Taiwanese No. 1 Hsieh Su-wei on Monday returned to the court for the first time since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the WTA Tour, falling to a 6-3, 6-1 defeat to US Open quarter-finalist Elise Mertens, who made a solid transition from the hard courts in New York to the clay at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome.
“I’m not sure how well I adapted, to be honest,” Mertens told the WTA Web site. “I just feel like I might still be struggling a little. It was also [Hsieh’s] first match of the week, so that was a bit of an advantage for me. Going from hard to clay is a little difficult with the sliding and timing, but I tried to give everything I had today, tried to adapt where I could.”
While Kaohsiung-born Hsieh, the world No. 62, hit 11 winners, she was undone by 22 unforced errors and eight double faults as the world No. 11 improved her head-to-head record against the Taiwanese to 3-1, the Belgian’s only loss coming when she had to retire trailing 6-2, 4-0 in Tianjing, China, in 2018.
“You can expect a lot of different shots: drop-shots, slice, a lob if you come to net,” Mertens said of Hsieh. “You can expect some really good shots, but I tried to mix it up, too, because I think she likes the hard-hitters, so she can use the pace and get her variety going. I think I did everything well today.”
The defeat means Hsieh can concentrate on her main objective in Rome, a fourth doubles title of the year alongside partner Barbora Strycova after victories in Brisbane, Dubai and Doha.
As top seeds, world No. 1 Hsieh and world No. 2 Strycova received a bye to the second round. They are to face unseeded Japanese duo Nao Hibino and Makoto Ninomiya, who rallied from a set down to defeat Italian wild-cards Elisabetta Cocciaretto and Martina Trevisan 1-6, 7-5, 10-5 in the first round.
Czech Strycova kept her interest in the singles alive by defeating Russia’s Veronika Kudermetova 6-3, 6-3, but she faces a much tougher task in the second round when she takes on second seed and defending champion Karolina Pliskova.
In the men’s singles, Japan’s Kei Nishikori got his first win in a year, with former semi-finalists Grigor Dimitrov and Marin Cilic also easing into the second round.
Nishikori needed six match points to get past Spain’s Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-4, 7-6 (7/3) in two hours at the Foro Italico for his first win since reaching the US Open third round last year.
“It’s been a long time since the US Open last year,” said the 30-year-old, who reached three Grand Slam quarter-finals last season before undergoing elbow surgery.
“I still don’t have confidence, but little by little I’m getting better,” he said.
Dimitrov, a 2014 semi-finalist in Rome, saw off Italian wild-card Gianluca Mager 7-5, 6-1, while Cilic, who lost to Alexander Zverev in the Rome semi-finals two years ago, battled past Kazakhstan’s Alexander Bublik 6-7 (4/7), 6-2, 6-4.
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