ROME, May 18, 2019 (by Sharada Rajagopalan)
It will be Karolina Pliskova versus Johanna Konta in Sunday’s women’s singles final of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Sunday. The fourth seeded Czech defeated Greek qualifier Maria Sakkari in straight sets 6-4, 6-4 in the second women’s semi-final on Saturday. Earlier, the unseeded Briton upset the sixth seed Kiki Bertens 5-7, 7-5, 6-2 to make it to her biggest-ever final on clay.
Momentum Shifts Mark Both Matches
Both semi-finals did not lack in quality. However, momentum oscillated between each contestant across each match.
In the first semi-final, Bertens and Konta exchanged two service breaks each in the first set – once when Konta was serving for the opening set at 5-4 – before Bertens availed of a third break of serve in the 12th game to take the lead in the match. Konta’s relentless did not fade away in the second set as she took it by the same score-line to push the match into the third set. In the decider, while the Dutchwoman’s legs began to give away, Konta upped the assault and made away with the win, dropping just two games en route in the set.
Konta’s win ended Bertens’ winning run of eight matches going back to last week’s Madrid Open in which she won the title beating Simona Halep in the final. This was also the first time since the 2017 Wimbledon 2017 quarter-final (a victory over Halep, again) that Konta had won a match against a top-five player.
— WTA (@WTA) 18. Mai 2019
Speaking to the press after her win, Konta said, “I knew going into the match that playing against Kiki, I mean, she’s playing some of her best tennis right now in her career. She came off of winning Madrid. She’s definitely in amazing form. She’s No.4 in the world. She’s one of the best players right now.” She also mentioned her game on clay and said, “I’ve never really doubted my ability on the surface. I don’t necessarily feel like this is massively out of the blue or super wow. I’m definitely pleased.”
Against Pliskova on Sunday, Konta will need all the self-confidence she can muster given how the former World No. 1 broke down Sakkari’s resilience in their match.
At the start of the match, Pliskova found herself down an early break even as Sakkari built up a comfortable 4-2 lead riding on the back of the solitary service break. However, the brief rain delay gave Pliskova enough time to recover lost ground as she stormed back to break back and level the set at four-all. A couple of games later, Pliskova had tilted the set entirely, winning it 6-4 and taking a lead in the match.
In a way, it seemed familiar ground for Sakkari since in her quarter-final against Kristina Mladenovic on Friday, she had overturned the first-set loss into a win. But replicating a comeback against Pliskova proved difficult for Sakkari. She remained mentally with Pliskova in the second set, brushing aside the occurrence of the first set, at least up to the 10th game. Serving to stay in the match, Sakkari’s persistence finally bowed down as her serve let her down, thereby ensuring the end of her splendid run in the event.
This was Pliskova’s 501st match win, the third final for the season, and the first final at the Rome Open. Previously in 2019, the 27-year-old reached won the title in Brisbane against Lesia Tsurenko, and lost the final at the Miami Open to Ashleigh Barty.