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By Chris Oddo | @TheFanChild | Saturday September 19, 2020

Karolina Pliskova is finding her form on the red clay once again, and the 28-year-old Czech is now just two wins away from a successful title defense at the Foro Italico after her 6-3 3-6 6-0 victory over Elise Mertens of Belgium.

Tennis Express

“I felt great, especially the first set I think was one of my best sets that I’ve played on clay, ever,” Pliskova said after her win.

It was a bit of a struggle through the middle set that saw Pliskova drop a break lead and be taken to a decider by the No.11-seed, who isn’t a household name but has been quietly having one of her best seasons, and leads all WTA players in match wins in 2020.

Pliskova will next face her compatriot Marketa Vondrousova, the 21-year-old who eased past Elina Svitolina 6-3, 6-0 on Saturday.

Mertens has notched 26 wins in 2020 and was through to the quarters without dropping a set. The 20th-ranked Belgian says that Pliskova’s power is difficult to contend with on clay.

“I think definitely her first serve, if it’s a high percentage first serve than it’s pretty difficult to win the point to get the neutralizing ball to start the rally, but also her second serve is pretty hard, on speed,” Mertens said. “I think her strength is her power and I feel like when she’s in the reach she still sometimes can get that forehand down the line, that really striking ball.”

Mertens, who was a quarterfinalist at the US Open after defeating Sofia Kenin in the round of 16, says she was running a little low on energy in the third set.

“I think in the first two sets I played pretty well, third set the energy was a little low, for all the matches and all the travelling and the US Open and everything, but overall I’m pretty pleased with my level,” said Mertens.

Pliskova improves to 12-5 on the season and stretches her winning streak at Rome to eight victories. She has been forced to three sets three times in that stretch (also: Kenin, Azarenka in 2019).

She gave credit to Mertens for battling her hard in their second career meeting.

“As I said I think I played a great match, but she really tried even in the first set when there was not much she can do,” Pliskova said. “Also in the third when it was 5-0 she still kind of kept the belief -- I think that’s why she wins a lot of matches because she is so patient and somehow so positive and still fighting, so I think that’s her big weapon - and of course she can play good tennis.”


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