Elena Rybakina 4-6, 7-6(3), 6-2.

The feisty Putintseva fought into her second straight quarterfinal following her trip to the last eight in Flushing Meadows.

In their lone prior meeting, Halep swept Putintseva 6-1, 6-4 at the Australian Open in January.

“I think it’s gonna be another difficult match,” Putintseva said of playing Halep. “I will have to move a lot and play lots of rallies with her. Because she’s the type of player who likes to dominate, but at the same time she’s making the ball in play.

"She’s not finishing in like two or three strokes every point. So I’m expecting a very difficult match.”

Every time Muguruza meets Johanna Konta the degree of difficulty spikes—all three of their prior meetings went the three-set distance—but today the two-time Grand Slam champion took charge on serve.

The ninth-seeded Spaniard used a five-game surge to blow open a 4-all tie cruising to a 6-4, 6-1 sweep of the seventh-seeded Konta, who was Rome runner-up last year.




Muguruza served 61 percent, smacked five aces, surrendered just six points on first serve and denied all three break points she faced in an 82-minute victory.

“I’m happy of course because every time we play we play long matches,” Muguruza said. “This time I think I play a little bit smarter. I served well. I was there on the right moments and it went my side.

"I really took my chances. I’m just happy to be able to face another player and to get a victory.”

Muguruza improved to 20-5 on the season, including wins over Americans Coco Gauff and Sloane Stephens this week.

“I’m facing very good players and it’s great," Muguruza said. "Honestly that’s what I’m looking for. To just play matches and face right away good matches, good opponents, to see where I’m at.

"It looks like a tough draw, but honestly it doesn’t really matter. Because everyone is feeling a little strange without playing many matches. So any opponent is a tough one.”

Next up for Muguruza is a blockbuster battle against three-time US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka in the quarterfinals.

Azarenka advanced when Daria Kasatkina was forced to retire with injury at the start of their first-set tiebreaker.

Forrmer world No. 1 Azarenka was deadlocked with Kastakina, 6-all, when the Russian qualifier slipped near the service line and crashed to the clay suffering a painful right ankle or right foot injury.

Credit Azarenka for showing class and compassion immediately crossing over the net to console a tearful Kasatkina. Azarenka helped her fallen foe remove her shoe, brought a bag of ice out on court to help treat her and took time after the match to sit with with Kasatkina, cradling her head at one point trying to help soothe her pain with positive words of encouragement.

“It ended in a really shitty way," Azarenka said after her 14th victory in her last 15 matches. "I’m really sad for Daria because we were playing such great tennis. I felt that it was such a good fight, she’s such a talented player."

The marquee quarterfinal clash of former world No. 1 players is a rematch of the 2019 Rome round of 16 that saw Azarenka build a 6-4, 3-1 lead when Muguruza retired. Two of their three career meetings have ended in retirement, including Muguruza's win in the 2019 Monterrey final.  

“I’m not surprised," Muguruza said of Azarenka's resurgence. "Someone that has played great can play great again and again and again. For me, it’s not a surprise.

"Another tough opponent and also she’s playing great. It’s a good quarterfinal. It’s what you expect to be in a quarterfinals facing the players who are playing well."

Reigning Rome champion Karolina Pliskova broke serve four times overpowering qualifier Anna Blinkova 6-4, 6-3. 

The second-seeded Pliskova, who beat Barbora Strycova in her opener, has now won back-to-back matches for the first time since the Australian Open in January.

Pliskova meets Elise Mertens in the quarterfinals.

Empowered by her run to the US Open quarterfinals, the 11th-seeded Mertens carved out a 6-4, 6-4 win over 86th-ranked Danka Kovinic to reach her sixth quarterfinal in nine tournaments this year.

 

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