ROME, Italy - There was definitely some déjà vu for Venus Williams at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia on Tuesday, as for the second straight week she took on Simona Halep in her opening match at a WTA tournament - but things went far smoother this time as the former No.1 moved on safely, 63 64.
At the Mutua Madrid Open last week Halep pushed Williams to the limits, rallying from 61 20 down and eventually leading 4-2 in the third set before falling in a photo finish, 61 46 76(6); this time the tenacious Romanian had her moments, including building a 3-1 second set lead, but Williams was too sharp this time and sealed the first round victory an hour and 35 minutes.
"It was different than last week - I had to make some adjustments, and I was really happy to finish in two sets," Williams said afterwards. "It was windy and there were shadows too, so it was kind of tough to see the ball sometimes, which was difficult. So I was happy I was able to finish the match well today."
Speaking of Madrid, Williams had some thoughts on her sister's triumph in the Spanish capital. "Serena played amazing last week - she played great tennis," she commented. "Everyone else is great too, but she is just great."
Williams has an impressive 23-6 career record in Rome, winning the title once (in 1999) and reaching the quarterfinals or better six of seven times she has played here in the past (the only pre-quarterfinal loss she had was in 2000, losing to Jelena Dokic in the third round - as soon as the clay court season ended that year, she went on a staggering 35-match winning streak).
The first round wrapped up, with some mixed results for the seeds: No.14 seed Dominika Cibulkova cruised, but No.11 seed Sabine Lisicki lost a two-hour, 43-minute marathon to Marina Erakovic, 76(4) 46 63; No.15 seed and two-time Rome winner Jelena Jankovic also lost a marathon, a two-hour, 35-minute one to Sorana Cirstea, 63 46 76(4); and No.16 seed Maria Kirilenko let a 5-1 second set lead slip to lose to Italian veteran Flavia Pennetta, 61 76(2).
The last match of the first round took place under the lights, with No.9 seed Serena Williams improving to 14-0 on clay this season with a 62 63 win over Galina Voskoboeva, rallying from a break down in the second set.
"It was nice to be back on red clay - it's thicker and true to Roland Garros," Williams said. "Galina played really well. I can see why she has started doing much better. I like her game - she tries different things and is a great fighter."
Next for Williams is Petrova - Williams leads Petrova in their head-to-head, 6-3, but Petrova has won their last two meetings, and two of three on clay.
"She's beaten me a lot. I hope I can finally win a match against her."