RABAT, Morocco - Sara Errani kicked off today's second-round play at the Grand Prix De SAR La Princesse Lalla Meryem with an epic barn-burner of a win over No.8 seed Alison Riske, 7-6(7), 6-7(4), 6-2.
Errani's ranking may have fallen to World No.102, but the Italian was the Roland Garros finalist in 2012, and her clay-court prowess was on full display initially as she sped out to a 5-1 lead.
Varying her height, pace and placement masterfully and throwing in a number of exquisite dropshots, she thoroughly undid her American opponent's offensive game - just as she had in their only previous clay encounter, at Roland Garros in 2015.
However, Riske was in no mood to be swept aside, and she dug in to begin constructing her points more patiently and hitting her spots with big crosscourt forehands. Winning six games on the trot, it seemed as though she'd thoroughly stolen the momentum from a visibly frustrated Errani.
Yet it was the 30-year-old Italian who saved two set points in the ensuing tiebreak, one with a brave forehand down the line, and eked out the set after her indefatigable defence elicited a swing volley error from Riske.
Neither player could extend a significant lead in a tight, edgy second set that saw eight breaks of serve to just four holds; when Riske failed to serve it out at 6-5, it felt somewhat inevitable. The 26-year-old American regrouped to dominate another tiebreak with pinpoint aggression, but her efforts in hitting through Errani seemed to take it out of her. As the third set began, it was Riske who came out flatter as Errani once again began to move her relentlessly around the court.
Judicious net-rushing and more smart dropshots saw the Italian build a 5-0 lead but, just as in the first set, she proved unable to close it out at the first time of asking. But it was too far back for a visibly tiring Riske, and after two hours and 56 minutes it was Errani who came out on top - a win that will see her move back into the Top 100.
“It was a really tough match, it was really hot today so it was not easy,” Errani said after the match. “Also with the wind coming from one side. In the first set, yes I was up 5-1 for me and it was not too good after that. But I played a good match in the third, I tried to be more aggressive and it was better.
“I feel good on clay this year, I’m trying to keep going, trying to work and improve my game for sure.”
Riske might have fallen, but her compatriots made it a positive day for the USA overall. No.7 seed Lauren Davis continued her fine form of the first round, again losing just three games as she dismissed Kateryna Bondarenko 6-1, 6-2. Meanwhile, Varvara Lepchenko recovered from a disastrous opening set to upset No.5 seed Yulia Putintseva 1-6, 6-4, 6-1.
Meanwhile, Errani's fellow resurgent veteran compatriot Francesca Schiavone continued her recent fine form. The WTA World No.100, playing in Rabat as a wildcard entrant, eased into the quarterfinals with a 6-4, 6-4 win over Canadian qualifier Gabriela Dabrowski.