No.9 seed Ons Jabeur of Tunisia mounted a successful comeback to reach her first Internazionali BNL d'Italia semifinal, ousting No.4 seed Maria Sakkari of Greece 1-6, 7-5, 6-1.
Last week’s Madrid champion Jabeur was down 6-1, 5-2 before she turned the match around to claim her tenth straight match-win.
Words from the winner: "In my head at 5-2, I said, 'You cannot finish those two weeks, those amazing almost three weeks, like this,'" Jabeur said afterward. "That's what got me started. I'm very happy that I could get the win at the end.
"It's not easy to play Maria, no? I know she hits really hard. I couldn't find my rhythm at the beginning. But I'm glad with a little bit experience that I have, I could pull off the win."
Jabeur racking up wins: At multiple times in the second set, Jabeur was two points away from seeing her career-best winning streak come to a close. However, the Tunisian methodically steered her way back to a victory in just over two hours of play.
Jabeur maintains her position as the tour-level clay-court win leader this season, with 16 victories on the surface so far in 2022. Along with her first WTA 1000 title in Madrid, Jabeur also reached the Charleston final and the Stuttgart quarterfinals.
Including all surfaces, Jabeur has won 24 tour-level matches this season, which is the second-most on tour. World No.1 Iga Swiatek has won the most matches on tour this year, with 33.
Top 10 showdown: Jabeur edged to a 2-1 lead in her head-to-head with Sakkari. Jabeur had won an ITF Challenger meeting between them in 2015, but Sakkari exacted revenge at 2020 Ostrava.
Jabeur turned the rivalry back in her favor by winning nearly 70 percent of her first-service points and converting six of her 12 break points on Friday. Despite having 11 more unforced errors than Sakkari, Jabeur doubled Sakkari's winner count by 28 to 14.
Sakkari served splendidly in the first set, staving off a handful of Jabeur passing winners. Sakkari won 74 percent of her service points and fended off the lone break point she faced in the opening set. Sakkari charged to 5-2 in the second set as well, edging closer to the win.
Jabeur clawed one break back when Sakkari served for the match at 5-2, and she then broke Sakkari's serve for a second straight time with a drop volley winner, leveling the set at 5-5. A winning forehand pass on Jabeur's first set point at 6-5 gave the Tunisian a fifth straight game and the set.
With the momentum in her favor, Jabeur zoomed to a 5-1 lead in the third set. Jabeur only needed a single match point in that game to complete the tremendous comeback after Sakkari fired a service return wide.
Kasatkina awaits: Jabeur will face World No.23 Daria Kasatkina in the semifinals on Saturday. Kasatkina reached the final four in Rome for the first time after advancing past an injured Jil Teichmann, 6-4, 3-2, ret. Teichmann retired due to a left thigh injury.
Prior to this week, Kasatkina had gone 0-for-4 in the Rome Round of 16. However, she has beaten four Top 30 players in a career-best Rome run this week, including her third Top 10 win of the year over No.2 seed Paula Badosa to make her first Rome quarterfinal.
Former Top 10 player Kasatkina is now a win away from her second WTA 1000 final. She reached the Indian Wells final in 2018, falling to Naomi Osaka.
"With every set I play, I played better and better," Kasatkina said. "I'm happy with the way I feel on the court. OK, maybe not all the time I am making the right decisions and I'm doing the right shots, but I'm happy generally with how I am on the court. I don't know about other players, but this is what I'm always trying to search for."
After six breaks of serve in the first eight games, Kasatkina obtained a critical seventh break for 5-4. Kasatkina set up break point in that game by winning an engrossing rally, ending that point with a dropshot-lob combo. After converting that chance, Kasatkina held at love to take the one-set lead.
World No.29 Teichmann, a semifinalist in Madrid last week, took a medical time-out at 2-1 in the second set. After dropping her serve to give Kasatkina a 3-2 lead, Teichmann stopped play.
Close rivalry continues: Jabeur has a 3-2 head-to-head lead over Kasatkina. Jabeur won their only previous clay-court match just last month in Stuttgart, where she defeated Kasatkina 6-3, 6-3 in the second round.
"[Jabeur] won 10 matches in a row, I hope she is a bit tired after this," Kasatkina said with a smile. "It's semifinals, everyone is squeezing maximum of what they have left. For sure it's going to be a tough battle."