Match reports

First seeds falling at IBI23, Azarenka wins slam champions face-off

Former champion Pliskova and world number 3 Pegula are the first big upsets of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, Azarenka takes down Stephens, Garcia recovers in late night fight with Bogdan.

The first day of second round matches of this 80th edition of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia gave fans have already got a share of quality tennis and incredible upsets. On the Campo Centrale, excellent tennis was brought by Vika Azarenka and Sloane Stephens, who faced each other in a clash of former slam champions, while on the Grandstand, former Rome champion and two-more-time finalist Karolina Pliskova fell by the hands of Hungarian qualifier Anna Bondar. Hours later, world number 3 Jessica Pegula also suffered a similar fate losing in three sets to compatriot Taylor Townsend.

The Czech player fought hard during the first set, showing how much she found it difficult to adapt to the match rhythm on the surface, while her opponent had gained a lot of practice for it having come out of the qualies. After a tight tie-break that went to the Hungarian, Pliskova sank into a spiral of negativity and surrendered 7-6 6-2 to a much deserving opponent. The victory gave Bondar her first ever 3rd round at a WTA Masters 1000 where she will find Qinwen Zheng.

Roma 11 maggio 2023 Internazionali BNL d’Italia 2023 – Foto Adelchi FIoriti/FITP

Another upset happened almost contemporary not much further, as in-form Irina Camelia Begu lost in straight sets to Chinese Xiyu Wang. The Romanian struggled to deal with the aggressive tennis of her lefty opponent, but it looks like she had found a way out in the second set, when she served to force a decider and she even had a set point. On that shot, Begu served a strong first serve only to stop as she thought it was out, letting the return of the Chinese pass her. Nobody called the serve and the set point was gone.

Wang built on that moment and after breaking back, she lost no more games to seal a 6-4 7-5 victory.

In the opening match of the Campo Centrale, two former slam champions faced each other, and the quality of the match was just as high as expected. Vika Azarenka looked as focused as ever, bringing a very smart clay-court tennis that surprised and destabilized Sloane Stephens. The American fell in the trap that the 14th seed had prepared with clever tactics made of mixing high forehands with great depth and deadly sharp angles with the backhand. 6-4 6-3 the final score for the former world number one.

Roma 11 maggio 2023 Internazionali BNL d’Italia 2023 – Foto Adelchi FIoriti/FITP

Most other seeds found a much nicer form in their early matches with Marie Bouzkova, Magda Linette, Madison Keys, Veronika Kudermetova and Anhelina Kalinina all advancing in straight sets. Coco Gauff also made quite an impression on her first match here in Rome, dropping only one game against Yulia Putinsteva.

Gauff’s double partner and world number 3 Jessica Pegula, on the opposite, did not find a good day in Rome. The American was stunned by compatriot Taylor Townsend, who kept an impressive march going having started from the qualifications. The crafty game of the qualifier did not help Pegula find the much needed rhythm that a first match in the tournament requires. In just little less than two hours, Townsend captured her first victory against a top 3 player with a 6-2 3-6 6-3 score.

While Aryna Sabalenka was adding up to the count of seeds fallen on this shocking Thursday, Caroline Garcia also found herself back against the wall, as inspired Ana Bogdan counter-punched her way to serving for the match in the deciding set. Especially thanks to her stunning backhand, the Romanian troubled the world number 4 throughout the match, but Garcia managed to raise her game just in time. Down 5-3 in the decider, the Frenchwoman won the next four games on the trot to survive this day of upsets.

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