ROME, Italy - The second day of play at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia started with a shock on Pietrangeli as the unseeded Katerina Siniakova dismissed No.15 seed Angelique Kerber 6-3, 6-1 in just one hour and eight minutes.
The result overturns both past and recent form for the Czech, who came into the tournament on a five-match losing streak at WTA main draw level dating back to Dubai in February, and who had yet to defeat Kerber in three previous encounters - although in their most recent and sole clay meeting in the second round of Madrid 2017, Siniakova had not only won her first set in the series but served for the match before falling 6-2, 1-6, 7-5. Today, the 24-year-old also notched up her first Top 30 win since defeating then-World No.1 Naomi Osaka at Roland Garros last year.
Siniakova betrayed no sign of her recent struggles as the match got under way, and would only warm to her task as it progressed. Steering the ball from line to line with fine angles before unleashing down-the-line winners off both wings, the World No.61 was easily the more dynamic player off the ground, and backed that up with judicious net forays.
By contrast, Kerber - a semifinalist at the Foro Italico in 2012 and a quarterfinalist in 2018 - would only intermittently display her customary panache; instead, the German was slow to react to Siniakova's changes of direction, and was repeatedly let down by her forehand, finding the net on both ordinary rally balls and when trying to press the issue. A double fault opened the door for Siniakova in the sixth game, and the former doubles World No.1 seized her chance, moving forwards to slam away a pair of smashes for a 4-2 lead.
Maintaining a first serve percentage of 67%, Siniakova would not face a break point through the opening act, and closed it out in style on her second set point with, naturally, yet another winner - her 12th of the set - blitzed down the line.
Matters continued in much the same vein in the second set, with both players' patterns exacerbated, if anything. Taking on a putative overhead in the first game, a flat-footed Kerber casually and inexplicable landed it wide. Siniakova, sensing immediate opportunity, slammed yet another pair of forehand down-the-line winners to break serve - and two games later, as Kerber coughed up her third and fourth double faults, the two-time WTA titlist captured the double break.
Attempting to press home her advantage, Siniakova displayed some signs of vulnerability in the fourth game, with uncharacteristic forehand errors and an untimely double fault bringing up Kerber's first break point chances of the day. But the 32-year-old's lack of sharpness was evident in the cheap errors she made to let Siniakova off the hook, and the former World No.31 regained her accuracy to move up 4-0 with - of course - back-to-back down-the-line winners, this time off her backhand wing.
Serving for the bagel, Siniakova was unable to convert triple match point, and for a brief moment Kerber flickered into life, breaking for the first time with a forehand winner. It wasn't enough: carving up a fourth match point on Kerber's serve, Siniakova sealed victory as the three-time major champion dumped another listless backhand into the net. At the end of the day, the pair's stats would be almost mirror images of each other, Siniakova racking up 23 winners to only 12 unforced errors - while Kerber found 11 winners while leaking 23 unforced errors.
Into the second round of Rome for the third time in her career, Siniakova will bid to make the last 16 for the first time against the winner of an all-Russian inter-generational derby of former Top 10 players between qualifier Daria Kasatkina and wildcard Vera Zvonareva.