Halep opens with win in Rome, Bencic bounced out

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Simona Halep and Victoria Azarenka are among the WTA winners in Rome on Wednesday. Belinda Bencic, however, crashes out to Danka Kovinic.

Results we expected

World No 2 Simona Halep skipped Cincinnati and the US Open, instead opting to remain in Europe and practice on clay. It began to pay off at the Internazioli BNL d’Italia on Wednesday, as Halep kicked off her clay-court swing with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Italian wild card Jasmine Paolini. The top seed broke serve a whopping eight times in 10 return games to prevail in one hour and 23 minutes.

“I was a little bit tight at the beginning,” Halep admitted. “Actually, the whole match it was a little bit difficult to get the rhythm and to get relaxed. But the first match of the tournament is always tough and she played really well.

“Her forehand was strong but so was the backhand. It was tough to find out what to do because we had never played before. But I’m happy I could win the match. It was a very tough one.”

US Open standouts Victoria Azarenka and Elise Mertens also advanced. Azarenka, the runner-up at this season’s second grand Slam, battled past Venus Williams 7-6(7), 6-2 to conclude the first round. Mertens, a quarterfinalist in New York and the No 11 seed in Rome, reached the third round by beating Magda Linette 6-2, 6-4.

No 2 seed Karolina Pliskova impressed with a 6-3, 6-3 defeat of Barbora Strycova, while Wednesday’s nightcap saw No 4 Elina Svitolina hold off Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-3, 7-6(4).

Seeded players who lost

No 6 seed Belinda Bencic was not as fortunate, as she lost to qualifier Danka Kovinic 6-3, 6-1. Kovinic won 88 percent of her first-serve points and saved all four of the break points she faced while advancing in one hour and 11 minutes.

Hard-fought battles of the day

Dayana Yastremska vs Amanda Anisimova looked like perhaps the best matchup of the day on paper, and it did not disappoint. Anisimova served for the match in the second set, but Yastremska battled back for a 4-6, 7-6(3), 6-4 victory after two hours and 18 minutes.

The 29th-ranked Ukrainian will face Halep for a spot in the quarterfinals.

In an all-qualifier showdown, Anna Blinkova outlasted Aliona Bolsova 4-6, 6-1, 7-6(4).

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