How would players coming from the US Open handle a quick transition to the clay in Rome?
On Monday, that question was answered for the first time, as several WTA and ATP players stepped on the red dirt. We run down some of the storylines to emerge from the opening day of main-draw action at the Internazional BNL d'Italia.
Krajinovic wins baseline battle
In the men’s match of the day on paper, Filip Krajinovic outclassed No. 16 seed Felix Auger-Aliassime, 6-4, 7-5, after winning 27 of his 30 first serve points. Krajinovic notably routed Dominic Thiem, 6-2, 6-1, in the Flushing Meadows-staged Western & Southern Open, before the Austrian went on to lift his first major trophy at the US Open. Auger-Aliassime was coming off his best major result, a round-of-16 showing in New York.
Mertens back to winning ways
After ousting Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin in returning to the US Open quarterfinals, Elise Mertens posted a single game against eventual runner-up Victoria Azarenka. She rebounded nicely, dismissing Hsieh Su-wei, 6-3, 6-1, in 72 minutes. Mertens won 57 percent of her return points to improve to 3-1 against Hsieh, who was playing her first event since winning the doubles crown in Doha with Barbora Strycova on February 28. The Belgian has picked up 13 match victories since the WTA tour resumed in Palermo.
Nishikori wins first match since contracting COVID-19
Unable to participate at the site of his lone Grand Slam final, following a positive coronavirus test, Kei Nishikori was forced to begin his return last week on clay in Kitzbuhel during the second week of the US Open. Playing his first event in a year, due to a right elbow injury, Nishikori lost a tough opener in three to Miomir Kecmanovic, who went on to claim his first ATP title. He took a step forward Monday, defeating Albert Ramos-Vinolas, 6-4, 7-6 (3), in the pair’s first meeting since the 2016 Rio Olympics. Gael Monfils now awaits the Japanese star.
Yastremska avenges Palermo defeat
Playing her first tournament without coach Sascha Bajin, Dayana Yastremska made sure history didn’t repeat itself. In August, she wasted two match points in her Palermo quarterfinal loss to Camila Giorgi after dropping a tight second set tiebreaker. This time, after once again failing to close out the Italian with a match point in the second set, Yastremska recovered, finishing with a forehand up the line that had enough on it to surprise her opponent. Next up: Amanda Anisimova, a 7-6, (4), 7-6 (6) winner over 16th seed Donna Vekic.
Either Jannik Sinner or Benoit Paire would see a positive result come out of their change in scenery following difficult exits from the US Open. Sinner lost from two sets up to No. 11 seed Karen Khachanov in his New York opener, but Paire never got the chance to take the court, as a positive COVID-19 test saw him removed from the draw before play began. Forced to continue isolating in his hotel room for the majority of the hard-court major, Paire’s stay in Rome won’t be prolonged, as Sinner broke the Frenchman four times to advance, 6-2, 6-1.
The top two seeds, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova, learned who they would face to begin their campaigns. Halep opted out of the US Open after triumphing in Prague, while defending champion Pliskova enters on the back of a disappointing second-round exit to Caroline Garcia in Queens. Halep will take on wild card Jasmine Paolini, who impressed in taking out Anastasija Sevastova, 6-2, 6-3. Pliskova gets countrywoman Barbora Strycova, whose 2020 retirement plans went up in the air as a result of the five-month shutdown. Strycova overcame Veronika Kudermetova, 6-3, 6-3.