ROME, Italy – No.1 seed Simona Halep overcame an early scare to progress past wildcard Jasime Paolini, 6-3, 6-4, in her opening match of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia.
The home player, who was meeting a Top 10 opponent for just the second time in her career, came out hitting the ball sweetly and secured an early break before the class of the Wimbledon champions told in an affair that spanned one hour and 24 minutes.
For Halep, it was the continuation of an excellent spell, which has seen her win her last two tournaments in Dubai and Prague, as well as amassing a record that now stands at 16-2 for the 2020 season.
"I was a little bit tight at the beginning," she admitted. "Actually, the whole match it was a little bit difficult to get the rhythm and to get relaxed. But the first match of the tournament is always tough and she played really well.
"Her forehand was strong but so was the backhand. It was tough to find out what to do because we had never played before.
"But I'm happy I could win the match. It was a very tough one."
Any thoughts that the WTA World No.2 would be in for an easy ride against an opponent who breezed by Anastasija Sevastova in the opening round were quickly quashed as her 24-year-old rival came out firing, with her forehand forceful and accurate. After holding to 15 in the opening game, any nerves the underdog might have had were firmly eased when she broke immediately.
Halep had not started poorly but really got her legs going thereafter, targeting the Paolini backhand an establishing a 0-30 lead. Although the Italian was still striking the ball nicely, she was coming under increasing pressure, as a double fault after she had recovered to game point suggested.
The Romanian went on to seal the break, and though Paolini was able to reply, Halep was able to accelerate away with the set thanks to a brutal assault on her opponent’s second serve, winning 15 of 17 points in such scenarios.
The second set proved to be an equally complicated affair for a player who has twice finished as a runner-up in the Italian capital. She was served notice that Paolini was not ready to shy away as she was forced to five deuces in the opening game of the set.
Again it was Paolini who made the initial breakthrough, but neither player was able to dominate on serve, with this sparking a run of six successive breaks.
Almost from nowhere, Halep help to love, then applied the coup de grace at the first opportunity to seal the match, the eighth break point she had converted from only 10 attempts.
"I felt like when I needed to, I played very well," Halep said. "And mentally I was very strong. I didn't give up at all.
"Also, I didn't get very upset on court, and I'm trying to improve in that direction more and more. Today, that was a big plus."
She will next face the winner of Dayana Yastemska and Amanda Anisimova as she attempts to maintain her record of reaching at least the quarterfinal in every tournament she has played this year.