Rome: Top seed and defending champion Serena Williams set up a semi-final against fourth seed Amelie Mauresmo at the Rome Masters after beating four-times winner Conchita Martinez 7-5, 6-2 on Friday.
Second seeded Belgian Kim Clijsters defeated Russia’s Anastasia Myskina 6-2, 6-2 to set up a date with Ai Sugiyama in the second semi-final. The 13th-seeded Japanese overcame Slovenian Tina Pisnik 6-1, 6-3.
Martinez — who dominated the clay court tournament between 1993 and 1996 — had not taken a set off the world number one in four previous meetings and, briefly, it seemed a surprise might be on the cards.
The Spaniard broke serve in the fourth game of the match, cleverly taking the pace off Williams’ heavy groundstrokes and varying the pace and spin of her own.
The American found her rhythm to break back immediately before profiting from a string of unforced errors by Martinez to break again in the 11th game and claim the first set.
The second set was a more straightforward affair. As the Spaniard tired, Williams broke in the third and fifth games to advance to a last four meeting with France’s Mauresmo, who defeated fifth seed Jennifer Capriati 6-3, 7-6 (12-10).
Normally quite a slow starter, Mauresmo was quickest off the mark and broke Capriati early to race into a commanding 3-0 lead.
A runner-up here in 2000 and 2001, the 23-year-old Frenchwoman held on to her advantage and wrapped up a solid first set in half an hour in which she hit 10 winners.
After a break apiece in the second set, Mauresmo squandered a 40-0 lead at 5-4 to give Capriati two set points, but saved both to draw level in a gripping match.
Mauresmo cashed in on a string of unforced errors to break Capriati again, but the 27-year-old New Yorker showed her fighting spirit to hit back and force the tiebreak.
Choosing to attack from the baseline and rarely coming on to the net, Mauresmo saved two set points before shaking off the three-time Grand Slam winner.