The 2021 Internazionali BNL d'Italia kicked off with two of the most intriguing first-round ties delivering the quality and competition they had promised. Coco Gauff overcame Yulia Putintseva 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 in a two-hour, 57-minute Pietrangeli battle royale, while Anastasija Sevastova defeated Jil Teichmann 3-6, 6-1, 6-3 in one hour and 58 minutes.
In a first-time meeting between two of the grittiest competitors on tour, Gauff came from a break down to take the first set, saved six set points as she attempted a second-set comeback, and held off a late-stage surge from Putintseva to seal her third match point.
A fascinating tactical contest, Putintseva used high topspin strokes to grind Gauff down in baseline exchanges, with judicious use of the dropshot paying dividends in the first two sets. The Kazakh's execution would go awry as she attempted to close out both, though.
From 5-3 up in the opener, a slew of uncharacteristic errors beckoned Gauff back into the match. The American 17-year-old was also anticipating the Putintseva dropshot now, and once at net was able to show off her volleying prowess to win key points - including her first set point.
Sticking with her initial strategy, Putintseva would move up 5-2 in the second set, pitting her passing shots against Gauff's net skills for a series of thrilling exchanges. Once again, Gauff became watertight with her back to the wall. The World No.35 saved six set points on her own serve with bold play - but this time, Putintseva quelled the putative comeback with a love hold to force a decider.
In the third set, Putintseva paid the price for a slow start, losing her accuracy on the forehand and dropshot as Gauff raced through 12 of the first 15 points. In a reversal of the second set, this time it was Putintseva's battling qualities that saw her attempt to recover from 2-5 down.
Putintseva saved two match points as Gauff served for victory, the first with a brilliant pass at full stretch that left her on the ground, but it was too little, too late. Gauff, continuing to take charge in the forecourt, closed it out with and eighth break of the Putintseva serve to set up a second-round date with either No.17 seed Maria Sakkari or qualifier Polona Hercog.
Elsewhere, Sevastova gained revenge over Teichmann in a rematch of one of the year's finest contests. In the Adelaide quarterfinals in February, the Swiss player had saved two match points en route to a 6-4, 6-7(8), 7-5 win.
Both players have continued their strong form into the claycourt swing, and were coming off impressive performances in Madrid last week, where Sevastova reached the third round and Teichmann scored an upset of Elina Svitolina. That was evident in a series of superb, variety-filled exchanges in which both showed off their nous on the terre battue.
While Sevastova's finesse was a delight throughout the match, her grit was key to turning it around. The Latvian won three straight multi-deuce games to build a 5-1 lead in the second set, and took charge in the decider with improved serving. Having found her second serve repeatedly punished by Teichmann in the first set, Sevastova cruised through the third without facing a break point.
Meanwhile, former World No.14 Petra Martic posted her first Top 50 victory of the season in another longueur. The Croatian fought back to defeat Shelby Rogers 5-7, 6-3, 6-4 in two hours and 29 minutes.