Wednesday saw the departure of 4 seeds at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, Anett Kontaveit, Karolina Pliskova, Garbiñe Muguruza and Belinda Benic, but World No 1 and 2, Iga Swiatek and Paula Badosa, both breezed past their respective opponents with the loss of just 3 games apiece.
“Simona [Halep] is someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, somebody that I really admire as a competitor, and as an athlete. I felt, like, today, kind of, worked in my favour because I know her game so well from watching a lot. I had to come out and play really aggressive, and be consistent at the same time, because she’s relentless, she gets everything back. I just had to be really patient. Danielle Collins
Petra Martic, a qualifier from Croatia, is in the Round of 16 for the second straight year after upsetting 5th-seeded Kontaveit of Estonia, 6-2 6-3, while Jil Teichmann from Switzerland advanced with a 6-2 4-6 6-4 win over 2019 champion Pliskova, the Czech 6th-seed, as Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva rallied past 8th-seeded Muguruza from Spain, 3-6 7-6(4) 6-1, and American Amanda Anisimova outpaced Swiss 12th seed and Olympic champion Bencic, 7-6(5) 6-1.
Swiatek, the top seed from Poland, returned to action after skipping the Madrid Open for some well-earned rest, and received a bye into the 2nd-round before extending her winning run to 24 matches after converting 7 break points to wrap up her match against lucky loser Selena-Gabriela Rise from Romania, 6-3 6-0, in just 68 minutes.
The defending champion has fond memories of Rome, where she won her first WTA 1000 crown, and is looking to add to this year’s titles in Doha, Indian Wells, Miami and Stuttgart.
“I’m pretty proud I could get into the rhythm today, just take some lessons during the match and improve my game, game by game,” she said. “That was pretty solid match for me.”
She next faces former World No 1 Victoria Azarenka, who cruised past Colombia’s Camila Osorio, 6-2 6-4.
“I’ve never even had a chance to play a practice with her on clay, so I’m not sure how the game is going to look like,” Swiatek added. “For sure, tactically, we need to prepare today because she’s such an experienced player… You have to be ready for facing a lot of variety in her game.”
Badosa, the 2nd seed from Spain, moved into the round of 16 with a 6-2 6-1 win over Aliaksandra Sasnovich in an hour 17 minutes, while 3rd-seeded Aryna Sabalenka registered an easy 6-2 6-0 win over China’s Zhang Shuai, and 4th-seeded Maria Sakkari of Greece beat Ekaterina Alexandrova, 6-3 6-2.
“I think it was harder than the scoreline, especially the second set,” Badosa said later. “I think she raised her level a lot, and she was going for it every time, very aggressive.
“I had to do a step more and play with more intensity, and I think I played really well, especially in the second set.”
These relative pedestrian wins make for some interesting encounters in round 3, with Badosa facing Daria Kasatkina, who fought back to defeat Canadian Leylah Fernandez in a 3rd-set tiebreak, 4-6 6-3 7-6(2), and Sabalenka taking on Jessica Pegula, the 13th seed, after the American advanced courtesy of a walkover from Ukraine’s Anhelina Kalinina.
Badosa won her only previous meeting against Kasatkina, which came on hard court in this year’s Sydney semifinals.
“[Kasatkina] is always a tough opponent, she’s playing very well,” Badosa said. “Her favourite surface is clay courts, so I expect a very tough match there. A lot of rallies, and a tough one physically as well.”
Sakkari will meet another American in 18-year old Coco Gauff, who took out compatriot Madison Brengle, 6-2 6-4, while yet another, Danielle Collins, continued her strong season with a 7-6(1) 6-3 win over former World No 1 Simona Halep, who won the title here in 2020.
Collins won 11 of the final 12 points of an 82-minute first set, and then snagged the first 4 games of the second, saving 9 of 13 break points while advancing to the Round of 16 in Rome for the first time.
“Simona is someone that I’ve looked up to for a long time, somebody that I really admire as a competitor, and as an athlete,” Collins said afterwards. “I felt, like, today, kind of, worked in my favour because I know her game so well from watching a lot.
“I had to come out and play really aggressive, and be consistent at the same time, because she’s relentless, she gets everything back. I just had to be really patient.
“There were times I was a little up and down with my serving, so I, kind of, made some adjustments, and just tried to be not too hard on myself.”
Crunching returns by Collins went up against the foot-speed and clay-court craft of Halep, and the players were at a stalemate for most of the first set, exchanging breaks 3 times, before the American broke to love to force the breaker, which she dominated with aggressive play to claim the final 4 points for the one-set lead.
After dropping the 81-minute opener, Halep quickly fell behind in the second, 4-0, and although Collins was unable to serve it out at 5-2, she hit more huge returns to reach double match point on the Romanian’s serve at 5-3, and converted her first chance with a forehand winner down the line.
Halep, who has reached the Internazionali BNL d’Italia final 3 times, finishing as runner-up to Elina Svitolina in 2017 and 2018 before finally winning the title, produced just 12 winners and saved only 3 of the 9 break points she faced.
Collins will meet compatriot Anisimova next, saying: “She is a really aggressive player, I feel like we have some similarities in our games. It will be interesting playing each other for the first time.”
Elsewhere, Tunisian Ons Jabeur, who became the first African player to win a WTA 1000 title in Madrid over the weekend, also moved to the next round on Wednesday after beating Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic, 7-5 6-2.
“It’s never easy to play Ajla. I knew it was going to be a physical match,” Jabeur said. “In Rome, I think, for now, I’m enjoying. I got used to titles very quick, so… For me, making it to the final will be such a great result for me.”
Jabeur was 5-3 down in the first set, but she reeled off 4 games in a row to take the opener, then eased through the second against the Aussie, converting 5 of her 14 break points in the match.
World No 40 Putintseva will be Jabeur’s next opponent after the Kazakh steered her way to a come-from-behind win over Muguruza.
Putintseva, who came through qualifying this week, has now won her last 2 meetings with the former World No1, levelling their head-to-head at 2 wins apiece.
Leading by a set and 5-4, Muguruza had a chance to serve out a 2-set win, and was 2 points away from victory, up 30-0, but untimely errors allowed Putintseva to sweep up 4 points in a row and grab the service break for 5-5.
Putintseva cruised through the second-set breaker and the final set to earn her 9th Top 10 win and reach the Round of 16 in Rome for the second time in her career.
“Putintseva is really a difficult match,” said Jabeur. “I know she can hit different kind of balls. Suits really well the clay courts. I’m just going to go there and play my game and keep it as short as possible.”
Meanwhile, former World No 4 Bianca Andreescu was thrilled after beating Spain’s Nuria Parrizas-Diaz in what she called a ‘dog fight’.
The Canadian, who kicked off her 2022 season last month after taking some time to address her mental health, defeated Parrizas-Diaz, 6-3 7-6(4), to progress to the last-16.
“It was great. I think this is a great match for me to build and learn from,” Andreescu said. “I’m very pumped. It was pretty emotional.
“She plays really well. She changes up the rhythm. She hits very hard and deep. She stands really far back…
“In the second set it was just who wins the most important points, kind of thing. I was really focusing on my serve, to get those in as much as I can because I know it’s up and down.
“It was just a dog fight!”
Andreescu made a slow start to the match as she got broken in the 3rd game of the first set, but the lead was short-lived as the Canadian broke back and claimed her second break to open up a 5-3 lead before routinely serving out for the first set.
Parrizas-Diaz bounced back at the start of the second, taking an early 3-0 lead, to which Andreescu responded by claiming back-to-back breaks and taking a 4-3 lead.
The run ended when the Spaniard broke back to level at 4 games apiece and, with no further breaks, the set went into a tiebreak, where the two were tied at 4-4 before Andreescu won 3 consecutive points to seal a straight-set win.
Andreescu takes on Martic next, who was a semi-finalist in Rome last year.
Elena Rybakina was another early winner on Day 3, the Kazakh reaching the 3rd round for the 2nd time in as many appearances with a 6-4 6-3 defeat of American qualifier Lauren Davis in an hour 34 minutes.
Rybakina twice found her break lead pegged back by the valiant Davis in the first set before eventually closing it out, but once the World No 17 had emerged on top of a 6-deuce tussle to hold in the first game of the second, she rode her momentum to another break of the American’s serve and rolled to victory.
The Kazakh meets Teichmann in the round of 16 on Thursday.