ROME: John Isner of the US serves to Spain’s Rafael Nadal during their Italian Open match at Foro Italico. —Reuters
ROME: John Isner of the US serves to Spain’s Rafael Nadal during their Italian Open match at Foro Italico. —Reuters

ROME: Defending champion Rafa Nadal began his Italian Open campaign with an emphatic 6-3, 6-1 victory over big-serving American John Isner to move into the last-16 on Wednesday while Iga Swiatek is on course for a fifth straight WTA triumph after seeing off Elena-Gabriela Ruse 6-3, 6-0.

Nadal, who returned from a rib injury this month and fell at the quarter-final hurdle in Madrid last week, dominated Isner who struggled to find answers once the Spaniard, seeking his 11th title at Rome’s Foro Italico, hit his stride.

Isner leads the ATP Tour with over 450 aces in 2022 but Nadal negated the American’s booming serve by receiving from well behind the baseline — even on his second serve — breaking four times and restricting him to just one ace in the match.

Nadal will play Denis Shapovalov in the next round, against whom he saved two match points in the third round last year en route to his 10th title.

Stan Wawrinka, who won for the first time in 15 months in the first round, edged out Laslo Djere 7-6 (10-8), 3-6, 6-3 to set up a last-16 clash with world number one Novak Djokovic.

Stefanos Tsitsipas was forced to work hard to beat Grigor Dimitrov 6-3, 7-5, 7-6 (7-4) in a tough match in which he had to save two match points before eventually prevailing in a third-set tie-break.

Second seed Alexander Zverev, who lost in the final in Madrid at the weekend, also advanced to the last-16 after he dispatched Argentine Sebastian Baez 7-6 (8-6), 6-3.

Italian youngster Jannik Sinner beat fellow home hope Fabio Fognini 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 and will face Filip Krajinovic for a quarter-final place.

Women’s defending champion Swiatek, who was given a bye into the second round, extended her winning run to 24 matches after converting seven break points to wipe the floor with Ruse.

The 20-year-old Swiatek is in red-hot form after winning her last four tournaments and will be eyeing a second title at Roland Garros after winning there as a teenager in 2020.

The top seed next faces former world number one Victoria Azarenka, who cruised past Colombia’s Camila Osorio 6-2, 6-4.

Former champion Karolina Pliskova was dumped out of the women’s tournament after being beaten by Switzerland’s Jil Teichmann 6-2, 4-6, 6-4.

Tunisian Ons Jabeur, who became the first African player to win a WTA 1000 title in Madrid over the weekend, also moved to the next round on Wednesday after beating Australia’s Ajla Tomljanovic 7-5, 6-2.

Jabeur will next face Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva, who knocked out eighth seed Garbine Muguruza in a hard-fought 3-6, 7-6 (7-4), 6-1 victory.

Third seed Aryna Sabalenka strolled into the next round with a routine 6-2, 6-0 win over Zhang Shuai, while Coco Gauff is also in the last 16 after seeing off fellow American Madison Brengle 6-2, 6-4.

Croatia’s Petra Martic knocked out fifth seed Anett Kontaveit with a 6-2 6-3 victory while seventh seed Danielle Collins overpowered Simona Halep 7-6 (7-1), 6-3.

Published in Dawn, May 13th, 2022


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