Former world number two Simona Halep continues her excellent run of form on the red dirt. The Romanian successfully defended her title at the Mutua Madrid Open last week, and she is currently on a nine-match winning streak. Historically, after a good run at the Caja Magica, Halep has lost early at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia. Nonetheless, Halep will be competing in her third successive semifinal on clay, and she heads into the French Open as the firm favourite. However, the second Grand Slam tournament of the year is wide open, but it is a golden opportunity for Halep to win her first Slam title with Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova all absent from the event.
Halep's semifinal encounter at the Foro Italico will be against 15th seed Kiki Bertens. The Dutchwoman has moved through the draw quietly, and she is no pushover on clay. The powerful player from the Netherlands was a semifinalist at Roland Garros last year, backing up her first round victory over Angelique Kerber in Paris, perfectly. Bertens has had mixed results in 2017 with a whole host of early exits but her form has turned around in Madrid when she reached her first Premier Mandatory quarterfinal but lost to last year's US Open quarterfinalist Anastasija Sevastova in straight sets.
Last year's French Open semifinalist is expecting a tough battle with the in-form Romanian. "She's a great player, and she showed that last week in Madrid and already in the last few years. I haven't played her in a while, though, but I know she's in great shape and playing with confidence.
"It's going to be a tough match, but I'm ready for it, ready for a big fight. The key is just to try to stay aggressive and really keep believing in my shots. That will be the key against Simona tomorrow."
Halep's route to the semifinals
The 2014 French Open finalist would have been pleased to have received a bye into the second round. However, she had a tough first match in Rome with Porsche Tennis Grand Prix champion Laura Siegemund. The German got the better of Halep in their last two encounters. The tables turned and the former world number two dispatched Siegemund, 6-4, 6-4 to reach the third round. Halep had a tough three-set tussle with 12th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who also is in a rich vein of form. The Russian won back-to-back titles in Monterrey and Rabat with the latter being a clay court title. Halep weathered the storm, defeating Pavlyuchenkova, 6-1, 4-6, 6-0 to reach her third quarterfinals at the Foro Italico. The Romanian dispatched Estonian qualifier Anett Kontaveit, 6-2, 6-4, who upset world number one Angelique Kerber in the first round to reach her third semifinal in five years at the Premier 5 event.
Bertens' route to the semifinals
The world number 20 had to recover from a set down to defeat Halep's compatriot Monica Niculescu in the first round. It was a good victory for the 25-year-old, who claimed victory, 2-6, 6-2, 6-1. From that match, Bertens has not dropped a set, throughout the tournament and defeated players that she should be beating. She recorded an impressive, 6-4, 6-0 victory over American qualifier Catherine Bellis, and she defeated two-time Grand Slam semifinalist Ekaterina Makarova, 7-6 (3), 6-1 to reach the quarterfinals at a Premier 5 event for the first time. The 25-year-old thrashed 2015 semifinalist Daria Gavrilova, 6-3, 6-3 to book her place in the semifinals.
The two players have met on the main WTA tour twice and once on the ITF Tour, and Halep leads their head-to-head 2-1. The 15th seed won their first meeting on the ITF Tour in Belgium in 2010 in straight sets, and Bertens won their solitary clay court meeting in Fes in 2012, 6-3, 6-4. However, the sixth seed won their most significant meeting in the third round of Wimbledon last year. The former French Open finalist defeated the hard-hitting Dutchwoman, 6-4, 6-3 to reach the fourth round at SW19.
Who advances to the final?
The sixth seed is playing with so much confidence right now and she will be incredibly hard to beat. Halep's serve isn't the strongest but her movement and forehand on this surface is world class. The world number five excels in long rallies, whereas, Bertens will be hoping to shorten the points. The former world number two is an aggressive baseliner, where she will be looking to dictate play from. Expect there to be crosscourt and down-the-line winners from the Romanian against the 15th seed. Bertens has a big serve, which works well on clay, and she has good movement around the court like Halep. Last year's French Open semifinalist also comes to the net, as she is an established doubles player with regular partner Johanna Larsson, and she will look to be aggressive and use her blistering forehand to perfection in this match. It could be a close opening set but expect the Romanian to win this match comfortably and secure her tenth successive victory on clay.
This will be a tough semifinal encounter for both experienced clay court players, and it is the first match of the day, scheduled at 12pm local time on Campo Centrale, and the winner of this match will play Garbine Muguruza or Elina Svitoliva in the final.
Prediction: Halep in straight sets.