ROME, Italy -- In a tussle between Top 10 seeds at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, it was No.9 seed Garbiñe Muguruza of Spain who came out the victor, ousting No.7 seed Johanna Konta of Great Britain, 6-4, 6-1, to advance to the Rome quarterfinals for the third time in her career.
"I served well, I was there in the right moments, and it went my side," said Muguruza, in her post-match press conference. "I really took my chances. Yeah, I'm just happy to be able to face another player and to get a victory."
The pair had played four times previously (three times in WTA main draws and once in qualifying) and each time, those meetings had gone three sets. On the clay courts of Rome this time, though, it was two-time Grand Slam champion Muguruza who wrapped up the clash in straight sets, to claim her third win in their five encounters overall.
"I'm happy, of course, because every time we play, we play long matches," said Muguruza. "This time, I think I played a little bit smarter."
Muguruza has posted wins over Stephens, Gauff, Konta will face a red-hot Azarenka in the QFs:— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) September 18, 2020
“Someone that has played great can play great again and again and again. So for me, it's not a surprise.
"I'm looking forward for a good match, another tough opponent.”#ibi20 pic.twitter.com/MoD3iQ5PYN
With the 82-minute win, former World No.1 Muguruza has now reached the quarterfinals or better at six of the seven events she has played in 2020, improving to 20-5 on the season. Muguruza was never broken on the day, fending off the three break points she faced with aplomb. She won 82 percent of her first-service points, and claimed 65 percent of points off of the Konta second serve.
"I think I'm facing very good players," Muguruza stated. "It's great, because honestly that's what I'm looking for, just to play matches and to face right away good matches, good opponents, and to see where I'm at."
World No.13 Konta, who reached the Rome final last season, matched Muguruza in winners with 15 apiece, but the Brit was undone by 22 unforced errors, compared to only 13 unforced errors for the Spaniard.
World No.17 Muguruza is now one win away from matching her career-best performances at the event, having reached the semifinals in both 2016 and 2017. The Spaniard will next face Victoria Azarenka, who advanced after Daria Kasatkina unfortunately suffered an injury during the first-set tiebreak of their match. Azarenka has defeated Muguruza in two of their three previous meetings.
"I'm looking forward to a good match, another tough opponent," said Muguruza. "Also, [Azarenka is] playing great, so it's a good quarterfinal. It's what you expect to be in a quarterfinals, facing the players that are playing well."
Consecutive love holds by the pair brought them to 3-2 without much drama on serve up to that point, but it was Konta who first experienced strife on her delivery in the next game. Facing a 0-40 deficit, though, the Brit used exceptional skill off the forehand side to erase each of the trio, eventually holding for 3-3.
If Muguruza was fazed by the missed opportunities, she did not show it, as the deep, powerful hitting from the Spaniard continued unabated. Two strong serves got her out of a 0-30 jam at 4-4, as she kept herself in front in the latter stages of the set, holding for 5-4.
In that game, Konta was again pressured on serve. Exceptional returns from the Muguruza racquet helped give the Spaniard a 0-40 lead once more, though this time the break points doubled as set points. Konta saved the first with a winning drop volley, but Muguruza converted the second with a stirring return deep into the court, earning the first break of the day, and with it, a one-set lead.
The Muguruza momentum continued in the second set. At 1-0, Konta had game point, but a missed forehand followed by a double fault allowed Muguruza to suddenly grab a break point, and the Spaniard converted her chance, drawing a backhand error from the Brit to go up 2-0.
Konta had an opportunity to get back on serve straight away, as she grasped her only three break points of the match in the very next game. Muguruza, however, held firm, and withstood each of the break points to open up a commanding 3-0 lead.
By the end of the match, the Muguruza backhand was clicking, as she polished off a love hold for 4-1 with a winner from that side, then broke for 5-1 with a scorching return winner from that wing. Now fully in control, Muguruza seized the straight-set win with another love hold, sliding her way into the Rome quarterfinals once more.