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Romania's Simona Halep is a two-time Rome runner-up

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Defending champion Pliskova through, Halep meets Muguruza in Rome semis

Czech Karolina Pliskova remains on track to defend her Italian Open title. © POOL/AFP / Riccardo Antimiani

Rome, Italy, Sep 19 – Top seed Simona Halep and defending champion Karolina Pliskova both coasted into the semi-finals of the Italian Open on Saturday, finding their feet on clay before Roland Garros.

Second seed Pliskova beat Belgian 11th seed Elise Mertens 6-3, 3-6, 6-0, with Halep advancing after Kazakh rival Yulia Putintseva retired while trailing 6-2, 2-0.

“I don’t know which year it can be. For sure there is a chance,” said Pliskova, a former French Open semi-finalist, of winning Roland Garros this year.

“I think definitely it was maybe one of the best matches this season, but it’s not so difficult because there was not many matches.

“I felt great. Especially the first set I think was maybe one of my best sets what I have played on clay ever.”

Garbine Murguruza ended the run of US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka 3-6, 6-3, 6-4, as two-time winner Elina Svitolina fell 6-3, 6-0 to Marketa Vondrousova.

Halep and Muguruza will meet for a place in the final, a battle of former French Open champions.

Pliskova next plays Vondrousova, last year’s French Open runner-up, having beaten her fellow Czech in their last clash at the Miami Masters last year.

“She’s a strong opponent who can play quite an ugly game on clay,” said former world number one Pliskova.

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“It’s semi-finals, still kind of preparation for Paris. If I play like today I think I should not be worried.”

For Halep — the 2018 French Open winner — it will be a fifth semi-final in Rome

The world number two dominated before 30th-ranked Putintseva withdrew after 45 minutes citing a lower back injury.

“It’s a big challenge,” said Halep of meeting Murguruza, the 2016 French Open winner, who like the Romanian also won Wimbledon.

“Muguruza, she feels really good on clay court and here, as well.”

Muguruza leads Halep 5-2 in previous meetings but both the Romanian’s wins were on clay.

Romania’s Simona Halep is a two-time Rome runner-up © POOL/AFP / Angelo Carconi

Ninth seed Muguruza has reached the semi-finals in Rome three times, but the Spaniard has never advanced to the finals.

Halep has twice finished runner-up in Rome in 2017 and 2018 to Svitolina, and “really wants to win” the tournament.

“It’s one of the biggest goals now,” she said.

Halep skipped the US hard court tour because of coronavirus concerns, but has extended her winning streak this season to 12 consecutive victories.

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She won the Dubai title in February, before the coronavirus lockdown, coming back to claim victory in Prague last month.

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