Madison Keys will face Serena Williams in the Italian Open final after emerging victorious against Garbine Muguruza, winning 7-6(5) 6-4 in a rain affected day in Rome to move into her third career final. Serena Williams advanced to the final after ending Irina Begu's remarkable run as she breezed past the Romanian 6-4 6-1.
After a strong week, Keys went into the match as an underdog against clay specialist Muguruza. It was Keys who was to initially edge ahead as she broke the Spaniard to take a 3-1 lead, however it was shortlived as Muguruza broke straight back to level the set. With no more breaks in the set it went down to a tie-break. In an unusual tie-break which saw seven points dropped on serve, it was the 21 year old American who would take the initiative as she won the tie-break 7-5 to seize the advantage heading into the second set. The second set went in large in the way of the server until 3-3 where Keys would again break. This time she went on to consolidate her break before serving out the match to advance into the final.
The second semi-final of the day saw a resurgent Serena Williams face the unlikely lady, Irina Begu. The latter had seen some great wins already this week, beating Victoria Azarenka and Daria Kasatkina. Having not dropped a set all week, many were touting the Romanian to surprise Williams. These hopes appeared to be dashed early on as Williams broke to go into a 3-1 lead before quickly handing the break straight back. Both players would go on to exchange another break each before it was down to Begu to serve to remain in the set. Williams however broke in the vital game to take the first set. This appeared to kill Begu's motivation and fire up Williams as the world number one, despite being broken in the first game of the second set reeled off six games in a row to seal the win and end Begu's run.
A textbook Serena win?
Heading into Rome, neither Williams or Keys were in the best of form and both will be largely encouraged by their showings this week. They have faced each other twice, with both encounters coming last year in 2015 and both coming in Grand Slams with Williams being the victor in straight sets in the Australian Open semi-final and the US Open round of 16. Williams will no doubt be the strong favourite heading into the match as Keys looks to spring a surprise after looking more than comfortable on the red clay this week.