Russia's Svetlana Kuznetsova ended Jelena Jankovic's two-year reign as champion by beating the Serbian 6-1 7-6 in the quarter-finals of the Italian Open on Thursday.
World number one Dinara Safina kept alive hopes of setting up an all-Russian final when she survived another scare to reach the last four with a 4-6 6-3 6-0 win over Spain's Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez.
Before facing Kuznetsova, however, she will have to navigate past American Venus Williams, who overwhelmed Polish 10th seed Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1 6-2 inside 70 minutes.
Jankovic, who defeated Kuznetsova in the 2007 final for the first of her two Rome titles, could find no answer to the venom in her seventh-seeded opponent's forehands in the first set.
She fared better in the second set and twice fought back from break downs but Kuznetsova kept her nerve to seal victory in the tiebreak with a backhand winner.
"She was hitting the ball very, very well, deep and with a lot of power," Jankovic told a news conference.
"She didn't allow me to play my game, especially in the first set. She deserved to win. I wanted to win here three times in a row. Unfortunately it didn't happen... but it's not the end of world."
Former U.S. Open champion Kuznetsova, who captured last week's Stuttgart Grand Prix, will next face sixth seed Victoria Azarenka. The Belarussian beat Estonia's Kaia Kanepi 7-6 6-3 in a scrappy encounter.
Safina, who staged a remarkable fightback against China's Zheng Jie on Wednesday, showed guts again to come from 3-1 down in the second set after being outplayed in the first.
Sanchez, ranked 48, created problems for Safina from the start, mixing her game up with drop shots and crisp volleys.
The 23-year-old Russian seemed to be feeling the pressure and doubled faulted seven times in the first set.
After losing serve early in the second set, she collected her thoughts while having her foot strapped by the trainer and went on to save three break points to avoid going 4-1 down. From then on she was unstoppable.
"She's a tough opponent to play," Safina said. "There are not many players who play the ways she plays, so of course it's always difficult, especially because she's a lefty and volleys great and serves great. She could have won this match."
After being made to work hard by Russian Anna Chakvetadze and Czech Lucie Safarova this week, Venus was in no mood for another long encounter.
Radwanska, who knocked out French Open champion Ana Ivanovic in the third round, contributed to her exit with a sloppy display.
"Every match I'm improving, learning from my mistakes," Venus said. "I'll keep playing like today (against Safina)."