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Roman Round-up: Kvitova, Nishikori advance, teens Gauff, Sinner shine
The Internazionali BNL d'Italia featured first-round action in both the men's and women's events, and while Petra Kvitova thwarted Magda Linette in three sets, Kei Nishikori continued his injury comeback with a win over Fabio Fognini.
Published May 10, 2021
The Internazionali BNL d’Italia is underway for the second time in eight months, having played out its postponed 2020 edition last September.
Back in its spring setting, the Foro Italico is playing host to the best men and women in the game, all of whom eager to make one last statement before Roland Garros begins.
Catch up with all the action from Monday in Rome:
In the eternal Madrid-Rome debate, Petra Kvitova has firmly planted her flag at the Caja Mágica, winning the Mutua Madrid Open three times. Rome, conversely, has been more of a struggle for the two-time Wimbledon winner, who has reached just two quarterfinals in seven previous appearances.
The struggle was real on Center Court when Kvitova dropped the first set to Magda Linette, but she soon found her way to breeze past the Pole, 1-6, 6-0, 6-2.
“I would say it was kind of a woman's score, little bit,” she joked after the match. “Little bit surprised that, in the third, it wasn't 7-6.
“The first set I started very badly. I was missing almost everything. On the court, not really court, it was bouncing everywhere as well. A little bit windy, which I didn't have a wind since, I don't know, since Madrid, I came to Madrid. I probably just had to used to everything.”
The former world No. 2 has enjoyed a solid start to her European clay swing, reaching back-to-back quarterfinals in Stuttgart and Madrid, pushing world No. 1 Ashleigh Barty to three sets in the latter.
Kvitova will next play fellow former world No. 2 Vera Zvonareva, who won her first main-draw match in Rome since 2008. The Russian took time off in the mid-2010s to give birth to daughter Evelyn and has been in solid form this week, defeating Kristina Mladenovic in qualifying and dropping just three games to Christina McHale.
“It's long time really when we played each other,” Kvitova said of their last meeting at the 2011 WTA Championships. “She's coming back. I mean, she's through the qually, I think, as well, so definitely she can play. That's 100%. So, we will see. I mean, it will be nice matchup if I’m gonna play her after so many years.”
Kei Nishikori continued his comeback from elbow surgery with a decisive victory over Fabio Fognini, 6-3, 6-4.
“Today I think I started really well,” he said in his post-match press conference. “From 3-0 he played good, he was playing like Fabio, but I think he was, sorry to say to Fabio, but he's not, like, 100% Fabio. You know, he was missing little more than usual. He could play much tougher. I know he can be a really tough opponent.”
Indeed, Fognini hasn’t won back-to-back matches since his Rolex Monte-Carlo Masters title defense ended in the quarterfinals at the hands of Casper Ruud, losing in the second round of the Mutua Madrid Open to fellow Italian Matteo Berrettini.
A former world No. 4, Nishikori has been plagued by elbow and shoulder issues since last season, taking the end of last season to undergo surgery on the former. The Japanese veteran showed flashes of his best with quarterfinal runs in Rotterdam and Dubai, and began his clay-court campaign by pushing Rafael Nadal to three sets in Barcelona.
Against Fognini, he won 82% of his first-serve points and broke serve three times.
“I think I played really solid using my forehand. Serve was working too. So, I was happy with myself 100% today.
Up next for Nishikori is No. 11 seed Pablo Carreño Busta, who won their most recent encounter at the Australian Open in February. Carreño Busta needed three sets to overcome Laslo Djere on Sunday.
Action continued on the men’s side following its Sunday led by hometown favorite Jannik Sinner. The Miami Open finalist enjoyed a solid start against Ugo Humbert to advance into the round of 32 in straight sets, where No. 2 seed and childhood idol Rafael Nadal awaits.
Nadal and Sinner shared a practice court during the Australian Open quarantine, and will face off for the first time since Nadal defeated Sinner in the quarterfinals of Roland Garros in October.
Russian duo Aslan Karatsev and Karen Khachanov each took the court for their first rounds, and while the Australian Open semifinalist maintained his Melbourne momentum with a 7-6 (2), 6-4 win over Miomir Kecmanovic, Khachanov couldn’t close after winning the first set against Federico Delbonis, 3-6, 6-4, 6-0.
The women’s event began in earnest as American Coco Gauff won a three-set thriller against 2020 quarterfinalist Yulia Putintseva, 7-5, 4-6, 6-4. Gauff rallied from 5-3 down in the first set and held off a late fightback from Putintseva to close out the encounter on her third match point. The teenager will next play No. 17 seed Maria Sakkari, who knocked out Polona Hercog in three sets.
Alison Riske appeared on course to avenge a Mutua Madrid Open defeat against Iga Swiatek. Up a double break in the opening set, the 2019 Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open runner-up ultimately succumbed to a left foot injury and retired trailing the reigning Roland Garros champion, 4-5. Swiatek will play another American in the second round as former French Open finalist Sloane Stephens will play Madison Keys.
Others Americans in Italy included Amanda Anisimova and Jessica Pegula, who each advanced in straight sets to face Elina Svitolina and Naomi Osaka, respectively.