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By Tennis Now | Saturday, September 19, 2020

Roland Garros champions will square off in a rousing Rome semifinal.

Down a set and a break, GarbiƱe Muguruza scored six straight service breaks rallying past US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka 3-6, 6-3, 6-4 into her third career Rome semifinal—and a blockbuster rematch with fellow former world No. 1 Simona Halep.

More: Azarenka Consoles Kasatkina After Retirement

"She was playing great at the beginning," Muguruza said. "She took the first set. I kept myself together and said okay let’s start another battle in the second set. I was in the right place when the opportunity came and I took it.

“At the end of the third set it was just a matter of one game difference. I’m happy I played the right shots, I stayed aggressive. I went for the match the whole time. I never felt down. I went for the match.”

In today's first quarterfinal, Halep rolled to a 6-2, 2-0 lead when opponent Yulia Putintseva retired with a back injury. The 30th-ranked Putintseva had spent more than seven hours on court in her prior three tournament matches and could not match Halep's physicality.

Reigning Wimbledon champion Halep has not dropped a set charging into her fifth career Rome semifinal. The 2018 Roland Garros champion said winning Rome is her ultimate goal.

"Now it’s the most important goal. I really want to win this tournament," Halep said. "I love playing here. I did semifinals five times so probably I will have a chance.

"It’s one of the biggest goals because I love Rome, I love Italy. Everytime I have a chance I have holiday here so I feel really good when I play here in Italy."

Playing her 16th match in the last 19 days, Azarenka came out firing against Muguruza.

The 14th-ranked Belarusian burst out to a 4-1 lead. Azarenka looked quicker off the mark and was changing direction of her drives sharply stretching her lead to a set and a break.

Then 2016 Roland Garros champion Muguruza began turning the tide. Clocking her returns with conviction, Muguruza reeled off six straight service breaks during the deficit into a 3-1 third-set lead.

Azarenka answered breaking back in the sixth game and holding at love for 4-3. Muguruza ran off the final three games, winning eight of the last 10 points to avenge her 2019 Rome loss to Azarenka and even their head-to-head series at 2-2.

Australian Open finalist Muguruza improved to 21-5 on the season, including a 9-3 mark in three setters. She's beaten two Grand Slam champions this week in Sloane Stephens and Azarenka and now faces a third.

The 26-year-old Spaniard has won four of six meetings vs. Halep, including a 7-6, 7-5 decision in the Australian Open semifinals earlier this year. Both of Halep's wins have come on red clay as she swept Muguruza 6-1, 6-4 in the 2018 Roland Garros semifinals. 

Halep will try to combat Muguruza's flat strikes and superior power with her quicker court coverage and ball-control skills. 

"If she has time to hit the ball she can beat anyone," Halep said. "So I have just to be less comfortable for her. Every time I played well against her [the key was]to be as much as possible aggressive. If I play my best game and if I feel great physically on court I have a big change to win the match.

“But every time is different because she’s playing so hard and you don’t really know what to expect. It’s tough every time. I don’t plan for a specific match because you never know on court. So I’m just trying to focus on myself and then we’ll see.”


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