ROME, Italy -- In an all-qualifier quarterfinal tussle, Maria Sakkari of Greece moved past France’s Kristina Mladenovic, 5-7, 6-3, 6-0, to reach the semifinals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Friday.
"I just sat down after I won the second set, I was like, 'Now it's your time, now it's time to do what you have to do,'" Sakkari told the press, after her win. "Just went after my shots. Trusted myself. I think I did pretty well," she concluded with a smile.
World No.39 Sakkari, who claimed her first WTA singles title in Rabat earlier this month, moves to 12-3 on clay so far this season after her two-hour and one-minute victory over former Top 10 player Mladenovic. Only Kiki Bertens, who also has 12 victories on clay in 2019, has as many wins on the surface this year.
The Greek No.1 completed the tilt with 38 winners to just 24 unforced errors, converting five of six break points in the final two sets. World No.63 Mladenovic ended the match with a strong showing of 28 winners to 25 unforced errors, but was unable to make a dent in the final set, never reaching break point in the decider.
"You have to be careful because if you lose your focus for a second, like a point or two, things can change, especially with these players," Sakkari stated. "So you just have to stay focused and keep doing what you're doing."
Sakkari moves into the final four, where she will face No.4 seed Karolina Pliskova, who overcame wild card Victoria Azarenka in their quarterfinal encounter earlier on Friday. Sakkari and Pliskova have only played once before -- in Rome one year ago, where Sakkari won a dramatic match 7-5 in the final set.
"I'm sure it's going to be a very, very tough match," Sakkari said. "[Pliskova is] going to be up for it. Of course, we both want to be in the final. I'm just looking forward for the match."
Sakkari started off the match like gangbusters, dominating off the ground, particularly with the backhand, to open up a 3-0 lead. A poor service game, which she lost at love, allowed Mladenovic back on serve, but the Greek grinded her way to another break, clinching a 5-3 lead on her fourth break point of the game.
Sakkari, however, was unable to serve out the set, as Mladenovic began to find the range on her forehand, and the Frenchwoman broke to get back on serve at 5-4. Mladenovic then fell behind 0-30 on her own serve, but Sakkari missed an overhead long which would have given her triple set point, and Mladenovic went on to hold for 5-5.
Mladenovic continued to improve from that juncture, converting a break point with a backhand passing shot to clinch her first lead of the set at 6-5. The Frenchwoman stayed sturdy when serving for the set, and completed her comeback after a wide forehand miscue by Sakkari ceded the one-set lead to Mladenovic.
Mladenovic kept the momentum to start the second set, acing Sakkari to hold for 1-1, then using deft dropshots to break the Greek for 2-1. Sakkari, though, was unfazed, and broke back for 2-2 with a backhand return winner, after Mladenovic held two game points for a 3-1 lead.
The pendulum swung back to Sakkari at this point, as the Greek player went up a break at 4-2, as errors started to creep into Mladenovic’s game with more regularity. A hold for 5-2 put Sakkari on the precipice of evening the match, and two games later, the Greek closed out the second set with a love hold, polishing it off with a backhand winner off a Mladenovic dropshot.
The Greek player started off the deciding set with a bang, breaking Mladenovic in the first game with a return winner. Sakkari continued her run by getting through a deuce service game with back-to-back aces to reach 2-0, then broke Mladenovic again for 3-0 as the Frenchwoman fell into a flurry of errors.
There was no stopping Sakkari after that, and she won 12 of the final 15 points of the match to collect the bagel decider and become the first qualifier to reach the semifinals in Rome since Daria Gavrilova pulled off the feat in 2015.