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.
As they celebrated Naomi Osaka’s victory in the final of the US Open in New York City’s Flushing Meadows on Saturday, Tokyoites were eager to embrace their heroines’ stand against racial injustice. Osaka, who won her third Grand Slam title with a victory over Victoria Azarenka, has used her platform to support the Black Lives Matter (BLM) movement, wearing a mask bearing the name of a different African American before each of her seven matches in the championship. She had donned masks bearing the names of Breonna Taylor, Elijah McClain, Ahmaud Arbery, Trayvon Martin, George Floyd and Philando Castile. On Saturday, she walked
KEY GOAL: Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei is now free to focus on taking her fourth doubles title of the year with Barbora Strycova; they are due to face Nao Hibino and Makoto Ninomiya 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
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