WTA Rome semifinal preview: Garbiñe Muguruza vs Elina Svitolina

French Open champion Garbiñe Muguruza is hitting form at the right time at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia in Rome. The Spaniard lost in the first round of the Mutua Madrid Open last week to former French Open semifinalist Timea Bacsinszky. However, Muguruza has always struggled at the Caja Magica due to the conditions being at altitude. Nevertheless, Muguruza will be competing in just her second semifinal of the year. She lost in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open to Coco Vandeweghe. Karolina Pliskova got the better of Muguruza in the quarterfinals in Indian Wells. On the other hand, the French Open champion was always going to be judged throughout the clay court season, ahead of her title defense next week at Roland Garros. The former world number two is appearing in her second consecutive semifinal at the Foro Italico, and it was a catalyst for her French Open triumph. Muguruza is searching for her seventh WTA career final, whilst Svitolina is gunning for her tenth and fourth of the year.

The Spaniard would love to reach her first final in almost a year since that final in Paris. She is one match away from achieving that but she is up against, eighth seed Elina Svitolina. The hard-hitting Ukrainian's game is suited to all three surfaces, and she isn't a slouch on clay either. Svitolina advanced to the quarterfinals of the French Open two years ago and lost to Serena Williams in the fourth round last year. The eighth seed is one of the form players in 2017 as she came into Rome with a healthy 26-6 win-loss record with three titles under the belt. The 22-year-old defeated Peng Shuai in the final of Taiwan, and she won the biggest title of her career at the Premier 5 event in Dubai, defeating world number one Angelique Kerber, and former world number one Caroline Wozniacki back-to-back. Svitolina's third and most recent title was at the Istanbul Cup, defeating Elise Mertens in the final. This semifinal encounter between the two young players in their early 20's should be a thriller.

Muguruza's path to the semifinals

Last year's semifinalist received a bye into the second round as one of the top eight seeded players, who are granted with that privilege. However, Muguruza had a tough first match with former top 35 player Jelena Ostapenko. The former world number two had to recover from a set down to defeat the Latvian qualifier, 2-6, 6-2, 6-1 to reach the third round. Muguruza was impressive in her next outing against Julia Goerges, although she saved multiple break points, and trailed 1-4 in the second set. She won the match in straight sets, 7-5, 6-4 to reach the quarterfinals for the second year in a row in the Eternal City. The French Open champion had a mouthwatering clash with 1999 champion and ninth seed Venus Williams in the quarterfinals. Williams was unbeaten against Muguruza with a 3-0 record, however, the Spaniard recorded her very first victory over the seven-time Slam champion and she needed three sets to defeat the American, 6-2, 3-6, 6-2 to reach her second successive semifinal on the clay courts in Rome.

Muguruza has been impressive all week and will be hoping to reach a final for the first time in almost a year (Photo by Tiziana Fabi / Getty)
Muguruza has been impressive all week and will be hoping to reach a final for the first time in almost a year (Photo by Tiziana Fabi / Getty)

Svitolina's path to the semifinals

The Ukranian also had an early exit at the Caja Magica, and she received a bye into the second round. She was up against France's Alize Cornet in the second round, a player who she beat in Paris a couple of years ago to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal. The eighth seed was victorious, 6-4, 7-6 (11) to reach the third round in Rome for the first time. Svitolina's third round victory over Mona Barthel was awe-inspiring. Svitolina dropped the first set but won 12 games in succession to win the match, 3-6, 6-0, 6-0, advancing to her first Premier 5 quarterfinal on clay. The eighth seed had a quarterfinal encounter with second seed Karolina Pliskova, who naturally struggles on clay. Nonetheless, the Ukranian dispatched the Czech, 6-2, 7-6 (9), saving three set points in the process to reach the semifinals in Rome.

Breakdown of their rivalry

Muguruza and Svitolina have done battle on five occasions, and the French Open champion has a slight advantage leading 3-2. The third seed won their first two significant meetings in the second round of qualifying at the French Open in 2012, 6-1, 7-5. Once again, they would meet in qualifying in the first round of Wimbledon in 2012, which the future finalist would win, 6-3, 6-0. However, Svitolina won their first two encounters on the main WTA tour in the third round in Dubai, 7-6 (3), 6-3 and in the quarterfinals of Tokyo in three sets, both victories coming last year. They would meet for the third time on the main WTA tour in the fourth round of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells. The Spaniard recorded an impressive, 7-6 (5), 1-6, 6-0 victory over Svitolina, snapping her 13-match winning streak in the process.

The eighth seed returns to the top 10 with her victory over Pliskova and has already won a title on clay in 2017 (Source: NurPhoto)
The eighth seed returns to the top 10 with her victory over Pliskova and has already won a title on clay in 2017 (Source: NurPhoto)

Who advances to the final?

Both players have come through tough matches at the Foro Italico, and both have surrendered sets. However, Muguruza needs this victory more than Svitolina, as she needs to be reaching the latter stages of bigger tournaments more often. The Spaniard will be looking to utilize her big serve, and scintillating backhand, even though her movement is the weakest aspect of her game but she maneuvers exceptionally well on clay. The eighth seed has very good movement as well, and she will track down a lot of balls, and make it very hard for the Spaniard to get winners easily. Furthermore, she will look to get Muguruza in uncomfortable positions and dominate baseline rallies. 

This semifinal clash is evenly poised but Muguruza is the slight favorite to win this match. The French Open champion will be looking to reach a final, ahead of her title defense at Roland Garros, and a victory over Svitolina would be welcoming. This is the fourth match scheduled on Campo Centrale at not before 5pm local time, and the winner will face the in-form Mutua Madrid Open champion Simona Halep or 15th seed Kiki Bertens in the final.

Prediction: Muguruza in three sets.