Opening day at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome saw successful returns by former World No 2 Anett Kontaveit and Barbora Strycova, while Sophia Kenin battled to set up a meeting with 2nd-seeded Aryna Sabalenka, but Leylah Fernandez fell to Aliaksandra Sasnovich.
I've done exercises for months to keep it together because, since October, it started falling apart quickly. I'm happy it held together today. The match was only an hour so that definitely helps. So now I'm especially excited to compete and do something fun again. Anett Kontaveit
Kontaveit, who is currently ranked 82 after a two-month injury break, defeated American Alycia Parks, 6-1 6-1.
While she lost the opening game, she broke back immediately, before taking her opponent’s next 2 service games to pocket the first set.
In the second, Kontaveit similarly lost just one game to the American, wrapping things up in an hour and 6 minutes, and firing a single ace to her 2 double-faults, while, for Parks, the ratio was 2 to 11.
The Estonian also converted 6 out of 10 break points, compared with just 1 out of 2 for Parks.
Speaking to the press after her win, Kontaveit said she felt like she was more consistent than her opponent, and had better movement.
“I played a good game,” she said. “The opponent did not feel most comfortable playing on clay. I seemed to be able to move her very well, and play her strong serves.
“I was a bit more stable than my opponent. I didn’t give her easy points, she had to fight everything out herself.”
Kontaveit has been hampered by a degenerative back injury since last autumn, and stepped away from the tour in early February to focus on addressing the issue.
“I’ve done exercises for months to keep it together because, since October, it started falling apart quickly,” Kontaveit told WTA Insider. “I’m happy it held together today.
“The match was only an hour so that definitely helps. So now I’m especially excited to compete and do something fun again.”
Given the nature of the issue, Kontaveit says she is unsure about the future.
“I haven’t thought about it that dramatically yet,” she said. “But it’s definitely not easy playing when something is bothering you constantly. So I hope these exercises keep it together for a longer time and we see how it goes. I haven’t made any big decisions.
“I don’t want to jump up and down from joy, and say everything is fine. It’s just one match, I want to see how it holds up over a few matches.”
Kontaveit next faces 16th seed Liudmila Samsonova from Russia in the 2nd-round, who received a bye.
Earlier, Strycova, a former doubles World No 1, got past Belgium’s Maryna Zanevska, 6-1 3-6 6-3, scoring her first singles win since 2020, following her return to the WTA tour at last week’s Madrid Open from a two-year maternity break.
Strycova wore down Zanevska on Tuesday by rallying from a 2-0 deficit in the final set to earn her first singles win since defeating Varvara Lepchenko in the first round of Roland Garros in 2020.
“I can’t believe it,” said Strycova, who celebrated with her son Vincent. “I don’t know how it feels because I didn’t really process it.
“I went off the court and right away grabbed my son because he was hungry. So I wasn’t really realising I won the match.
“I’m very happy. I’m a little shy about being happy. Also, I feel a little strange because he’s here, and I will be changing a diaper in a little while instead of getting a glass of wine.”
The 37-year-old Czech now will take on World No 8 Maria Sakkari from Greece in round 2.
Kenin, a former Australian Open champion who once was ranked No 4, was made to work hard by Spain’s Cristina Bucsa before the American prevailed, 6-3 6-7(8) 7-5, to set up a 2nd-round meeting with Sabalenka, the current World No 2 from Belarus.
Now ranked 134, Kenin has struggled with illness and injuries, and was far from her best on Tuesday but she managed to get past Bucsa in a little over 3 hours.
“It was obviously tough, but I was able to, somehow, get through,” said Kenin, who converted 7 of her 21 breakpoints. “I didn’t feel a 100% but it doesn’t matter, a win is a win, and I’m going to take it.
“It could have gone either way, and it was a matter of who could be mentally strong. I felt tired and, after three hours, I’d imagine that she was too, so I just had to battle it out.”
Fernandez, the former US Open runner-up, was beaten 7-6(4) 4-6 6-3 by Aliaksandra Sasnovich from Belarus after suffering an epic 3rd set meltdown. The Canadian was cruising in with a 3-0 lead in the decider before going down.
She lost her serve early in the first set, but managed to break back when Sasnovich served for it, and pushed matters into the breaker in which the Belarusian prevailed, but, the second went Fernandez’s way as she produced some solid play.
The Canadian took an early break in the decider, and added another to take a 3-0 lead with a chance to make it 4-0 with a good service game, but she dropped her delivery, which sparked off the meltdown that finished with Sasnovich winning 6 games on the trot to close out the match.
Elsewhere, 2019 French Open runner-up Marketa Vondrousova from Czech Republic overcame Estonia’s Kaia Kanepi, 6-0 4-6 6-2, and next will play former US Open champion Bianca Andreescu from Canada, while Russia’s Anna Blinkova was a 2-6 6-2 6-3 winner over Mayar Sherif, who became the first Egyptian ever to reach a WTA 1000 quarter-final at Madrid.
Also advancing were America’s Caty McNally, who easily dispatched Italian wild-card Dalila Spiteri, 6-1 6-1, while Wang Xiyu from China needed 2 tiebreaks to see off another, Lucrezia Stefanini, 7-6(2) 7-6(2).
Spain’s Nuria Parrizas Diaz outlasted Jule Niemeier from Germany, 4-6 6-4 6-2, and the young Czech, Linda Noskova battled past American Shelby Rogers, 4-6 6-1 6-4.
In a wild-card contest between two more Italians, teenager Lisa Pigato prevailed over Diletta Cherubini, 7-5 2-6 6-3, to set up a meeting with Daria Kasatkina, the No 8 seed from Russia, while another Italian, Jasmine Paolini, fought her way past China’s Wang Xinyu, 6-4 6-7(3) 6-2.