Palermo, Day 2: Vondrousova, Mertens ousted by qualifiers; Martic wins

Palermo, Day 2: Vondrousova, Mertens ousted by qualifiers; Martic wins

Kaja Juvan eliminated the 2019 French Open finalist in three sets to notch her first Top 20 win, while Aliaksandra Sasnovich surged past the 23rd-ranked Mertens on Tuesday.

The second day of action from Palermo kicked off with a pair of upsets, while the tournament's top seed, Petra Martic, shined in her debut against Alison Van Uytvanck. 

[Q] Kaja Juvan d. [2] Marketa Vondrousova, 1-6, 7-5, 6-4

Vondrousova arrived like one might expect of the reigning French Open finalist, punishing Juvan’s second serve in racing out to a commanding one-set lead. A double fault enabled the qualifier to open the second set with a break. Though the left-handed Czech would win five games in a row from 0-4 down, her failure to convert game points—having held them in four separate games she lost during that set—would foreshadow her undoing. Initially trailing 2-5 in the decider, Vondrousova had three chances to draw even at 5-5, but couldn’t capitalize—and the Slovenian secured her first Top 20 victory after two and a half hours of work.

"It was pretty windy, so we both played pretty safe," Juvan told the WTA's Courtney Nguyen afterwards in a virtual press conference. "She started off really well and I was a little bit nervous. Except for Serena, she was my first Top 20 player. The second and third set, I kind of calmed myself and I started playing much better. Of course, she wouldn't let me go easily."

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[Q] Aliaksandra Sasnovich d. [5] Elise Mertens, 6-4, 6-1

Though Sasnovich found herself down 1-3 to start the match, the Belarusian qualifier settled into the windy conditions. After losing her break advantage, Mertens, the owner of the draw's best clay-court winning percentage (70.2%) coming in, later had a chance to level the first set with a game point in the 10th game (watch below). Sasnovich instead finished a grueling rally with a forehand winner, and from there, took full control of the encounter. The world No. 119 finished by winning 49 percent of her return points and breaking four of five times in eliminating Mertens, the first seed to be knocked out in the top half of the draw.

[1] Petra Martic d. Alison Van Uytvanck, 6-0, 6-3

With Mertens and Vondrousova out, it was up to Martic to right the ship for the seeded players. Both the Croatian and her opponent were appearing at the event for the first time, but Martic had plenty of clay-court experience to draw from after winning 16 of 19 matches on the dirt last season. The world No. 15 began emphatically, winning 10 of 11 of her second serve return points to bagel the Belgian. Martic continued to hit her spots on serve when it counted, erasing four break points in the second set. All match long, her world-class court awareness was on display, as well-timed lobs and comfort in coming forward led to her impressive 66-minute win.

“I felt my nerves a bit more just because the break was so long. It’s such a big uncertainty going on the court, not knowing how you’re going to be,” she shared with reporters on a Zoom call. “I played well before the break and was happy with the rhythm, but five months off obviously disrupted everything. Once the match started, I kind of let go and just played. It turned out to be a pretty good level.”

[LL] Oceane Dodin d. Tamara Zidansek, 2-6, 6-4, 6-4

At this point in time last year, Dodin was ranked No. 387, resetting her career after being diagnosed with medical vertigo. When the WTA tour shut down, the former world No. 46 had climbed back up to No. 116 after several deep runs on the ITF World Tennis Tour and a win over 14th-ranked Johanna Konta en route to the quarterfinals at WTA St. Petersburg. An inability to convert break points saw her lose Monday in qualifying to Nadia Podroska, but a day later, the lucky loser snagged the difference maker, the lone break of the third set. There was nothing lucky about her match point clincher, as Dodin finished off a tremendous exchange with a scorching backhand to set a second-round meeting with No. 7 seed Dayana Yastremska.