Having already run through Daniela Hantuchova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Agnieszka Radwanska, and Roberta Vinci--today, qualifier Simona Halep advanced to the Rome semifinals by taking out two-time Rome champion Jelena Jankoavic.
Oh, the drama.
Halep played quite well in the first set, and saved two set points, but was outdone, 6-4, by Jankovic. And then she went all crazy on JJ the way she had on Radwanska earlier in the week, winning every game in the second set. That was pretty dramatic in itself; Halep threw every clay court trick known in Romania (and that's quite a few) at Jankovic.
But in the third set, Jankovic went up 3-0, 40-15, and looked like she was on her way to yet another Rome semifinal, but Halep fought back, then fought back some more, breaking her opponent twice. Eventually, the Romanian player would resemble a determined and clever gnat that could not be swatted away, and Jankovic's swat would become less and less effective. Though Halep's serve (the only weakness she displayed in this match) provided multiple opportunities for Jankovic to get the whole thing over with, the Serbian star was tapping forehands over the net instead of hitting winners.
Then, finally, Jankovic served for the match. She held two match points. Halep saved them both. Halep then held, and suddenly, she had two match points on Jankovic's serve.
It was almost over, but the player known by many as Drama Queen (or, in some parts, Queen Chaos)--after muttering and gesturing her way through two sets--had one last performance to deliver. At 5-6, 15-40, she smashed a ball deep into the deuce court, and it was called out by a line official. Play was stopped, as the chair umpire went to check the line. She quickly the declared the ball in, and Jankovic assumed she had hit a winner and saved a match point, but the chair umpire called for a replay.
Jankovic argued with the umpire, then hung her head--indeed, slumped her entire body--over the net in frustration. Halep would go on to win the final set 7-5.
This is the third time that Jankovic and Halep have played one another. All of their matches have gone to three sets, and Halep has won both matches played on clay.
Halep's very impressive journey to the semifinals is reminiscent of other recent big, unexpected, clay tournament runs. Aravane Rezai won Madrid in 2010, taking out Justine Henin, Jankovic and Venus Williams, among others. That same year, Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez claimed the Rome title, defeating Jankovic 7-5, 7-6 in the final with a series of expert drop shots that repeatedly stunned the (fast-moving) defending champion. Martinez Sanchez's other victims included Francesca Schiavone (who would go on to win the French Open that year), Caroline Wozniacki and Ana Ivanovic. The result was probably a particularly bitter pill for Jankovic to swallow because she had defeated both Williams sisters on her way to the final.
And speaking of Williams sisters--world number 1 Serena Williams will be Halep's next opponent. Halep, a qualifier, has already played six matches.