ROME: Seeded players Felix Auger-Aliassime and Karen Khachanov were the major casualties in the first round of the Italian Open in Rome on Monday as players turned their attention from the hardcourts to the clay swing in Europe.

Auger-Aliassime, who fell in straight sets to eventual champion Dominic Thiem in the fourth round of the US Open last week, lost 6-4, 7-5 to Serbia’s Filip Krajinovic while 11th seed Khachanov was beaten 6-3, 3-6, 6-1 by Norwegian Casper Ruud.

Frenchman Benoit Paire, who tested positive for Covid-19 and was withdrawn from the US Open before his first round match, was knocked out 6-2 6-1 by Italian Jannik Sinner.

Sinner saved all four break points he faced while breaking Paire four times to beat the world number 24 who had beaten him earlier this year in Auckland. He moves on to meet third-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas.

Top seeds Novak Djokovic, a four-time Rome winner, and defending champion Rafael Nadal, winner nine times, have first round byes in a tournament rescheduled from May due to the coronavirus pandemic. They will begin their campaigns on Wednesday.

Kei Nishikori — who is returning from right elbow surgery and missed the US Open after testing positive for Covid-19 — won for the first time in more than a year, beating Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-4, 7-6 (7-3).

Nishikori will next meet either three-time Grand Slam champion Stan Wawrinka, or Italian qualifier Lorenzo Musetti, as he builds his fitness towards the French Open later this month.

Elsewhere 15th seed Grigor Dimitro saw off Italian wild card Gianluca Mager 7-5, 6-1. Bulgarian Dimitrov pulled ahead from 5-5 in the first set to win seven straight games and next meets either Yoshihito Nishioka or Kitzbuehel champion Miomir Kecmanovic.

Marin Cilic was pushed the distance in a 6-7 (4-7), 6-2, 6-4 victory over Alexander Bublik to book his spot in the next round where he will face sixth seed David Goffin.

US Open quarter-finalist Borna Coric eased past 14th seed Cristian Garin 6-4, 6-4, while Frenchman Ugo Humbert defeated two-time Grand Slam finalist Kevin Anderson 6-3, 7-6 (7-5) in his Rome debut. He will try to upset seventh seeded Italian Fabio Fognini in the second round.

In the women’s draw, Belgian 11th seed Elise Mertens moved into the second round with a straightforward 6-3, 6-1 victory over Hsieh Su-wei while 21-year-old Elena Rybakina beat Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-0, 6-4 in just 61 minutes.

Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska overcame home favourite Camila Giorgi 7-5, 6-7 (5-7), 6-4 in a match where both players struggled with their first serve, with 28 double faults recorded in the contest.

Last year’s French Open semifinalist Amanda Anisimova edged Donna Vekic 7-6 (7-4), 7-6 (8-6) and Magda Linette beat 2017 French Open winner Jelena Ostapenko 6-4, 6-3.

Italian wildcard Jasmine Paolini eased past Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova 6-2, 6-3 to earn a second round clash with top seed Simona Halep of Romania.

Second seed Karolina Pliskova opens her title defence against fellow Czech Barbora Strycova who strolled past Russian Veronika Kudermetova 6-3, 6-3.

Published in Dawn, September 16th, 2020