Former world number one Venus Williams has been having a scintillating 2017 campaign. The ninth-seeded American reached the final of the Australian Open for the first time since 2003, and once again she lost to her sister Serena. Wiliams also advanced to the quarterfinals and semifinals of Indian Wells and Miami respectively. She lost to Elena Vesnina in the Californian Desert and to Johanna Konta in Miami, and both players went on to win those titles. She returns to the Internazionali BNL d'Italia looking to win her second title at the Foro Italico after winning her first in 1999.
Williams' quarterfinal opponent in the Eternal City will be none other than the reigning French Open champion Garbiñe Muguruza. The third seed has had mixed results in 2017. The Spaniard advanced to the quarterfinals in Melbourne for the first time, but she lost to Williams' compatriot Coco Vandeweghe. The world number seven's results at the North American Premier Mandatory events were respectable. She lost to Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals in Indian Wells and she retired after losing the first set in her fourth round encounter with Caroline Wozniacki in Miami. However, Muguruza is back on her favourite clay courts and will be hoping to go on another good run in Rome, where she reached the semifinals, and it was a catalyst for her French Open title triumph.
Williams' route to the quarterfinals
The seven-time Grand Slam singles champion has been clinical throughout in Rome, en route to the quarterfinals. Williams began her campaign at the Premier 5 event against 2012 French Open quarterfinalist Yaroslava Shvedova. That could have been a potential banana skin for the ninth seed but Shvedova has been struggling for form in 2017. Nevertheless, it was a close 6-4, 7-6 (4) for Williams, and she had an easier time against Lesia Tsurenko in the second round, dispatching the Ukranian, 6-4, 6-3. The 2002 French Open runner-up's third round encounter was against Miami Open champion Johanna Konta. The fifth seed had a three-match winning streak against Williams, however, the Brit isn't comfortable on clay. Furthermore, the American snapped her three-match losing run against Konta, advancing to the quarterfinals in Rome for the first time since 2012 with a 6-1, 3-6, 6-1 scoreline.
Muguruza's route to the quarterfinals
The third seed struggled to win matches last season which she was behind or threw them away when she was ahead. However, Muguruza's fighting qualities this year have been a lot better. There have been some matches which the French Open champion would have lost last year but has stopped that from happening regularly this year. The former world number two received a bye in the first round, and she had a second round clash with Latvian qualifier Jelena Ostapenko. The Spaniard looked down and out in the match but she was thrashed in the opening set, however, last year's semifinalist fought back to win, 2-6, 6-2, 6-1. She lost in the first round in Madrid to Timea Bacsinszky, and her victory over Ostapenko was her first win on clay in nearly a year, after raising the French Open title last June. Once again, Muguruza saved break points in the opening set and she was 1-4 down in the second set against Julia Goerges in the third round. However, the third seed fought back to reel off five consecutive games to record a straight sets victory over the German, 7-5, 6-4 to reach a second successive quarterfinal in Rome.
Breakdown of their rivalry
The two Grand Slam champions have met on three occasions, and the 1999 champion has never lost to Muguruza. All three of their encounters have taken place on hard courts. Their first clash was a three-set thriller in the round of 16 in Florianopolis, Brazil back in 2013. Williams edged the former world number two, 6-4, 2-6, 7-5 to reach the quarterfinals. Their next meeting was in the quarterfinals in Auckland in 2014 with the American cruising past Muguruza, 6-3, 6-3. Their most recent clash was in the final of Wuhan and after the former world number one won the first set 6-3, Muguruza retired in the second set, back in 2015.
Who advances to the semifinals?
The French Open champion will be the slight favourite in this match as she is better than Williams on clay. However, the former world number one isn't a slouch on this surface. Both players have big first serves, and they are both prone to serving double faults. They have both played a lack of clay court matches in 2017 but come into this quarterfinal clash with some form. Williams will look to serve to Muguruza's backhand as her forehand is a stronger weapon, also the American will try to throw in some slices and drop shots to make Muguruza run. The Spaniard is tall and will be able to retrieve the former champion's big serve. Both players will fancy their chances at the French Open with Serena, Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova all absent. This year's edition at Roland Garros is wide open. Muguruza may have never beaten Williams in the past but on clay, the French Open champion should win this clash and book her place in the semifinals.
This will be the fourth match scheduled on Court Centrale at not before 7:30pm local time, and the winner of this match will face second seed Karolina Pliskova or eighth seed Elina Svitolina in the semifinals.
Prediction: Muguruza in three sets.