ESTORIL, Portugal - For the second time this week the Estoril Open's No.1 seed came from the brink of defeat, as Roberta Vinci rallied from a second set blowout and a deep hole in the third to beat No.7 seed Nadia Petrova.
After Vinci took the first set in 28 minutes, 6-2, Petrova fought back in a big way, winning nine of the next 10 games to win the second set, 6-1, and build a 3-0 lead in the third. But Vinci had already pulled off a comeback this week, rallying from a 4-2 third set hole to beat Nina Bratchikova in the first round, and she did it again, winning six of seven games to win this one, 62 16 64.
"She beat me the last two times we played but it was on hardcourt, and on clay it's different," Vinci said. "I play better on clay. Today I was able to play a good game with good structure in the points, and that was probably the key."
At No.23, Vinci is one of four Italians in the Top 30, alongside No.11 Francesca Schiavone, No.24 Flavia Pennetta and No.27 Sara Errani. Errani is 25 years old, but the others are all veteran age - Schiavone 31, Vinci 29 and Pennetta 30.
"Probably the key to Italy's success was Schiavone winning Roland Garros two years ago," Vinci said. "We all wanted to play good tournaments like her, so we all improved and just tried to get better. And last year I had a great year.
"I'm playing well. I'm much more confident than when I was younger."
Next up for Vinci is No.6 seed Kaia Kanepi, who pulled off a 63 36 63 upset over No.4 seed Petra Cetkovska. Kanepi originally looked headed for a straight set win as she built a 63 31 lead, but she ended up closing it out in the third.
"Kaia's a great player," Vinci said of Kanepi. "It has been a long time since we've played. She has been injured recently but we'll see how it goes tomorrow, because she's tough. I will just do my game and we'll see what happens."
The other semi will feature two unseeded players, as Carla Suárez Navarro faces Italian qualifier Karin Knapp. Suárez Navarro beat fellow Spaniard Sílvia Soler-Espinosa, 63 63; Knapp saved set point in the first set and stopped a third set surge to beat Galina Voskoboeva in almost three hours, 76(4) 26 64.
"Yesterday I played only 40 minutes while Sílvia played more than two hours, so maybe it was tougher for her to play today," Suárez Navarro said. "But I'm happy to be in the semifinals. We are friends so it was not easy to play."
Knapp is a former World No.35 currently making another run at the Top 100 after some serious setbacks the last few years. "I had a heart problem and then knee surgery, so a lot of problems," she said. "I'm working really differently than I was before, so doing well again is confirmation that what I've been doing is working. I came here just to play qualies and now I'm in the semis. It's really exciting.
"I was excited to stay out and fight today. It was really good emotions to win."
Suárez Navarro beat Knapp in their only previous meeting, although it was at an ITF event in 2004 - and neither player was even in the Top 500.