ROME, Italy - It's the match-up everyone's been waiting for, and now it could be just days away - Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova won their opening matches at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia on Wednesday, and are just two wins away from a blockbuster semifinal clash at the Premier event.
The No.1-seeded Williams was the first of the two to advance, serving well but returning even better - she won more than half of her return points and broke five times - to beat Andrea Petkovic, 6-2, 6-2.
Perhaps more importantly, the World No.1 seems to have recovered from her thigh injury from Madrid.
"I'm very happy, because in practice it's different than in a match, and I wasn't sure how it would be," Williams said. "But it was good. I'm very happy and I'll continue to do the same treatment. It's not 100%, but it's getting better, and I feel like it's not going to get worse, so I'm going to play."
The No.8-seeded Sharapova followed with a tougher day at the office, rallying from 2-0 down in the first set and 4-1 down in the second set to make it past Puerto Rican qualifier Monica Puig, 6-3, 7-5.
There are two rounds to go, but given their form in their opening matches, and the fact that they are the highest seeds left in the top half of the draw, this could be a semifinal match-up on Saturday.
And there's more. These two have been by far the two most dominant players on clay over the last three years, dating back to the start of the clay court season in 2012 - Williams has put together a 49-2 record on the surface (with losses to Virginie Razzano at the French Open in 2012 and Jana Cepelova at Charleston this year) and Sharapova is 47-3 on the surface (with three losses to Williams - in the Madrid quarterfinals in 2012, the Madrid final in 2013 and the French Open final in 2013 as well).
Other seeds advancing to the third round on Wednesday were No.3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska, who beat Argentine lucky loser Paula Ormaechea, 6-3, 6-2, No.4 seed Simona Halep, who dropped a set but then rebounded to beat Madison Keys, 5-7, 6-0, 6-1, No.10 seed Sara Errani, who beat Ekaterina Makarova, 6-2, 6-3, No.11 seed Ana Ivanovic, who beat Alizé Cornet, 7-6(1), 7-5, No.12 seed Flavia Pennetta, who outdid Swiss qualifier Belinda Bencic, 6-2, 2-6, 6-3, and No.13 seed Carla Suárez Navarro, who got her WTA-leading 30th match win of the year by beating Venus Williams, 6-4, 6-2.
There was some further news later, with Halep announcing her withdrawal from the tournament after her win due to a left abdominal injury, giving Suárez Navarro a walkover into the quarterfinals.