Day 1 of the Internazonali BNL d'Italia saw two former World No.1s advance with straight-sets wins on Pietrangeli. Simona Halep gained a 6-4, 6-4 revenge on Alizé Cornet in 1 hour and 25 minutes, following No.16 seed Victoria Azarenka's 6-3, 6-0 rout of Viktorija Golubic.
Halep, the Rome champion in 2020, had come into the match trailing Cornet 1-4 in a rivalry dating back to 2011 - including a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 heartbreaker won by the Frenchwoman in the fourth round of this year's Australian Open. But she came through two sets that were tightly contested at each end, successfully navigating all of the match's most competitive moments.
The Romanian sets up a second-round clash against Australian Open finalist and No.7 seed Danielle Collins.
Match management: Both sets followed a similar pattern: an absorbing trio of breaks in the early stages followed by a period of Halep dominance to forge a double-break lead. Halep was then unable to close out either set at 5-1 and 5-2 respectively, but with the insurance break in hand, steadied herself to serve them out at the second time of asking.
The trouble Cornet has given Halep in the past was evident in the dropshot battles that opened the match, and her last-ditch pivot to hard, flat hitting as she clung on to the second set. The stats sheet bears out how closely contested the match was at times, with both players tallying 24 unforced errors and Halep only one more winner, 15 to Cornet's 14.
But Halep impressed most when she pulled away in each set, showing off the aggressive game she has been deploying alongside new coach Patrick Mouratoglou. Backhand return winners sealed two breaks to love in the second set.
A careless game comprising two forehand errors and two double faults at 5-1 in the first set was only a blip. Stepping to the line at 5-4, Halep came out on top of two spectacular lung-busting rallies to close out the opening act. At the same stage in set two, some fine first serves sealed the victory.
Azarenka reprises defeat of Golubic
Just over a week ago, Azarenka came through a tough Madrid opener against Golubic 7-6(5), 6-3. The 2013 Rome finalist enjoyed her win here in just 68 minutes, dropping just five points behind her first serve and racing through 12 of the last 14 points.
"The beginning of the match was a bit nervy, and the first game I missed a few easy balls," said Azarenka afterwards. "But starting the tournament is never easy to get into the groove. I'm glad I found my groove, stayed really focused and really disciplined. It's not about how you start, it's how you finish. I was thinking the conditions would favour her more than in Madrid, but I felt pretty comfortable out there."
Azarenka will next face either Camila Osorio or wildcard Lucia Bronzetti.
Elsewhere, a battle of 1997-born players who were raised on clay saw Daria Kasatkina overcome Tamara Zidansek 6-4, 6-3 in 1 hour and 34 minutes. Kasatkina gained revenge for a loss in her only previous meeting with Zidansek in the 2018 Moscow River Cup second round.
Last year's semifinalist Petra Martic also advanced. The Croat, who had come through qualifying this year, defeated Karolina Muchova 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 in a high-quality three-setter that saw both players show off superb reflexes and touch.