Seeds started to tumble at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, with Belinda Bencic and Elise Mertens followed out of the draw by Jo Konta, while Garbiñe Muguruza and Angelique Kerber were among those to win through on Tuesday.
It was a weird day. I woke up sunny, had an opponent. Then it turned out I had another opponent, and it was raining the whole match. We had a little bit of everything. Garbiñe Muguruza
On a day interrupted by rain, Konta was soundly beaten in just over an hour by Jelena Ostapenko, 6-3 6-1, in a first round match scheduled for early afternoon that was eventually played late in the evening.
It continues the British No 1’s disappointing season in which she has only mustered 3 wins this year.
Konta struggled to get into the match and was broken twice in the opening 3 games and, after clinching the first set, the Latvian raced into a 4-0 lead in the second as she booked her place in the 3rd round.
To be fair, Ostapenko put in one of her most impressive performances of the season to dismantle the 2019 finalist here in Rome, firing 24 winners to only 14 unforced errors.
The 2017 Roland Garros winner earned a spot in the second round against Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic, who comfortably closed out a rain-interrupted match against Marketa Vondousova, the 2019 Roland Garros finalist from the Czech Republic, 6-4 6-2.
Tomljanovic had rallied from a set down in each of her two qualifying matches but cruised past the World No 21 in an hour and 21 minutes.
It took 3 sets for Veronika Kudermetova, however, to avenge her Istanbul loss from a couple weeks ago to Elise Mertens, the No 14 seed, who was crowned World No 1 in the WTA doubles rankings on Monday.
The Belgian struggled to contain the power of the Russian, who slowly started to find more accuracy in her shots and eventually took the victory, 4-6 6-2 6-3, after 2 hours 19 minutes.
Lucky loser Kristina Mladenovic from France flipped the score from last week to take down the 10th seed Swiss, Belinda Bencic, 6-3 6-4, and building a 4-3 lead in a head-to-head dating back to 2015.
Germany’s Kerber defeated another French qualifier, Alize Cornet, 6-2 7-5, to advance to a showdown with fellow Grand Slam champion Simona Halep, the No 3 seed, in Wednesday’s evening match.
Kerber and Cornet had only played one game when rain stopped play and, on resumption, a very focused German found the mark with her forehand down-the-line, while the Frenchwoman struggled a little physically, but tried to use her all-round game wisely.
Up 6-2, 4-0, Kerber suffered a comeback from Cornet, who seemed ready to force the match late into the night, but the Frenchwoman ran out of steam when the score was levelled, and the German easily made the final push to take the win.
Kerber hit 32 winners to 41 unforced errors, and fended off 13 of the 15 break points she faced, to set up a blockbuster against against the 2019 Wimbledon champion, Halep, who holds a 6-5 lead against the German in their previous 11 head-to-head matches.
“It’s a very tough draw,” Kerber said. “When I played against her, the matches were tough.
“So I expect a tough battle, and I just want to give my best. There is a chance for both of us, so it’s gonna be tough.”
Spanish 12th seed Muguruza overcame both the rain and a last-minute change of opponent as she, also, rather easily, swept into the second round.
Muguruza, a three-time Italian Open semi-finalist, was due to face Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, last week’s finalist, but the Russian withdrew from the event due to an abdominal injury.
Romanian Patricia Maria Tig, who lost to American Christina McHale in qualifying, replaced Pavlyuchenkova as a Lucky Loser, but was unable to match Muguruza, who cruised to an easy 6-1 6-2 victory after an hour and 6 minutes, the last spell of which was played in heavy rain.
“It was a weird day,” said Muguruza. “I woke up sunny, had an opponent. Then it turned out I had another opponent, and it was raining the whole match.
“We had a little bit of everything.”
The Spaniard takes on American Bernarda Pera next, who claimed the qualifier battle with Tamara Zidansek from Slovenia, 6-3 6-2.
While Muguruza left only 3 games to Tig, Czech Barbora Krejcikova did even better with a smooth 6-2 6-0 victory over Saisai Zheng from China.
It was by no means easy, however, for Madison Keys to get the better of fellow American Sloane Stephens in a rematch of their 2017 US Open final.
Keys gained revenge over her long-standing rival Stephens, who beat her in straight sets in the second round of the Charleston Open, but she came out on top on this occasion, winning 4-6 6-2 7-5 after a 2 hour 30 minute battle, the longest-ever match between the two.
Serving at 5-all in the 3rd set, Keys had twice reached match point, but been stymied by fine serves from her friend.
There had already been 13 total service breaks in the match and, when Keys fired a forehand into the net to go down love-15, a 14th seemed entirely possible, but she took the next 8 straight points to win the match.
As close friends, Keys and Stephens are familiar with one another’s personality and playing styles, which probably explains the up-and-down nature of their matches.
Next up for Keys is a first-time meeting with reigning Roland-Garros champion Iga Swiatek.
It was not a day to remember for the local players in the draw, though, as neither Martina Trevisan, nor Elisabetta Cocciaretto managed to capitalise on the chances they had.
Trevisan got herself off to a great start in her match against Yaroslava Shvedova, finding herself 6-0, 5-3 up, but then got tight as the Kazakh improved her game and, by using her drop-shots, destabilised the Italian who was forced into a third set after losing the tiebreak.
The scenario was replicated in the decider, with last year’s Roland Garros quarter-finalist failing to close it out again at 5-3, and although the Italian managed to save 4 match points in the ensuing breaker, she sent a forehand long to surrender, 0-6 7-6(4) 7-6(6).
Shvedova’s unlikely comeback earned her a spot against the World No 1 Ash Barty on Wednesday.
The tiebreak did not favour of Cocciaretto either, as the 20 year-old held 3 set points against Caroline Garcia, but the Frenchwoman saved them all before grabbing her first chance at 9-8.
The second set proved a relatively easy affair for the World No 56, who closed it out, 7-6(8) 6-2.
Roland Garros semi-finalist Nadia Podoroska made a comeback from a set down against the crafty Lucky Loser, Laura Siegemund, from Germany.
The Argentine needed to recover her rhythm before turning the momentum around in the second set tiebreak, and she managed to keep it in hand until the end of the match and closing it out after 2 hours and 31 minutes.
Her 2-6 7-6(3) 6-1 victory gave Podoroska the chance to play against Serena Williams in the second round, something that she admitted being ‘exciting’ about as the American had been ‘one of my idols growing up’.