INDIAN HARBOUR BEACH - Vilmarie Castellvi is no stranger to three-set matches.
In fact, they've practically become her calling card at the MIMA Foundation/USTA Tennis Classic at the Kiwi Tennis Club, though not exactly by choice.
"Somehow, I always make it tough for myself," the 25-year-old said Friday after reaching the semifinals with a 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 victory against Lenka Tvaroskova.
Castellvi, the No. 8 seed, will play Romania's Edina Gallovits today at 3 p.m. for a spot in the final. Gallovits rallied past No. 7 Clarisa Fernandez 0-6, 6-1, 6-4.
The other semifinal will pit No. 3 seed Nicole Pratt against Rossana De Los Rios at 5:30 p.m. Pratt knocked off Brenda Schultz-McCarthy 6-3, 6-2 in a battle of tour veterans while De Los Rios beat Czechoslovakia's Eva Hrdinova 6-4, 2-6, 6-2.
The winningest player in the history of the University of Tennessee, and the NCAA's No. 1 woman player in 2003, Castellvi came from a set down to beat Lauren Albanese in the first round, then topped Marie-Eve Pelletier 6-3, 0-6, 6-4.
Friday, the Puerto Rican native rallied from a 4-1 first set deficit to take the first set from Tvaroskova, but struggled in the second.
"I think it's focus, more than anything," Castellvi said. "It took a lot for me to get that (first) set, because she was playing pretty well and I was making a lot of mistakes. I put a lot of effort into it, and I think it started to affect me because there were a couple of games that were really tough. For me to get through them took a lot out of me again, and my focus . . . I just let it go and I shouldn't have.
"I need to hold onto it. I can't just let my focus drift. That's something I need to work on in the next couple of matches."
Tvaroskova can really whack it from the baseline, but she was eventually done in by a number of cross-court forehands. Castellvi had been working the Tvaroskova backhand for most of the first two sets, but began to mix it up in the third set, and that helped open up the court.
"The deeper I hit it, the better she hit it, so I just started hitting shorter and shorter," Castellvi said. "I was trying to use more angles and just trying to use the whole court, instead of just the baseline."
Pratt faced Schultz-McCarthy in the most-anticipated quarterfinal of the day, but the Australian played a solid match and took advantage of what Schultz-McCarthy believed to be a strained stomach muscle.
"It was kind of a strange match, really," Pratt said. "It was sort of what I expected. For me, I just felt she took me out of my rhythm. That was her game, to keep the points short, rather than have longer rallies, because I think the advantage was with me any time.
"My strategy went to plan. I was going to make her hit a lot of balls early in the match."
Schultz-McCarthy, who didn't play from 2000-2004 because of back problems, said she began to feel a slight discomfort in her stomach on Wednesday, and the condition became worse on Thursday when she was leading 4-3 in the second set of her match against Tara Snyder.
It got so bad Friday that she had to serve underhand several times.
"I changed my serve a little bit to not hurt my back, because that's why I was out for six years," Schultz-McCarthy said. "I must have strained it a little bit, and then I started forcing it because I didn't want to default. The last thing I wanted to do was go that route.
"The groundstrokes, I was fine. I could run. I could do anything. I just couldn't do an overhead or a serve."
That should take nothing away from Pratt, who now has won five matches in a row, including two in Fed Cup competition.
"I sort of expected to get to the semifinals here, but to actually do it is a good feeling," Pratt said. "It gives me a lot of confidence."
Pratt will face De Los Rios, who sustained a left hip injury during the first set of her match with Hrdinova. The only Paraguayan player to win a match at the Olympics didn't think the injury would keep her from playing in the semifinals, and she certainly looked good in defeating the hard-hitting Hrdinova.
"She played very hard," De Los Rios said. "She has a very good serve and a very good forehand. I tried to mix (it up) a little bit, like slice and drop shots to open the court."
After losing the opening set against Fernandez, Gallovits -- playing on Court 3 for the first time -- settled into her match and turned the tables. A Fernandez double-fault gave Gallovits a break for a 5-4 lead in the third set and she closed it out.
"I just started to play a little more aggressive," the 21-year-old said. "I was just pushing in the beginning. It took me a while to get used to being on this side of the court. I always played in the back. Here it's a little more . . . loud."