Two seeds fell on the opening day of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome on Monday, Alison Riske and Donna Vekic, while the only other two seeds in action, Elena Rybakina and Elise Mertens, made it through to the second round with straight set wins.
Going from hard to clay is a little difficult with the sliding and timing, but I tried to give everything I had today, tried to adapt where I could. The second set was definitely better than the first for me, but it wasn't my best game. You can expect a lot of different shots: drop-shots, slice, a lob if you come to net. You can expect some really good shots, but I tried to mix it up too because I think she likes the hard-hitters, so she can use the pace and get her variety going. Elise Mertens
Vekic, the No 16 seed, faced two tiebreaks and lost both to American Amanda Anisimova, who came from a break down in the first set and saved 3 set points in the second to defeat the Croat, 7-6(4), 7-6(6) in 2 hours and 27 minutes.
Despite 10 breaks of serve, neither player was able to pull away from the other for more than a two-game advantage at any point, and the result remained on a knife-edge to the end.
Ultimately, it was the American’s superior serving, aggression and capacity to rebound from disappointment that made the difference, as Anisimova landed 70% of her first serves compared to Vekic’s 49%, found 39 winners to Vekic’s 23 and displayed impressive determination to save a second set that had all but slipped from her grasp.
The 19-year-old raised her level in the important moments and capitalised on a poor first serve showing from Vekic to successfully navigate her way through the tricky opening match.
Up next for Anisimova is Dayana Yastremska, who battled past Camila Giorgi on Monday night, 7-5 6-7(5) 6-4, in a match that lasted 2 hours 34 minutes on the clay.
It was a narrow victory over the Italian wildcard, with the 20-year-old Ukrainian hitting 25 winners in the thrilling three-set tussle.
“How else can I feel after a three hour match but tired?” said Yastremska. “Still, it’s a win. Maybe not the best win, but it’s a win.”
American Alison Riske, the 13th seed, fell on opening day to Aliona Bolsova, a qualifier from Spain, 5-7 7-6(4) 6-3, who next faces another qualifier, Anna Blinkova from Russia, conquerer over Jil Teichmann, the Swiss finalist in Lexington, 6-3 6-3.
It was a more straight forward affair for the No10 seed Elena Rybakina, who cruised past Ekaterina Alexandrova, 6-0 6-4, on Court Pietrangeli, avenging 2 previous losses this year the the Russian to kick off her Rome campaign.
“I am happy because I played against her already twice,” the Kazakh said. “It’s a different surface and of course I know how she plays, I had tactics before the match that I followed.”
Overall, Rybakina admitted it had not been as straightforward as it may have appeared.
“It was not easy because I just came from America and I’m jet-lagged,” she said. “I had one week to prepare on clay and it’s not enough, usually it takes a longer time – but we have to adjust.
“But I’m happy to play matches, and the more I play the better for me. Every match I will find my rhythm and also move better on clay, because it’s completely different [to hard courts].”
Marie Bouzkova will be Rybakina’s next round opponent after the Czech player recorded a 6-3 6-4 win over Australia’s Alja Tomljanovic.
Mertens make short work of Hsieh
US Open quarter-finalist Elise Mertens also successfully transitioned from hard to clay courts with an easy win over WTA Doubles Co-No.1 Hsieh Su-Wei from Taiwan, 6-3 6-1.
“I’m not sure how well I adapted, to be honest!” the Belgian admitted in her post-match press conference. “I just feel like I might still be struggling a little.
“It was also her first match of the week, so that was a bit of an advantage for me.
“Going from hard to clay is a little difficult with the sliding and timing, but I tried to give everything I had today, tried to adapt where I could.
“The second set was definitely better than the first for me, but it wasn’t my best game.
“You can expect a lot of different shots: drop-shots, slice, a lob if you come to net.
“You can expect some really good shots, but I tried to mix it up too because I think she likes the hard-hitters, so she can use the pace and get her variety going.
“I think I did everything well today. My serve was better in the second set, which made all the difference.”
Rallying from a break down to start the second set, the World No 20 reeled off 6 straight games to close up the contest in just over an hour.
In all, it was a solid match from Mertens, who struck 17 winners to just 9 unforced errors, converting 6 of 11 break point opportunities while saving 3 of 5 on her own serve; while Hsieh made 11 winners of her own, she was ultimately undone by 22 unforced errors and 8 double faults.
Up next for Mertens is Poland’s Magda Linette, who ended 2017 Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko’s Rome hopes when she defeated the Latvian 6-4 6-3 earlier in the day.
“I played her before, but that was years ago, so I can’t really say anything,” said Mertens. “I have to look at her matches because it’s been so long.
“I have to look at myself, too, and how the transition from hard to clay isn’t easy. I had my first practices on Saturday and Sunday, but I have another practice day tomorrow.”
Wild card Jasmine Paolini gave Italian fans plenty to cheer about when she upset Anastasija Sevastova, 6-2 6-3, on Court Centrale and her prize is a second round clash against the World No 2 and top seed, Simona Halep; while Barbora Strycova from the Czech Republic emerged victorious in straight sets from her opening match against Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova, 6-3 6-3.
Another Russian, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, overcame a stern test by China’s Shuai Zhang but came through, 6-4 6-7(5) 6-1, and will next take on Elina Svitolina, the No 4 seed from Ukraine.
Belinda Bencic, the 6th seed, opens her campaign against Danka Kovinic, a qualifier from Montenegro, who easily dispatched Germany’s Julia Goerges, 6-1 6-0, on Monday.