ROME, Italy – No.11 seed Angelique Kerber marked her return from injury with a 6-2, 7-6(6) victory over lucky loser Zarina Diyas at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia.
The German was making her first appearance since retiring against Anett Kontaveit in Stuttgart last month but showed her trademark athleticism to move into the second round in Rome.
"I'm actually happy after the last two weeks that I'm back," Kerber told WTA Insider after the match. "After Stuttgart it was a really tough time because I had a lot of pain in my leg, and now I can say I was without pain the whole match and I could play my game like I practiced the past few days.
"It was a bit up-and-down match, but at the end, I think the whole match was a good match from me. Especially because it's the first round, the first match on clay outside, it's always a little bit different and tricky, but I think the whole thing was a good day."
It did not take the World No.12 long to make her mark on a player ranked 32 spots below her. In a lengthy opening game, Kerber manufactured four break points and eventually took one to race into the ascendancy.
When she held and then moved 15-40 up, it seemed she might runaway with the opener but her Kazakhstani opponent saved both to win the game and then pounced on a weak second set to level.
At this juncture, Kerber raised her game and benefitted from a rash of unforced errors to win the next four games. Undoubtedly the highlight came when she move 5-2 up with a double break, covering the width of the court retrieve a smash before scampering to cover the other flank and hit a winner, albeit with the aid of a fortunate kick from the net.
There was a momentum shift at the beginning of the second set, as Kerber did not possess the same intensity that she offered in the first, while Diyas clamped down on the unforced errors and pushed the lackluster nature of her opponent to move 3-1 up.
Kerber, though, dealt with adversity in an impressive manner. She saved her best tennis for the moments she most needed it, notably breaking her opponent when she was serving to secure the set, then racing through her subsequent game to level at 5-5.
A couple of uncharacteristic errors when serving at 5-6 saw her opponent claim a set point, and though it was played without great conviction, the German worked the ball smartly to set up a simple winner.
Having survived that significant scare, the higher ranked player came through the tiebreak, though not without adversity. Twice she went a mini-break up, but twice it was ceded relatively tamely.
A stunning drop shot yielded another squandered chance but in the end it was an unforced error from Diyas that proved decisive, setting up a match against Irina-Camelia Begu in the last 32.
The Romanian came from a set down to defeat Peng Shuai, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1.
"I'm really happy to be on court again and after the practices, and the treatments I had, I'm quite happy about the performance today," Kerber added.
"For me, it would be good to have as many matches as I can...before going to Paris. I'm just looking match-to-match, and I don't have too big of expectations for this tournament. I try to play as good as I can, and make the transfer from the practice to the matches, and going to Paris with a lot of confidence."