ROME, Italy - Unseeded Daria Gavrilova produced a typically tenacious display to move into the second round of the Internazionali BNL d'Italia today, coming from a break down in the deciding set to beat No.10 seed Madison Keys 2-6, 7-5, 7-5 in two hours and 25 minutes.
"I think the last 10 minutes...I started playing really well. I was moving around, looking for my forehand," Gavrilova assessed, post-match. "That's also what my coaches said, they're like, 'Oh, after two hours, you started playing really well,' so I think all our practices are going to last two hours!
"[In the] first set, I was a bit slow, just running around giving her easy balls, and then I stepped up my game in the second set."
Last year, making the Rome final sparked a run of remarkable consistency for Keys, who would win at least three matches in nine of her next 11 tournaments and establish herself in the Top 10. But this hasn't been in evidence since her return from wrist surgery in March, and her 2017 win-loss record coming into today's match was a modest 3-4.
"[There were] a lot of moments where I could have played better," Keys said. "I don't think I served very well today. She's a tough opponent. So, you know, she was getting that extra ball back and doing something really well with it. It was a tough match. I fought as hard as I could. Kind of left it all out there. You know, just wasn't my day."
Nonetheless, the American had much the better of the opening set, flying through to take it 6-2 in 37 minutes.
But Gavrilova regrouped, intently studying her notes and taking to the court for the second set with renewed determination. Despite Keys mounting a mini-comeback from 2-5 down, the Australian kept focus to serve it out and force an intriguing decider.
"The fans here are so passionate...and it makes me feel very special," the 2015 semifinalist said about her success in Rome. "I always give my all, but here I seem to give even more. I feel like I'm playing at home, like it's a similar atmosphere to when I play in Melbourne."
Three times, the powerful 22-year-old broke Gavrilova's serve to move ahead in the set; three times, the spirited Australian broke back immediately. The World No.33 struck as the match reached boiling point: at 5-5, Gavrilova, unleashed aggressive returns and deft dropshots to break to love, and served the upset out with little trouble.
After reaching match point with some brilliant, hustling tennis, she chose the perfect moment to produce her first ace of the encounter.
The World No.33, who was forced to play qualifying at the Foro Italico after a mishape where she forgot to enter, has been taking her extra matches this week in stride.
"Coming through qualies was like winning a few matches at the French Open, and then that's like playing the third round against a seed, so that's how I treated it," Gavrilova said. "A positive - [besides] foregetting to enter!"
The Australian advances to face Caroline Garcia, who edged Donna Vekic in a third-set tiebreak on Monday in the second round. Gavrilova is 3-0 in their career head-to-head, including 2-0 in 2016, but the two have never played on clay.
"She's a tough competitor. She hits the ball pretty hard, takes the ball really early on the rise. Hopefully, I can get in the same rhythm as the third set against Madison and play some good tennis."