1. Daria Gavrilova v Maria Sharapova (Rome, SF)
Three of the Rome semi-finalists are pretty standard. The story of this week though has been the run of Daria Gavrilova. The 21-year old has had a magnificent week, coming through qualifying and winning four main draw matches including back-to-back three set thrillers against Belinda Bencic and Ana Ivanovic. Gavrilova has spent 12 hours and 57 minutes on court in Rome this week. Also @Kmil0z on Twitter reminded me that Gavrilova played an ITF event last week, reaching the quarter-finals in Cagnes-Sur-Mer. She is officially a machine!
In a battle of the qualifiers on Friday, Gavrilova defeated Christina McHale, 6-2 6-4. It was a fun match, arguably the best of the WTA quarter-finals today, and Gavrilova played remarkably well considering the amount of tennis she has played. She seems to be completely in the zone at the moment and momentum is dragging her through any possible sign of fatigue. Gavrilova played a very smart match, dictating with her forehand but also showing a refreshing eagerness to mix up her play with drop shots and closing at the net. McHale tried to be more aggressive, but hit a few too many errors to really get a foothold in this match. Gavrilova lost her way a little in the second set as McHale got back to *4-5. The American had three game points in that game but Gavrilova, aided by a gorgeous lob on one of those points, broke again to win the match in straight sets.
Gavrilova gets another shot at Maria Sharapova who beat a tiring, Victoria Azarenka, 6-3 6-2 in the last of the quarters. Sharapova’s hitting was sharp and intense for the most part as Azarenka struggled to get going and looked flat. Her three set third rounder against Irina-Camelia Begu that finished in the early hours of Friday morning obviously didn’t help her cause. It’s been mentioned a lot but I love the addition of the drop shot to Sharapova’s game. There was one in the final game that was really special. I think Azarenka has set herself up nicely for the French Open although she is going to get one of the big guns in the third round… don’t be Caro, don’t be Caro, don’t be Caro… We all know it’s going to be Caro!
In one of the biggest upsets of 2015 so far, Gavrilova beat Sharapova in Miami, 7-6(4) 6-3. It was a surprising loss although Sharapova wasn’t at her best and did seem to be hampered by a foot injury. Take nothing away from Gavrilova who played a superb match. I like her presence on court and she’s going to piss so many players off. I like it though… she cares and she believes. All those matches will catch up with Gavrilova at some point and I wonder if it will be in this one. Sharapova has played well this week and will be super focussed. A part of me thinks Daria could get a set and this will be a really great match. Another part of me thinks it could be over within the hour. I’m definitely going Sharapova, but i’m intrigued to see what kind of fight Gavrilova can put up.
Prediction: Sharapova d. Gavrilova in 2 sets (1 tight, 1 easy)
2. Simona Halep v Carla Suarez Navarro (Rome, SF)
Two of the best clay courters on the WTA tour will meet in the first of the semi-finals at 12pm local time in Rome. Simona Halep breezed through her quarter-final with Alexandra Dulgheru, winning 6-1 6-0 in just 56 minutes. Halep broke serve on five occasions and saved all five break points that she faced. In her three matches this week, Halep has dropped just seven games. The Carla Suarez Navarro train keeps chugging along as she beat Petra Kvitova for the third time this year and fourth consecutive time on the tour… boy did I get that wrong hahaha! I really thought Carla looked like she was struggling at the end of that match against Eugenie Bouchard, but she did it again. I have been made to look stupid on quite a few occasions this year! I did have Carla to the semis in my original draw but I felt like Petra would gain revenge after their respective routes through the draw.
Halep leads Suarez Navarro in their head-to-head 5-4; in their only encounter this year, Halep recovered from a poor first set and then rolled through the last two, recording a 5-7 6-1 6-1 victory in the quarter-finals of Indian Wells. Interestingly, Suarez Navarro has won all three of their clay court encounters. I remember in 2013 when Halep made her big breakthrough in Rome, reaching the semi-finals, and then drew Suarez Navarro in the first round of Roland Garros. The thought of the pair meeting in the first round of a Grand Slam now is hilarious. Halep hasn’t been tested this week, but she should have plenty of gas in the tank. I’d take Halep…
Prediction: Halep d. Suarez Navarro in 2 sets (1 tight, 1 easy)
Poll results: 62% of readers correctly predicted that Gavrilova would beat McHale, 34% correctly predicted that Suarez Navarro would beat Kvitova, 61% correctly predicted that Sharapova would beat Azarenka and 89% correctly predicted that Halep would beat Dulgheru.