Rome | Osaka and Kenin claim wins before rain stops play

The rain that dogged Madrid last week arrived in Rome on Wednesday, leaving a backlog of matches at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia still to finish on Thursday.

"I think she's incredible [Iga Swiatek]. The way she's able to maintain being No 1, and constantly do well at all the tournaments, is something that I, honestly, can't think of, or can't fathom, back when I was No 1 for, like, five seconds [smiling]. Yeah, I mean, I think she's great for the sport. I also think watching Sabalenka doing so well is super, super fun. I hope that I'm able to play them both one day. Naomi Osaka

Before the rain set in, Naomi Osaka eased her way past the dangerous Frenchwoman, Clara Burel 7-6(2) 6-1, the first match she has played at the Foro Italico in 3 years.

The former World No 1 from Japan failed to serve out the first set at 5-3, but managed to avoid further trouble by taking the breaker.

“I think, obviously, I was up 5-3, I was serving for the set, and I lost that,” Osaka said afterwards. “I think just being able to hang in there and, eventually, close it on my terms is something that I’m very proud of myself for.

“I obviously played a lot better in the second set. I’m hoping that when I play my match tomorrow, I’m able to learn from the mistakes that I did today and apply them better.”

Osaka looked comfortable beating Burel, who is ranked 45 in the world, in an hour and 24 minutes.

It is the 26-year old’s first win over a Top 50 player on clay since defeating Victoria Azarenka at the 2019 French Open.

Now ranked 173 after a maternity break, Osaka, who reached the quarter-finals in Rome in 2019, faced Burel for the first time, and had to steady herself after a dip in the late stages of the second set.

Having exchanged 7 consecutive holds of serve to open the match, Osaka broke Burel for a 5-3 lead and held a set point at 40-30, but a series of forehand misfires gifted the Frenchwoman the break back.

“I was just telling myself, like, my forehand’s one of my biggest weapons, and I shouldn’t be too discouraged,” Osaka said later. “I knew the shots that I was going for, that I missed, were good-intentioned.

“I was just telling myself that was probably a result of nerves, and I just have to keep going for my shots and eventually or hopefully they start going in.”

In the breaker, the Japanese elevated her game at 2-2 to race away with it, closing the set with a clean ace.

Former World No 1 Naomi Osaka failed to serve out the first set at 5-3 against Clara Burel, but managed to avoid further trouble by taking the breaker.

© Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty Images

“I thought the first set was really tough,” Osaka said. “I’m really glad I was able to close it in two.

“Overall I think, mentally, I tried to stay as strong as I can, so I’m really happy about that.”

Osaka continued her baseline dominance in the second to seal the win in 84 minutes, finishing with 27 winners, including 8 aces, and holding Burel to just 10 winners, while she successful in her forays to the net, winning 7 of 10 points in the forecourt.

After bagging 2 Australian Open titles and 2 US Open titles, Osaka took a mental health hiatus in 2021, and then fell pregnant in 2023, but, since making her come-back, she has struggled for consistency.

After her 1st-round win, she was asked what she thinks about Swiatek and her reign as the World No 1.

“I think she’s incredible,” she said in her post-match press conference. “The way she’s able to maintain being No 1, and constantly do well at all the tournaments, is something that I, honestly, can’t think of, or can’t fathom, back when I was No 1 for, like, five seconds [smiling].

“Yeah, I mean, I think she’s great for the sport. I also think watching Sabalenka doing so well is super, super fun,” she added. “I hope that I’m able to play them both one day.”

Next up for Osaka, now, is the in-form Marta Kostyuk, the 19th-seed from Ukraine, who reached the final of the indoor clay court event in Stuttgart, against whom the Japanese lost to in their only other previous meeting, in 3 sets at the 2020 US Open.

Sofia Kenin won her first WTA Tour match since January when she beat Lucia Bronzetti in straight sets on Wednesday

© Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Another Grand Slam champion, Sofia Kenin, ruffled feathers before the American recorded her first tour-level win since January, defeating Italy’s Lucia Bronzetti, 6-3 6-2.

While Kenin found her best form against the local favourite, it was by no means an easy affair in front of a partisan crowd, and with a rain delay in the second set, but the American handled the distractions well enough.

After a shaky start, when Bronzetti bound ahead, Kenin quickly turned a 1-3 deficit into a 5-3 lead before pocketing the opener.

The second set proved similar, with both battling through the early games before Kenin was able to break free to finish off the match, but the occasion was marred by the American yelling obscenities at the umpire after the match supervisor instructed for play to continue in the rain.

The Italian crowd showered boos on Kenin following the outburst, to which the fuming Russia-born American shouted ‘F… you’ at the spectators.

The 25-year-old, who won the Australian Open in 2020, will face No 8 seed Ons Jabeur from Tunisia, who bears the moniker Minister of Happiness, in round 2.

Lesia Tsurenko defeated Donna Vekic in a match tiebreak to set up a 2nd-round meeting with 2023 Rome finalist Anhelina Kalinina, a fellow Ukrainian

© Lewis Storey/Getty Images

Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko eliminated Donna Vekic from Croatia, 6-2 3-6 7-6(5), to set up a 2nd-round enounter with her countrywoman, Anhelina Kalinina, the No 30 seed, next.

Tsurenko thrives in Italy, and while she stops short of calling it her adopted homeland, the Ukrainian has a long love affair with the country that dates back more than a decade.

“I don’t want to say that it’s my home country, because I’m Ukrainian and Ukraine is one and only for me, but this country is very special for me,” The 34-year-old from Kyiv said on the Tennis Channel.

With the war still raging in her native land for more than two years, Tsurenko is grateful for the sanctuary of her training base at the Piatti Tennis Center.

“I enjoy every second,” Tsurenko reflected. “I enjoy my beautiful morning coffee, and the view that I have in Liguira, where I live, and it’s just amazing to have this feeling, and be able to relax and calm down.”

That calm spirit served her well to earn a 2 hour, 39 minute win against Vekic, against whom she now holds a 3-1 record.

From 4-1 up in the final set, Tsurenko needed to stave off another come-back by the Croatian in a deciding match tiebreak, where she was 6-2 ahead.

Despite breaking serve 3 times in the match, Tsurenko praised one of Vekic’s chief weapons.

“I’m so jealous of the serve that Donna has! She’s serving unbelievably good, and it’s so tough because you don’t have a rhythm to play against someone like her,” said Tsurenko, whose own serve has diminished over the course of her career due to a lingering right elbow problem. “Plus, you always have this pressure of her serve and her full power return.

“When she’s going for a winner you know it’s going to be a full-power winner. With players like that, you always have to stay aggressive and, kind of, have to hit first, and also get back everything that you can, and be defensive when necessary.

“We’ve played a few matches against each other before and it always went to tiebreaks, or a deciding set. She’s a super tough opponent.”

Tsurenko’s win sets up a 2nd-round meeting with 2023 Rome finalist Kalinina, who also holds Italy as a special place in her heart.

“This tournament, if you look around, you’ll see trees and statues, and I think just everything makes this tournament so special,” Tsurenko said. “All the players enjoy food, and all of the players enjoy touristic [sic] mode because all of the hotels are in the centre of the city… and you can enjoy the time off [from] the tournament.

“That, I think, is another secret, and the pizza, pasta, mozzarella, burrata, for sure!”

Bernarda Pera beat fellow American Caroline Dolehide and will next face Iga Swiatek, the World No 1, in round 2 on Thursday

© Julian Finney/Getty Images

Amongst the other results of completed matches on Wednesday, qualifier Bernarda Pera beat fellow American Caroline Dolehide, 7-6(6) 6-3 and will next face top-ranked Swiatek, while the World No 1s compatriot from Poland, Magda Linette, beat China’s Zhu Lin, 6-3 6-2, and she will meet Azarenka, the Belarusian 24th seed.

Another qualifier, Czech Brenda Fruhvirtova, 17, rallied past Taylor Townsend from the USA, 3-6 6-2 6-0, but her sister, qualifier Linda Fruhvirtova, 19, was overcome by 36-year old German Tatjana Maria, a mother of two, in 2 hours and 28 minutes, 7-6(5) 3-6 6-2.

Qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich from Belarus saved 3 set points in the second set to defeat Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia, 6-2 7-6(6), and record her first WTA main draw win since Nanchang in 2023, while Elina Avanesyan from Russia saved a match point trailing Cristina Bucsa from Spain, 5-4 in the third set, to win their 1st-round skirmish, 6-7(3) 6-0 7-5.



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