AFP/ Rome, Italy
• Halep retires with a calf injury; Osaka slumps to Pegula; Zverev beats Dellien
Rafael Nadal opened his attempt to win a tenth Italian Open title yesterday with a straight sets victory over teenager Jannik Sinner to advance to the third round, even as Serena Williams, playing the 1000th WTA match of her career, crashed out weeks before her bid to make history at Roland Garros.
Second-seed Naomi Osaka of Japan also fell at the first hurdle in Rome with defending champion Simona Halep of Romania, the third seed, retiring with a calf injury.
Nadal, the 20-time Grand Slam winner, won through 7-5, 6-4 despite a spirted fightback from the 18th-ranked Italian who was twice up a break in the first set before saving six set points.
Sinner was again a break up in the second before Nadal powered back for 4-4 seeing off the Italian on his fourth match point.
“After Madrid it was important to start with a positive feeling,” said Nadal who was beaten in the last eight at both previous Masters events, in Monte Carlo and Madrid.
“Today was a tough match. I think I did a lot of things well. I made mistakes too but combined these with positive things too.”
Nadal, 34, next plays Canadian Denis Shapovalov, the 13th seed, for a place in the quarter-final.
Williams, 39, lost 7-6 (6), 7-5 on her return after nearly three months away to Argentina’s Nadia Podoroska, a player 15 years her junior, who was a surprise semi-finalist at last year’s Roland Garros.
“You know, it’s tough to have a first match on clay,” said Williams, who has won 73 WTA titles over the past two decades. “It was definitely kind of good to go the distance and to try to be out there, but clearly I can do legions better.
“Maybe I do need a few more matches, so I’m going to try to figure that out with my coach and my team and see what we would like to do.”
Williams, a four-time Rome winner and 23-time Grand Slam champion, had not played since her semi-final defeat to Osaka in the Australian Open this year.
Serena Williams of the US reacts after losing to Argentina’s Nadia Podoroska (not pictured) yesterday. (AFP)
Podoroska held her nerve to earn three match points to secure just her third career win over a top-10 player, all in the last eight months. “It’s a special win, she’s a great athlete, she’s done so many things for our sport,” said Podoroska who next meets Croatia’s Petra Martic. “It’s history most of all.”
For Williams it was her 149th defeat, with 851 wins over the course of a WTA career spanning 1000 matches.
Days after her shock defeat in the Madrid final, World number one Ashleigh Barty advanced to the third round with a 6-4, 6-1 win over Kazakh Yaroslava Shvedova.
Barty overcame an early break of serve to see off Shvedova, a three-time Grand Slam quarter-finalist making her way back after giving birth to twins.
She next meets 28th-ranked Russian Veronika Kudermetova as she bids for a first Rome quarter-final on her third appearance.
Osaka slumped to a 7-6 (2), 6-2 loss to 31st-ranked American Jessica Pegula.
The reigning US and Australian Open champion from Japan has seven career hard-court titles, but has never managed to lift a clay-court trophy.
World number three Halep, the 2018 French Open champion, limped off in tears with a left calf issue while leading Germany’s Angelique Kerber 6-1, 3-3 in their second round tie.
Former Rome champion Karolina Pliskova, seeded ninth, also advanced along with fifth seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine.
Fourth seed Thiem reaches third round
Austrian fourth seed Dominic Thiem rallied from a set down to battle past Hungary’s Marton Fucsovics into the third round of the men’s draw yesterday.
US Open champion Thiem, a semi-finalist in Madrid last week, won 3-6, 7-6 (5), 6-0 in 2hr 33min against 44th-ranked Fucsovics in the clay-court tournament which acts as a warm-up for the French Open.
Thiem, twice a runner-up at Roland Garros, will next play Italian Lorenzo Sonego who beat wildcard Gianluca Mager 6-4, 6-4, in a match in front of spectators, with 25 percent capacity allowed at the Foro Italico after the early rounds were played behind closed doors.
Sixth seed Alexander Zverev of Germany eased past Bolivian Hugo Dellien 6-2, 6-2 to set up a third round meeting with Japan’s Kei Nishikori.
Russian Andrey Rublev, seventh seed, advanced past Germany Jan-Lennard Struff 6-7 (7), 6-1, 6-4.
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