Falling victim to the quick transition from the slick fast hard courts of the US Open to the continental clay of Rome, No 15 seed Angelique Kerber was upset by Katerina Siniakova on Tuesday in straight sets, while Garbiñe Muguruza claimed the battle of Grand Slam champions against Sloane Stephens.
It was a very tough first round. I think I played well and I had the right game plan today against her. You never know how it’s going to go because it’s been a while since I’ve played, and it’s my first match on clay, and the conditions were difficult. Despite all of that, I still managed to play at a high level and stay solid throughout the match. Garbiñe Muguruza
Kerber was singularly dismissed by the unseeded Siniakova from the Czech Republic in 68 minutes, 6-3 6-1, in the first match on Court Pietrangeli.
Siniakova was in impressive form from the beginning, particularly on the backhand side, whereas the German was erratic, struggling with her movement as well as her consistency, and producing too many cheap errors.
Former doubles World No 1 Siniakova took the single break in the 6th game of the first set, which proved enough for the Czech to take the opener, and then 5 games in a row in the second to get into a commanding position.
Serving for the bagel, Siniakova was unable to convert triple match point and, for a brief moment, Kerber flickered into life, breaking for the first time with a forehand winner.
It wasn’t enough, though, as Siniakova carved up a 4th match point on Kerber’s serve, and sealed her victory as the 3-time major champion dumped another listless backhand into the net.
At the end of the day, the pair’s stats would be almost mirror images of each other, with Siniakova racking up 23 winners to only 12 unforced errors and Kerber finding 11 winners while leaking 23 unforced errors.
The win ended a run of 4 straight losses for the World No 61, who achieved her first win over the 32-year-old German in 4 meetings, and sets up a second round encounter against one of two former top 10 players, either qualifier Daria Kasatkina, dispatcher of wildcard Vera Zvonareva, 6-2 6-2.
Muguruza marches past Stephens
In a highly anticipated encounter between two skilled clay court champions, Spain’s Garbiñe Muguruza battled both American Sloane Stephens and the elements on Campo Centrale, 6-3 6-3, to make her passage into round two.
Stephens reached the second Grand Slam final of her career at Roland Garros in 2018, while Muguruza won the first of her two major titles in Paris in 2016.
“It was a very tough first round,” Muguruza said. “I think I played well and I had the right game plan today against her.
“You never know how it’s going to go because it’s been a while since I’ve played, and it’s my first match on clay, and the conditions were difficult.
“Despite all of that, I still managed to play at a high level and stay solid throughout the match.”
The Spaniard made a dream start to 2020 after teaming up with coach Conchita Martinez during the off-season, reaching the quarter-finals or better at her first 5 consecutive tournaments and capping it off with a run to the Australian Open final.
Muguruza returned to the clay courts looking to rebuild that momentum after recording a second-round exit at the US Open, her only tournament since the tour’s resumption.
Drawn against Stephens in the pair’s fourth career clash, Muguruza blasted 22 winners and broke Stephens 4 times to get the job done in straight sets, despite having to weather an hour-long rain delay between sets.
“It was unexpected, because I checked the weather and it seemed like it was okay,” Muguruza told press after the match. “But I just had to adapt. I knew I had a tough match against Sloane, she’s also a great player on clay.
“I’m just happy with my performance, since this is the third match I am able to play in a long time.”
Her victory sets up a second-round clash against another American as 16-year-old Coco Gauff awaits in the next match.
Gauff defeated Ons Jabeur in straight sets, 6-4 6-3, earlier in the day to claim her first career WTA main draw victory on clay.
“It’s a good match, I’ve never played against her,” Muguruza said. “I’m looking forward to playing as many matches as possible.
“She’s playing great and she’s having a big breakthrough, so I’m looking forward to it.”
Coco takes out Jabeur
After falling to former semi-finalist Anastasija Sevastova in one of the toughest first-round draws of the US Open, Coco Gauff was determined to get back on the court.
“Right now my plan is just to play as many tournaments as I can, to get matches under my belt,” she said after that loss two weeks ago and, on Tuesday, Gauff got back on winning track in impressive fashion.
The American teenager bounced back from a 4-2 deficit in the first set to take out Tunisia’s Ons Jabeur, one of the most in-form players on the tour this year, winning 10 of the next 13 games to win, 6-4 6-3.
“I’m definitely happy to get a win today, especially after a couple of tough losses back in New York. I’m just happy to be playing. I think Ons played great today,” Gauff told WTATennis.com afterwards. “I knew it was going to be tough, so to get a win over her on clay was really good.”
Tuesday’s match was Gauff’s first-ever tour-level match on clay, although she did qualifying at Roland Garros last year on the surface and she is former French Open junior champions, winning in 2018 while Jabeur took the title in 2011.
Gauff overcame 7 double faults in the 80-minute victory, and took advantage of 29 unforced errors from the Tunisian’s racket.
Trailing 4-2, at 30-30 on her serve, Gauff ran off 4 games in a row to steal the opening set, and ultimately won 7 of 8 games en route to building a set and a break lead.
“I think I was just trying to stay in the match and I knew I was able to come back whenever I needed to,” she said. “I was familiar with her game so I knew her tendencies, so I just tried to play towards her weaknesses using my strengths.
“I haven’t played on clay in over a year, but to be honest, I feel quite comfortable on clay.
“In my junior career, I had quite good results on clay and I go to Patrick Mouratoglou’s tennis academy a lot… I’m quite used to the red clay.”
Two other seeds progressed on Day 2, Czech 12th seed Marketa Vondrousova, last year’s Roland Garros runner-up, dropped a set before seeing off Japan’s Misaki Doi, 6-1 4-6 6-4; while Estonia’s No 14 seed Anett Kontaveit returned to clay courts with a straight-sets victory over Caroline Garcia, 6-3 7-6(1).
“I thought it was a very close match, even in the first set. Until she lost her serve, I felt like it was very close,” Kontaveit said after the match. “We both served well, held serve well and were playing good.
“I think I served a little bit more consistent, maybe – she served a couple of double faults in the first set and in the second set.
“I served for the match twice and couldn’t make any first serves, so she really took initiative well, but I managed to actually get my serve back in the tiebreak and play a really good tiebreak.”
Top women’s seed Simona Halep opens her campaign on Wednesday against Italian wildcard Jasmine Paolini, with the Romanian warming up in the doubles on Tuesday, having skipped the US tournaments.