Pliskova Fights Past Azarenka To Reach Semi-Finals In Rome

ROME, May 17, 2019 (by Sharada Rajagopalan)

Players were forced to do double duty on Thursday at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia after Wednesday’s entire line-up was washed away because of rain. Ahead of Friday’s quarter-finals, therefore, the players felt the lingering effects of tiredness and fatigue. But the contenders battled it out – some even going the distance – to advance to the penultimate stage of the tournament, even completing some milestones along the way.

Fourth seed Karolina Pliskova notched her 500th career match win with a hard-fought 6-7(5), 6-2, 6-2 victory over Victoria Azarenka. Earlier, the Czech player had a minor blip in her dominance as the two-time former Major champion negated a 1-4 deficit in the first set to take it in the tie-break. However, riding on the back of regaining confidence in her own game and courtesy of Azarenka’s poor serving, Pliskova captured the win after two hours and 26 minutes of play. The 2016 US Open finalist ended up with a staggering tally of 41 winners, and 26 unforced errors. Pliskova now awaits Greek qualifier Maria Sakkari, who rallied past Kristina Mladenovic 5-7, 6-3, 6-0.

Moving along, Johanna Konta, too, dipped her toes successfully in the volatile week in Roma. The Briton defeated Marketa Vondrousova 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 in their quarter-final match. The Czech teen who, on Thursday, evicted the World No. 2 Simona Halep in the second round looked to be crashing not just physically but also mentally after her humongous effort, the day before. Vondrousova did do well to push Konta into the decider but in the third set, she had nothing left to counter the former World No. 4.

On Saturday, Konta will take on the current World No. 4 Kiki Bertens who was the first to advance to the semi-finals after receiving a walkover from Naomi Osaka.

Injury Forces Osaka’s Exit

Speaking of, ahead of their scheduled match – the first of the day – Osaka pulled out of the event citing an injury to her right hand. The Japanese giving a walkover to Bertens cast a sombre shadow on the proceedings that were to follow. This was then compounded by Roger Federer’s withdrawal from the tournament ahead of his quarter-final against Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Addressing a press conference following her announcement, Osaka clarified that the pain in her hand was sudden and had flared up on Friday morning. “I woke up this morning and couldn’t really move my thumb. I tried to practice and grip my racquet but I couldn’t, and I kept feeling this pain when I tried to move my hand in different directions,” the World No. 1 said.

This is the second time in the clay season this year that Osaka has been forced to withdraw from an event. A couple of weeks ago, at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, the 21-year-old had to quit the tournament before her semi-final against Anett Kontaveit with an abdominal injury.

Despite her struggles, Osaka will be the top-seed at the 2019 French Open superseding the likes of Simona Halep and Petra Kvitova who were in the fray to topple her perch atop the WTA singles rankings.