In a second meeting between two of last season's major finalists, Leylah Fernandez was again victorious against Anastasia Pavlychenkova, this time in the first round of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia.
The two played last fall at the rescheduled BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, where Fernandez came from a set down to beat Pavlyuchenkova in the first tournament she played after finishing runner-up at the US Open.
On Monday in Rome, Fernandez had to repeat the feat after losing seven straight games to fall behind, and completed a 1-6, 6-2, 6-2 comeback over the No.14 seed in 1 hour, 54 minutes.
"She's an incredible player and she's very comfortable on clay. I knew it was going to be tough. The first set, I made a few mistakes and she just took advantage of it. In the second set, I just wanted to play a little more freely, just letting go of my arms," Fernandez said after the match.
"Even though I lost the first game, I think it helped me to get into the match. Afterwards, my balls were just going in. I'm just glad that I was able to keep attacking, keep being on the offensive, even though I was making mistakes, and I still kept trusting myself."
The effort earned World No.18 Fernandez a victory in her tournament main-draw debut; in each of her last two appearances in Rome, the Canadian was bounced in the first round of qualifying. Meanwhile, 2021 French Open finalist Pavlyuchenkova was playing just her second match since the Australian Open. She lost her comeback effort against Sara Sorribes Tormo in Madrid last week after 10 weeks on the sidelines with a knee injury.
Bencic eases past Italian wildcard Cocciaretto
Two Italian women were in action on Monday, but both fell at the first hurdle. One of those wildcards, 21-year-old Elisabetta Cocciaretto, did give No.12 seed Belinda Bencic an early scare, but the Swiss eased to a 6-4, 6-2 victory after trailing 3-1 early on. The Foro Italico has historically been a venue of little success for the former Top 10 player; the victory is just Bencic's third all-time in six trips to Rome, and she acknowledged that fact in her post-match press conference.
The No.12 seed ranks second to Ons Jabeur in clay-court victories so far this season with nine, and will next face the winner of the match between Czech qualifier Tereza Martincova and American Amanda Anisimova; Bencic is bidding for consecutive wins in Rome for the first time.
"I definitely feel like I'm playing well. I feel like I'm a step ahead of last year at this time, and I think it's positive for me," she added. "Even sometimes when I lose matches ... I'm improving and doing the right things and I feel like it's going to be a matter of time for me to make good results consistently every week."
Gauff grounds Kerber, Kalinina conquers Keys again
A semifinalist in 2021, Coco Gauff is off and running again at the Foro Italico.
The No. 15 seed needed just 70 minutes to defeat former world No. 1 and three-time major-winner Angelique Kerber, 6-1, 6-4, with little trouble after losing serve to start the match. In a rematch of the Round of 16 between the two at last year's Wimbledon, Gauff flipped the script; she nearly doubled Kerber's winner total in victory (21 to 12) and broke serve five times. The German has now lost her last six matches.
"We had a lot of close games even though the first set went, 6-1, a lot of games went to deuce or 30-30," Gauff said in victory. "Footwork and movement against her was crucial. She can change direction on some balls that a lot of players can't, so you don't really expect it. I felt like I was off-footed a lot, but I think what came through today is really how I handled myself."
Elsewhere, Gauff's compatriot Madison Keys was beaten by Ukraine's Anhelina Kalinina at a WTA 1000 event for the second time this year. Kalinina ousted Keys from the Miami Open presented by Itaú in March from a set down, and bounced the 2016 Rome finalist from this year's tournament in straight sets, 6-4, 6-4.