ROME, Italy – Kristina Mladenovic held off a fightback from WTA World No.15 Belinda Bencic to cause an upset and move into the third round of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia thanks to a 2-6, 6-2, 6-1 victory.
Mladenovic, who already had a win over WTA World No.1 Naomi Osaka under her belt this season, has been enjoying a steady clay court campaign and scored her biggest win on the surface this year, taking little under two hours to secure a meeting with Ashleigh Barty.
"That's a very good win for me," she reflected. "She's playing very quickly and very well this year. She has a lot of wins under her belt and she's very dangerous."
The WTA World No.63 came into this match boosted by a qualifying win over Amanda Anisimova then an emphatic success over countrywoman Caroline Garcia and continued that level of form into the opening set.
"The start of the match was very good for me," she confirmed. "I played a very solid first set."
A terrific pass that brought her first break of the match showed the confidence of the 26-year-old, who made few unforced errors and put away the opener with authority as she advanced to thump a shot ball beyond her opponent.
The Swiss, who had lost two of her three previous meetings against the Frenchwoman, showed little evidence of the form that carried her to the quarterfinals in Charleston or the semis in Madrid last week in the formative stages of the match, struggling with her serve particularly. This was exemplified in the sixth game of the match, in which she was broken to love, largely because of a trio of double faults.
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Bencic had been forced to come back from a set and a break down in her opening match of the week against Anastasija Sevastova, and found herself potentially facing a similar scenario early in the second against Mladenovic.
Indeed, it hinged on three break points that Bencic saved in the second game, having delivered another two double faults.
That situation salvaged, a fizzing backhand winner saw her claim her opponent’s serve, sparking a run of five successive games, in which a viciously cut dropshot gave her the insurance of a double break.
"It was a little bit because of me," Mladenovic reflected. "I had a breakpoint and I missed an easy forehand. That could have been 2-0 love.
"Then in the third game, I had an easy overhead that I missed. From there, a lack of concentration on my shots cost me the lead."
For the third time in four meetings, a deciding set was required to differentiate the players.
Mladenovic flirted with disaster in her opening service game, in which she was twice taken to deuce, but held fast. Critically, she broke immediately as Bencic’s serve, which had improved in the second set, wavered once again.
There was a wobble from the Frenchwoman in the fifth game, but after fending off three break points she responded emphatically once more, breaking to 15 before successfully serving out to complete her biggest win of the spring.
The backed-up Rome schedule will compel her to play for a second time later on Thursday, with WTA World No.9 Barty her next opponent.