ROME, Italy - Defending Internazionali BNL d'Italia champion Karolina Pliskova surged into a second straight final in Rome, dispatching 2019 Roland Garros runner-up Marketa Vondrousova, 6-2, 6-4.
RIVALRY RECORD: Simona Halep vs Karolina Pliskova
"It's been a strange relationship with clay, but it's not like I ever hated it," she said in her post match press conference. "If anything, I hate grass more! I've had some great weeks on clay, making the semis in Paris, so it's not like I don't look forward to the surface. It's a nice change because we spend a quite a long time on hardcourts."
Seeded No.2 at the Foro Italico, the 2019 champion navigated a tricky second set after a scintillating opener against her countrywoman, booking a championship match with fellow former World No.1 Simona Halep after 82 minutes on Court Centrale.
"I feel like I have more time to play my game on clay, and some my best matches and victories have been on clay. I feel it can be for me, and with every year I prove that even more, winning smaller tournaments, then indoors in Stuttgart, then Rome last year. Now I feel like I can replicate those results without huge preparation on clay, because there obviously wasn't that much time. With me, it's always about my mental side, how I feel, where I'm at, and whether I can enjoy."
In the year since her revelatory run to the Roland Garros final, Vondrousova struggled with a left wrist injury that shut down her season and left her at a loss for rhythm for much of 2020, winning back-to-back matches just once before arriving in Rome.
The top seed at the US Open, Pliskova had her own struggles this summer, falling in the second round to former World No.4 to leave North America 1-2 after two events.
"Everyone was talking about how badly America went for me, but I guess I was the only one who didn't feel that way! Results don't always have to be great to feel good about yourself, and even just traveling there was a big step, so that may be why I feel better here. I've experienced the bubble and played some matches, and over the last few years, I've gotten to play a lot of matches, and that's something I need. I didn't have many in America but even those three helped me to feel like I'm back and competing. I've had tough opponents in Rome, but I feel my level is bit higher with every match, and the girls are tough on clay. It's never been my favorite surface, but now I know I can play some great tennis and win tournaments on it."
Both women have caught fire at the Foro Italico, dropping 6-0 sets on each of their quarterfinal opposition - US Open quarterfinalist Elise Mertens for Pliskova and two-time Rome champion Elina Svitolina for Vondrousova - to reach the final four.
Pliskova carried her momentum from the previous round far better to start, pressuring her countrywoman from her opening service game and racing ahead 4-1 behind a barrage of powerful serves and returns.
Vondrousova used all her craft to engineer a break point, only for the No.2 seed to swat it away with an overhead - one of 13 winners she would hit in the set - and edge to within four points of a one-set lead.
Though she gamely saved two set points - one by tracking a deft dropshot from Pliskova - a forehand miss pulled up a third opportunity for the defending champion, who converted by overpowering the 21-year-old with a pummeling backhand return.
Starting strong in the second set, Vondrousova broke with line-clipping backhand of her own. Pliskova battled back in her inimitable fashion, saving two more break points to put the match back on serve.
Another tight game on the Vondrousova serve saw Pliskova earn more break points and convert a third to put herself within two games of victory.
Vondrousova took advantage of a blip in Pliskova's concentration and swiftly leveled the set at four games apiece, breaking back and ending a long rally with a forehand winner to hold.
Righting the ship despite a pair of double faults, Pliskova saved a break point to hold for 5-4, and outrallied Vondrousova to make it over the finish line.
In all, Pliskova struck a solid 23 winners to 21 unforced errors while maintaining a 73% first serve percentage and converting five of 13 break point opportunities. While Vondrousova made fewer errors, she managed just seven break point chances, winning two.
Halep awaits Pliskova in Monday's final after the Romanian defeated 2016 French Open champion Garbiñe Muguruza in the first semifinal. Their biggest clay court encounter came at the 2017 French Open, where Halep outlasted her rival in a thrilling three-set semifinal; the following spring Pliskova avenged the loss by snapping Halep's Mutua Madrid Open winning streak.
"I can't say I was in the mental state I am now back then, because at the time, playing Simona on clay would have felt like no chance. Now, I would go for it more and believe I could beat her. We've had a lot of good matches. When I beat her, I believe for the first time in Fed Cup, the surface was slow, so that's where the belief started. In Paris, I almost won and she was playing great that day. I feel like it's still her surface, not mine, but I've beaten her on clay before. It's a different story on hardcourts; that feels more like my surface!
"It's going to be super tough because she's fighting hard, won the tournament in Prague and is into the final here. It's never going to be easy against her, no matter the tournament, but it's going to be a great final."
The pair played three times in 2019, with the Czech winning the last two - most recently at the Shiseido WTA Finals Shenzhen.