ROME, Italy - Daria Gavrilova continues to save her best tennis for the Internazionali BNL d'Italia; looking to back up her run to last year's semifinals, the Aussie outlasted Mutua Madrid Open winner Simona Halep, 6-3, 4-6, 6-3, to reach the third round.
"I played pretty well the whole match," Gavrilova said after her win. "It was always going to be a tough battle because we're pretty similar players.
"A few years back, I was watching her play thinking, 'I could play like her,' and beating her today was an unreal feeling. I was super happy. After the rain delay, I could reset and come out there playing very good!"
Halep needed three sets to defeat Gavrilova in their only previous encounter at the 2015 BNP Paribas Open, and the match was headed to another photo finish when a rain delay halted proceedings at one set apiece.
"Maybe if it wouldn't rain, maybe I would have played better," Halep said in her post-match press conference. "But that's it. I cannot change anything. If it's raining, it's raining. If I lose, you lose. I won a lot of matches last week, so I don't give up now that I lost one match."
? WTA (@WTA) May 11, 2016
Working her way through an even contest, the 2009 French Open junior finalist looked to be fading, but quickly caught fire after saving a break point in the fourth game.
Showing off the sort of boundless energy that has become her signature, the unseeded Aussie promptly broke serve in the next game and all but ran away with the match from there. Surviving a brief hiccup when serving for it, she broke once more at love to clinch the match in just under two hours, hitting 30 winners to 31 unforced errors.
The win was Gavrilova's first over a Top 5 player this season, and second of her career - having previously defeated then-World No.2 Maria Sharapova in the second round of last year's Miami Open ahead of her Roman run.
Though Halep didn't display the form that took her to a second career Premier Mandatory title in Madrid, the Romanian nonetheless hit 29 winners of her own, but wasn't able to make up for her 33 unforced errors hit over the course of three sets.
"It's not a big drama that I lost today," Halep said. "But it still was a loss and it's not easy.
"I take just a positive from last week. Today was tough for me to adapt, but still I could play better, but that's it. I'm still confident, but I have to keep working to go to French Open."
Up next for Gavrilova is No.9 seed Svetlana Kuznetsova on Pietrangeli Court; the Russian eased past Madrid semifinalist Samantha Stosur, 6-4, 6-4, just before the rain delay. Growing uo in Russia, the 2009 French Open champion is a player she knows well.
"When I was little, my first coach was telling us about her childhood. She was our hero, as well as Maria. I have so much respect for her. It's exciting, and I'm pretty sure she likes clay!"
? WTA (@WTA) May 11, 2016