In a battle between the two best-ranked teenagers in the WTA singles rankings, No.15 seed Iga Swiatek ousted Coco Gauff, 7-6(3), 6-3, to book a spot in the Internazionali BNL d'Italia final.
19-year-old Swiatek started Saturday with challenging tasks ahead of her, with her quarterfinal match yet to start and the prospect of a semifinal clash hours later if she was successful enough in her first encounter.
But the reigning Roland Garros champion passed those tests with flying colors, eliminating two-time champion Elina Svitolina in the morning before coming back to ease past World No.35 Gauff in a one-hour and 46-minute tilt.
"I'm still kind of pumped up, so it's hard to say because adrenaline is still here," Swiatek told the press while reflecting on her banner day. "I'm still pretty young so hopefully I'm going to be ready for tomorrow. I think so."
"I felt really good today; it's a big difference between my previous matches and today," said Swiatek, who saved two match points in her round-of-16 clash with Barbora Krejcikova earlier in the week. "I was able to beat Elina, so that shows that my game is here, I'm ready for anyone. It gave me a real confidence boost."
In the first WTA meeting between burgeoning stars Swiatek and Gauff, a high-quality affair came to pass as both players finished with positive differentials between winners and unforced errors. 17-year-old Gauff had 33 winners to 32 unforced errors, but Swiatek's ratio was even better, with 25 winners to 16 miscues.
"It's always hard to play against a young superstar, especially when I'm not used to that because I was always the youngest one," Swiatek said. "I just tried to have a high level of energy, even though it was my second match. I was feeling really good [receiving]. I know her biggest weapon is serve, so I tried to use that. Also tactically I did everything really well."
"I tried to play smart," Swiatek added. "I did that pretty well today so I'm happy about that."
Swiatek now has lined up a tussle against Rome expert Karolina Pliskova in the final. Pliskova, the 2019 champion and 2020 runner-up, moved into her third straight Rome final after overcoming Petra Martic in Saturday’s first semifinal.
The highlight reels started filling up early as Gauff hit a number of creative, quick-thinking shots in the first couple of games, but the American was undone by a double fault on break point at 1-1 as Swiatek took an early lead. The Polish star then fended off two break points at 4-2, but she was unable to repeat the feat two games later as Gauff broke for 4-4.
Winners careened off of the racquets of each for the rest of the set, with neither player facing any more break points en route to a decisive first-set tiebreak. There, Gauff slammed a winning overhead on the first point, but Swiatek used her heft of shot to draw forehand errors from the American and claim six points in a row.
Staring down five set points, a forehand winner and a strong serve allowed Gauff to erase two of Swiatek’s chances. However, Swiatek would not be denied, as a tough rally at 6-3 ended with a wide backhand by Gauff, giving the No.15 seed the one-set lead after an hour of play.
After sweeping to 3-1 in the second set, Swiatek needed to grit her way through a tough service game, where Gauff held two break points before the Pole served her way out of danger. Another break gave Swiatek a 5-1 lead, but she double-faulted that game away as Gauff stayed in contention.
At 5-3, though, Swiatek at last moved to triple match point. Gauff got out of the first two, but the third time was the charm as another rally backhand by Swiatek forced an error from the young American, and the Roland Garros titlist was into another final in her surging career.
"I'm not thinking about it really," Swiatek said, when asked what winning the Rome title would mean to her. "I want to take it step by step, as on every tournament that I was playing well.
"Maybe after tomorrow we can reflect on that."