It’s been said a few times this week but once again, HELMETS AT THE READY! The first of the semi-finals at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia will be contested between the number three seed, Garbiñe Muguruza and Madison Keys at 12pm local time in Rome.
Into her first semi-final of 2016, things finally seem to be clicking for Muguruza. The Spaniard hasn’t dropped a set en route to the last four with victories over Ekaterina Makarova (6-1 6-0), Jelena Ostapenko (6-1 6-4) and Timea Bacsinszky (7-5 6-2). The Muguruza-Bacsinszky quarter-final was a thing of beauty. I was pleased to be able to catch it during my lunch break which was much longer than anticipated as I got hooked on this match! Packed full of long and exciting rallies, this was easily one of the best matches of the year so far. The scoreline or the stats don’t really show this but as straight setters go, only Azarenka-Muguruza from Miami tops it for me.
Muguruza recovered from a break down to win the opening set, 7-5. Bacsinszky was brilliant in defence, throwing up a handful of luscious lobs that flummoxed Muguruza. The Spaniard though remained aggressive, coming forward to close the net with drive volleys, which is where she’s at her most impressive and is one of the reasons why she has dominated the head-to-head against Bacsinszky. The first set concluded with a four-deuce game where Bacsinszky had game points and Muguruza set points. The Spaniard directed a bit too much to Bacsinszky’s backhand on the key points but finally got a short ball on her third set point, eventually pounding a backhand winner away.
The tennis at the start of the second set was really great. This match deserved a third set but Muguruza was clinical, drawing away at 2-2 to win the last four games of the match.
Keys is into the semi-finals of a Premier clay court tournament… and I don’t think many expected it, even Madison! The American has beaten the likes of Andrea Petkovic, Petra Kvitova, Timea Babos and Barbora Strycova to advance to the semi-finals. Keys overcame a second set blip to win, 6-4 4-6 6-3. Keys recovered from a double break, 0-3* deficit to win the first set, 6-4.
As the second set went with serve, Strycova suddenly pulled away, winning 11 of the last 12 points to level up at one set all. It was then the turn of Strycova to lose her way as she gave Keys far too many forehands to play with. The American took advantage with some patient, yet forceful play, and matched Strycova’s feat in the second set by winning 11 of the last 12 points.
Keys has generally been quite negative about her chances on the clay, perhaps focusing on the impending grass court season, However, her results over the past two weeks have been excellent with a third round showing in Madrid and a semi-final in Rome (unseeded at both). Like Muguruza, she is into a first semi-final in 2016.
Head-to-head record: In their only previous match, Keys defeated Muguruza all the way back in 2012 in Cincinnati, 7-6(5) 3-6 6-1.
Final thoughts: Interesting one this… it’s not the most ideal of match-ups for Muguruza who will struggle to implement her aggressive gameplan coming forward with Keys hitting big and deep. The Spaniard will likely be the more consistent of the two with Keys still throwing in some errant and error-strewn patches of play. My guess would be a lopsided three setter with Muguruza advancing to the final.