Rome | Swiatek, Gauff and Zheng survive 3-setters as Vondrousova, Kasatkina and Haddad Maia tumble out

On Saturday at the Foro Italico in Rome, Iga Swiatek had to dig herself out of a second set hole to survive Yulia Putintseva and book herself a place in the 4th-round of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, while Coco Gauff found herself bagelled in the middle set before seeing off Jaqueline Cristian, and Zheng Qinwen had to come back from a set down to beat Linda Noskova.

I think she’s a tough opponent because she’s changing the rhythm a lot. She’s also, as you could see today, playing differently. She was, like, two metres behind the baseline on the return, which she didn’t do before. She can mix it up. She has a good touch. I think that’s what makes her tricky. Iga Świątek

Seeds 1, 3 and 7 may have navigated themselves safely into the Last 16, but Marketa Vondrousova, Daria Kasatkina and Beatriz Haddad Maia, seeded 6, 10 and 12 respectively, were sent packing.

Swiatek, the World No 1, is pretty much unmatched on clay, but even the best can lose focus, which is what happened in her 3rd-round match against the tricky Putintseva, who represents Kazakhstan.

In fact, the 22-year old Pole was within a few points of slipping to 1-5 down in the second set, when she woke up enough to right the ship, comfortably winning the next 5 games to take the match, 6-3 6-4, after an hour and 46 minutes.

“I’m happy with the way I played, maybe besides this beginning of the second set,” she said afterwards. “I’m happy I came back. I knew what I wanted to improve. At the end I’m happy that I finished in two sets.”

The two-time Rome winner is looking to add a third trophy in Rome to her first Madrid title last week, and if she can pull it off, she will become just the third player to win both Rome and Madrid in the same year.

The only other women to accomplish the feat were Russia’s Dinara Safina in 2009 and Serena Williams in 2013, but none of this is weighing on Swiatek’s mind right now.

“Winning [the] next match is on my radar,” Swiatek said on Saturday. “As usual, taking everything step-by-step is the best way to go. There’s still a long way.”

Putintseva found repeated success with her signature drop-shot, holding 4 points to take a 5-1 lead in the second set, but Swiatek mustered all her resilience to survive the multiple-deuce game.

”I think it was all about my energy, and my state at the time,” Swiatek explained after her win against the Kazakh. “I got a little bit distracted. I just came back to how I played, basically, I think, in the first set. It was enough for me to get the control back.

“I think she’s a tough opponent because she’s changing the rhythm a lot. She’s also, as you could see today, playing differently. She was, like, two metres behind the baseline on the return, which she didn’t do before. She can mix it up. She has a good touch. I think that’s what makes her tricky.

“I just wanted to stick to my solid game, and balance the risk,” she continued. “And also know that there’s no point, sometimes, to play too hard, because she’s going to use your power anyway. I think I can do that well. I’ve done that before when I played against her. Today, as well.”

Later, on social media, Putintseva was accused of poor sportsmanship after appearing to mock Swiatek’s serve, moving her head up and down in the motion that the Pole adopts before her deliveries.

Swiatek moves on to an enticing encounter with former World No 1 Angelique Kerber after the German, who has not lost a set through her 3 rounds this week, eased past Aliaksandra Sasnovich from Belarus, 6-3 7-6(4), after an hour and 25 minutes.

Coco Gauff came through a scrappy 3-setter against Jaqueline Cristian to reach the Last 16 and a match against Paula Badosa

© Mike Hewitt/Getty Images

Coco Gauff, the World No 3, struggled and committed 15 double-faults before notching up an erratic 6-1 0-6 6-3 win over lucky loser Jaqueline Cristian from Romania.

Cristian stormed through the second set, pocketing a bagel, but lost steam in the third as the 20-year old American was able to avoid the upset.

It was a topsy-turvy encounter, full of miscues, as the reigning US Open champion sailed through the first set, but then had to shake off a sudden change in fortunes in the second.

Both began the decider by holding their opening service games, and the first break came in the 3rd game, which Gauff secured, now regaining the confidence she had shown in the opener by seizing the momentum and holding onto her lead for the rest of the set.

Despite constant unforced errors and playing below her usual level, the American eventually prevailed over the World No 68 in 2 hours and 4 minutes.

Gauff, a Rome semi-finalist in 2021, is into the Round of 16 at the event for the third time in her career, where she will square off against former World No 2 Paula Badosa from Spain, who edged past Russia’s Diana Shnaider, 5-7 6-4 6-4, earlier on Saturday.

The 26-year-old Spaniard has faced several injuries, including a recurring back issue, over the past 12 months or so, and is currently ranked 126, but she leads the head-to-head against Gauff 3-1, including a 6-3 6-0 win on the clay of Madrid last year.

Naomi Osaka turned the tables on Daria Kasatkina and won in straight sets in Rome

© Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty Images

Also moving on was 7th seed Zheng Qinwen of China, who came from a set down to beat Czech Linda Noskova, the 29th seed, 3-6 6-1 6-2, in a first-time meeting between the two.

The match lasted an hour and 48 minutes, and, at the end, Zheng won 75 points to Noskova’s 60.

The Chinese served well, winning 83% of points, 25 of 30, behind her first delivery, but she only won 46% points behind her second serve, 19/41, while converting 6 of the 8 break points that she procured.

Zheng will meet Naomi Osaka of Japan next, who only returned to the tour in January after maternity leave and has struggled to regain her form, but she continued her run in Rome by defeating 10th seed Daria Kasatkina of Russia, 6-3 6-3.

Osaka tallied 5 aces and converted 5 of 12 break chances.

Never known as a clay court player, the 4-time Grand Slam champion was pleased with her performance on the surface, even if it has given folks on social media inspiration for the nickname ‘Clayomi’.

“Please don’t,” Osaka said of the moniker. “Please. I think I need more clay credentials for that. But I’m happy that they’re happy.”

This win is particularly impressive as Kasatkina is one of the best clay court players on tour, and took the wind out of Osaka’s sails in a practice match in Madrid in which the Russian ‘smacked’ the former World No 1, according to the Japanese’s account.

“I remember her beating me like 6-0, or 6-1, if I’m being generous to myself,” Osaka said, smiling. “For some reason, when the match started, I didn’t really know how to play on clay. I didn’t know how to structure the point. I’m very happy that, apparently, I figured it out.”

She avenged her embarrassment by played a strong match to win in two sets on Saturday, the first set well-contested, although Kasatkina had issues with her serve, which allowed Osaka to take advantage.

Despite being broken herself, Osaka eventually took the set with more aggressive and preciser play.

Momentum now on Osaka’s side, the second featured an early break for the Japanese, but Kasatkina broke back, only to lose her serve again, and the Russian could not recover that deficit.

“It’s definitely more mental,” Osaka said. “I could always do it. I’m a little impatient. Obviously when you hit a heavier ball, for me, I feel like I think about a moon ball.

“It didn’t really click until I was watching Nadal play, and seeing how he actually accelerates so much when he’s doing that, knowing that a heavier ball sometimes is more difficult than a flatter shot.

“Yeah, I feel like I just did a lot of homework.”

Sorana Cirstea upset World No 6 Marketa Vondrousova to set up a meeting with Madison Keys for a place in the quarter-finals at the Italian Open

© Dan Istitene/Getty Images

Meanwhile, Sorana Cirstea, seeded 28 and from Romania, upset reigning Wimbledon champion Marketa Vondrousova, the World No 6 from Czech Republic, 7-6(1) 6-3, to reach the round of 16.

It is Cirstea’s third Top 10 win of the year, and her second over Vondrousova this season.

For a spot in the quarter-finals, Cirstea lines up a contest with Madison Keys, seeded 18th from the USA, who registered a 6-4 4-6 6-3 victory over the 12th seeded Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil.

Keys won the all-Top 20 battle after grinding past Haddad Maia in two-and-a-half hours.

Cirstea and Keys have met twice before, with the Romanian holding a 2-0 head-to-head record over the American.



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