The 2017 Internazionali BNL d’Italia final will be contested between the number six seed, Simona Halep and the number eight seed, Elina Svitolina. The pair haven’t played each other since 2014 and will both be vying for their first title in Rome.
Halep d. Bertens, 7-5 6-1
Halep is still on course for the Madrid-Rome double after a straight sets semi-final win over Kiki Bertens. Halep was always ahead in the first set and began the match in imperious form; however, Bertens settled down and began to make an impact with her aggressive game. Halep was unable to serve out the set at *5-4 after Bertens had saved five set points in her previous service game. As Halep was beginning to look on the ropes, Bertens was unable to capitalise. The Dutch player produced a pair of shaky games as Halep won the final two games to win the first set, 7-5.
Halep rolled through the second set, producing 93% of first serves in (!) and dropping just two points behind her serve. I always marvel at how Halep can change direction so effortlessly in rallies and she’s one of the best at doing it. She had to work hard in the first set and struggled at times to close out the points, but her steady and dynamic play more than outmatched Bertens’s big but erratic hitting.
Svitolina d. Muguruza, 4-1 ret.
The second semi-final unfortunately came to a premature ending as Garbiñe Muguruza was forced to retire after just five games. The Spaniard had sported strapping on her leg for the past few matches, but it was actually a neck injury (via WTA Insider) that forced her to pull out of this match. It is the fourth time this year that Muguruza has retired mid-match.
The last two games of this particular semi-final went to deuce with Svitolina producing a flurry of winners to win both of them. I’ve enjoyed watching this aggressive version of Svitolina and while there are some loose errors, it’s understandable as she looks to be more proactive on court.
Head-to-head record: Halep leads Svitolina, 2-0 in their head-to-head but the pair haven’t played since Fed Cup action in 2014 and never on clay.
Interesting stat: By virtue of her semi-final win (via Live Rankings), Svitolina will rise to number one in the WTA Race to Singapore!
Final thoughts: Halep is having a sensational run on the clay and whatever result in this final, will go into Roland Garros as one of the leading contenders. She has looked both solid and dynamic from the baseline, and her serve has been holding up well. One thing I noted during the Madrid final is that Halep has to work so hard to win points as she does tend to battle from the baseline – if she can continue to improve her net game and coming forward, she would be an unstoppable force! Still, Halep is dominating on the clay this year and she has reacted positively to setbacks, not allowing herself to lose focus if things don’t go to plan.
Svitolina suffered a surprising early loss in Madrid last week but has had a good week in Rome, battling through two tight second set tiebreaks against Cornet and Pliskova, to find herself in yet another big final. The Ukrainian player is reaping the benefits of a more aggressive gameplan on court and has looked more mentally assured of herself in the key moments. A few eyebrows were raised when she opted to play the International event in Istanbul (which she won) last month over the star-studded Stuttgart tournament. While i’d like to see her back herself and play the bigger tournaments, the advantage is that she has plenty of match play on red clay and will now face the ultimate test against the in-form player on clay in Sunday’s final.
In summary, I think both players are quite evenly matched in their game style. Both move well, but I think Halep is the more natural mover on the clay. There will obviously be some fatigue from Halep’s side but I think she will be highly motivated to go into Roland Garros on the ultimate high.
I’d fancy this to go three sets and the edge, in my opinion, to Halep.