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The quarter-finals at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia have just the right mix of big stars, clay-court specialists and intriguing sub-plots
At least one unseeded player will make it through to the final four, with Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez taking on Lucie Safarova in the opening quarter-final on centre court beginning at 1 pm (CET). The Spaniard is a confirmed clay-courter – slicing and dicing, moving her opponents hither and thither like unwitting pawns in a chess game. No.2 seed Caroline Wozniacki was the latest to come a cropper – for the third time in as many matches against Martinez Sanchez – when she totally failed to come to terms with her opponent’s slow-court savvy and flighted variations in their third round tie on Wednesday.
Safarova however may well be a different proposition. When she is on form – and victories over Olga Govortsova, No.13 Flavia Pennetta and No.8 Agnieszka Radwanska would suggest that she clearly is – she has the strength, accuracy and variety to trouble anyone. She also defeated ‘MJMS’ in the first round in Miami and the two have each won one match against the other on clay. Fans would do well to arrive early on Thursday as an intriguing tie awaits them.
A wild card has also made it through to the quarter-finals, but this one is a special case “Serena Williams. “Right now I was supposed to be at the Met Ball in New York with Anna Wintour (editor in chief of American Vogue) and Oprah Winfrey,” lamented the world No.1. “I had a fabulous gown that I was going to wear, and after that I was going to go to the Time 100 as I was chosen as one of the 100 most influential people last year. Unfortunately,” she continued, before correcting herself, “Fortunately I said “I’m going to try to play Rome,’ and so I skipped Oprah and Anna Wintour and it hurt my soul because I wanted to really be there but this is my career and I really needed the extra match. But I’m very sad,” she grinned with her trademark mischievous humour.
While she should have enough strength and accuracy to get past Maria Kirilenko, her sister Venus may find it more difficult against two-time Rome champion Jelena Jankovic, who took less than an hour to dismiss the challenge of No.11 seed and rising star Yanina Wickmayer on Wednesday. “We are five-all,” said the 2007 and 2008 title-winner of their head-to-head record before pointing out: “I’ve had wins against her on clay and actually I played against her here in the quarterfinals in 2008.” A 5-7, 6-2, 6-3 win was the result, one of three wins in four meetings on the red dirt for the Serb.
That tie will be the marquee match-up in the night session at 8.30 pm CET, before which the incredible Ana Ivanovic show will have had another episode. After two years in the wilderness, she has defeated Elena Vesnina, No.9 Vika Azarenka and No.6 Elena Dementieva in successive days, serving well in the main and returning with the kind of punchy forehands and straight-as-an-arrow backhands which saw her win a Grand Slam on clay less than two years ago. While Nadia Petrova is a solid opponent on red brick, Ana seems to have taken a liking to players from (Bela-)Russia this week and will surely start as favourite.