ROME: Former world number ones Simona Halep and Victoria Azarenka advanced to the second round of the Italian Open in Rome while four-time Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka was forced to withdraw from the tournament due to an ankle injury.
Halep, champion in Rome in 2020, beat France’s Alize Cornet 6-4, 6-4, exacting revenge for her fourth round loss at the Australian Open in January.
In a match that had 10 break points converted by the two players, Halep led 5-1 in both sets before Cornet fought back on both occasions before the Romanian got the job done, sealing progress with a forehand winner on Cornet’s serve.
The former French Open and Wimbledon champion next meets Australian Open finalist and number seven seed Danielle Collins.
Azarenka met a familiar foe in Swiss Viktorija Golubic, who she beat at the same stage of the Madrid Open late last month.
Although the match in Madrid was a closer contest, this time Azarenka beat her emphatically with a 6-3, 6-0 scoreline, wrapping up the match in just 68 minutes.
Organisers confirmed Osaka had withdrawn due to a left ankle injury and her opponent Sara Sorribes Tormo will now face lucky loser Nuria Parrizas Diaz.
American teenager Coco Gauff was untroubled in her 6-1, 6-4 triumph over three-time major champion Angelique Kerber, while Olympic champion Belinda Bencic skipped past home favourite Elisabetta Cocciaretto 6-4, 6-2.
In the men’s tournament, three-time Grand Slam champion Stanislas Wawrinka won his first match in 15 months as he moved into the second round while Dominic Thiem fell in the first round yet again to remain winless on the Tour this year.
Wawrinka, who did not play for an entire year after undergoing two surgeries for a foot injury, was playing 14th seeded American Reilly Opelka and lost the first set before fighting back to win 3-6, 7-5, 6-2 and set up a second round with Serbian qualifier Laslo Djere.
Thiem, who is also coming back from a wrist injury which prevented him from defending his US Open crown last year, showed some encouraging signs but made 22 unforced errors in a 6-4, 7-6 (7-5) defeat by Italian Fabio Fognini.
While Fognini advanced, it was a mixed day for the home fans after several Italians were knocked out in the first round.
Lorenzo Sonego showed the most promise when he stretched Denis Shapovalov to three sets before the Canadian advanced with a 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 6-3 victory.
Published in Dawn, May 11th, 2022