Day 2 of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia opened with both Madison Keys and Kristina Mladenovic reversing recent losses in long-standing rivalries to move into the second round.
In an all-American derby, Keys claimed her second win in six matches against Sloane Stephens 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 - the pair's longest ever match at two-and-a-half hours exactly. One month ago, Stephens had won 6-4, 6-4 in the second round of Charleston to snap an 11-match losing streak against Top 100 opposition.
Meanwhile, Mladenovic had fallen to Belinda Bencic 6-4, 6-2 just 13 days ago in the first round of Madrid, but avenged that loss 6-4, 6-4 to take a 4-3 lead in a head-to-head dating back to 2015.
In a tight match decided mostly by unforced errors, Keys played with greater intensity on the biggest points to snap a four-match losing streak and collect her third win of the year. The World No.23 let a 3-0 lead slip in the first set, but held off a repeat fightback from Stephens in the second and came from 0-2 down to edge the third.
Keys racked up 56 unforced errors in total, but despite her accuracy oscillating wildly throughout the match, managed to strike most of her 37 winners at the right times.
In the second set, a marathon hold for 5-2 in which Keys saved four break-back points proved crucial. At the dénouement of the contest, the 2016 runner-up found five winning forehands in the last two games.
Stephens, who had fallen to Tamara Zidansek 6-4, 7-5 in the final round of qualifying, was competing as a lucky loser for just the second time in her career following Estoril 2012. The World No.65 had entered the main draw after Karolina Muchova's withdrawal, and paid the price for a strategy that was both too passive and too error-strewn.
Mostly opting to return the ball through the middle of the court and let Keys hit herself out of rallies, Stephens totalled only nine winners through 30 games. The approach nearly worked, but the former US Open champion also committed 32 unforced errors, and was unable to alter tactics when Keys elevated her own game. Keys' reward is a meeting with No.15 seed Iga Swiatek in the second round.
No.10 seed Bencic and Mladenovic first played each other in the 2015 's-Hertogenbosch quarterfinals, and in recent times the Swiss player had gotten the upper hand in their rivalry by taking their last two tilts. But Mladenovic's last win over Bencic had also been in Rome, 6-2, 2-6, 6-1 in the 2019 second round, and the Frenchwoman was again able to thrive at the Foro Italico.
Revenge in Rome 😾— wta (@WTA) May 11, 2021
🇫🇷 @KikiMladenovic knocks out No.10 seed Bencic in straight sets to make it into Round 2.#IBI21 pic.twitter.com/qWBrIcfFrb
Like Stephens, Mladenovic was competing as a lucky loser after falling to Vera Zvonareva in qualifying. The World No.53 took advantage of seven double faults from Bencic while coming up with some stellar dropshots and passes of her own to win in one hour and 48 minutes. The result was Mladenovic's first Top 20 win since her triumph over Ashleigh Barty in the 2019 Billie Jean King Cup final.
Elsewhere, former World No.25 Yaroslava Shvedova scored her first WTA main draw win since reaching the 2017 Nürnberg quarterfinals with a remarkable 0-6, 7-6(4), 7-6(6) comeback over wildcard Martina Trevisan.
Shvedova returned to action in Doha last year after a three-year hiatus in which she gave birth to twins, Mirka and Stan. But before this week, the Kazakh had compiled a disappointing 1-9 record since coming back, with her sole win coming over Akgul Amanmuradova in Doha qualifying this February.
A first WTA main draw win since 2017! 👏— wta (@WTA) May 11, 2021
🇰🇿 @SlavaSays comes from a set down to arrange a second-round meeting with top seed Barty.#IBI21 pic.twitter.com/PTprCiFXGR
The 33-year-old World No.665 trailed 3-5 in both the second and third sets against Trevisan, but never faced a match point. When it was her turn to close out the win, Shvedova also struggled, squandering quadruple match point from 6-2 up in the deciding tiebreak. But facing a fifth, Trevisan sent a sitter long.
The result is Shvedova's first Top 100 win since defeating Jelena Jankovic 4-6, 6-4, 7-6(3) in the first round of Miami 2017, and her reward is a clash with World No.1 Ashleigh Barty in the second round.
Roland Garros semifinalist Nadia Podoroska also pulled off an impressive comeback to seal a second-round date with No.8 seed Serena Williams. The Argentinian has been sidelined since the Billie Jean King Cup playoffs last month due to a hip injury, but defeated lucky loser Laura Siegemund 2-6, 7-6(3), 6-1 in two hours and 31 minutes.