ROME – World number one Simona Halep will face Elina Svitolina in a repeat of last year’s Italian Open final after recovering from a set down to beat Russian Maria Sharapova 4-6 6-1 6-4 in Rome on Saturday.
Defending champion Svitolina put in a clinical performance earlier in the day to beat unseeded Estonian Anett Kontaveit 6-4 6-3 in the other semi-final.
Halep and Sharapova both made nervy starts, with neither able to hold serve until the seventh game, when the Russian finally managed to get her nose in front.
That proved to be the only hold of the first set, with Sharapova relinquishing her serve once more either side of breaking Halep to clinch the opener.
The Romanian came out stronger at the start of the second set, breaking Sharapova in the first game before holding service for the first time in the match to go 2-0 up.
She saved break points to extend her lead to 3-1 and then 5-1 before levelling the match.
Both players exchanged breaks again at the start of the decider, before Halep held to go 2-1 up.
Sharapova surrendered a 30-0 lead on serve to allow Halep to extend her advantage to 3-1 before breaking back to reduce the deficit, but the Russian, who made 42 unforced errors and nine double faults, was unable to find a rhythm.
The pair exchanged breaks again before Sharapova finally held to tie things up at 4-4.
But Halep chose the right moment to turn in her most impressive service game, holding to love before breaking Sharapova for the 11th time to reach the final.
Earlier in the day, Ukrainian fourth seed Svitolina struck at key moments against Kontaveit in a display that bodes well for her chances at the French Open later this month.
Twenty-two-year-old Kontaveit offered stiff resistance, hitting 24 winners to Svitolina’s 18, but her opponent converted four of her five break-point opportunities while making seven fewer unforced errors in a contest of tight margins.
Svitolina started well, breaking early in the first set to go 2-0 up, but Kontaveit held her nerve to take the next three games and edge in front.
Svitolina responded well, though, and took the opener.
With Svitolina’s speed proving decisive, Kontaveit was forced to mix things up, but the baseliner’s touch deserted her at times in the second set, allowing the speedy Ukrainian to run down a couple of poorly disguised drop shots.
The world number four took an early break in the second set for a 2-1 lead, and went on to take the match on her opponent’s serve, converting her second match point with a deep forehand that left Kontaveit flailing.