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IBI21: WTA FRIDAY RECAP

Due to rain, Elina Svitolina and Iga Swiatek will take on the court for the remaining quarterfinal tomorrow. But the line up of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia 2021 on the WTA tournament has almost been fully decided today. Sadly, the World number one, Ashleigh Barty, was forced to retire due to a right arm injury, putting an early end to a thrilling match she was playing against Coco Gauff. Karolina Pliskova saved three match points to defeat Jelena Ostapenko and return to the third consecutive Rome semis, while it will be the first ever for Petra Martic.

The Croat showed great confidence to defeat hot-form Jessica Pegula in straight sets, 7-5 6-4. This would not mean much at any other time, but it is something fundamental for Martic, who is coming from a very difficult time in her career.

End of last year, I was winning matches, but I wasn’t happy with my game already then”, admitted the 30-year-old who arrived in Rome on a negative streak of 5 consecutive losses: “I couldn’t find the confidence in my shots, and then I lose the picture of how I should play tennis overall. Like once you get insecure out there, things just start rolling downhill really quickly”.

(foto Adelchi Fioriti)

Then, she crossed paths with former Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone and started finding her balance again this week: “Once I got Francesca onboard, I really, like, that was one of the first things I told her, like, I just need to find confidence in my shots, and then it’s gonna start rolling. We really just worked on the basics, because then once I’m confident from the baseline, then the net game is gonna work, my serve is gonna come, things around are gonna be okay. I really feel like I’m getting more and more confidence with each second that I spend on the court”.

And confidence was the key for her victory today against an opponent who did not give up any rally and forced her to defend and counter-attack continuously, so that the match was decided on a few shots.

Her next rival, Karolina Pliskova, also came to the Foro Italico looking for her confidence after a very difficult start of 2021. Last year’s finalist struggled in each match this week, but something seemed different from the past weeks in her attitude and wins started to rack up. In her quarterfinal, she had to find her best composure to resist and accept the stormy tennis of Jelena Ostapenko, who rarely lets anyone else dictate the faith of rallies. The Latvian started the match painting the lines with her baseline shots, just to start missing and then hitting them again. Pliskova, slowly, started to be more than a spectator of such show and her serve and return put pressure on her rival.

Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia hits a backhand to Karolina Pliskova (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

From the middle of the second set, the quality of the match improved and once Pliskova took it to even it out on 4-6 7-5, the drama also went up. Ostapenko started to go for even riskier shots with alternating luck, while Pliskova had troubles with her serve, so much that in a game with two consecutive double faults, she had to face three match points. The 2017 Roland Garros champion almost had it, but once her third chance was gone, she dropped her focus completely and surrendered the final tiebreak with a handful unforced errors 7-1.

Then, rain came and this did not help world number one Barty. The Australian engaged on a physical and tactical battle with young rising star Coco Gauff, coming back from an early break before the fist suspension. Upon resuming, Barty easily wrapped the first set to her favour, but something was bothering her and she called it on 6-4 2-1 in her favour.

Coco and I, we were accepting of the situation”, commented the Aussie about the rainy conditions: “it’s unfortunate that I wasn’t able to finish the match. It was important that I listen to my body and make sure that, know that I can be fit for Roland Garros”.

ROME, ITALY – MAY 14: Ashleigh Barty of Australia chats to the trainer before retiring hurt while playing Coco Gauff of the USA (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

The arm issue that forced her to stop is something that she has known and dealt with for many years, but that did not make it easier to call it quit: “it became worse while we were playing. So I think that’s the challenging thing is to make the decision to stop. It’s never nice. It’s the thing that I hate the most is not being able to finish a tennis match”.

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