In one of her craziest matches of her long career, Venus Williams needed a total of nine match points to finally beat a pesky Elise Mertens 7-5, 3-6, 7-6(4) to reach the Rome second round where she will face sister Serena on Wednesday.
Seemingly in control, the 38-year-old Venus led in the third 5-1 then serving for it at 5-2 she blew six match points, a few off double faults. Mertens held then save two more match points as Venus tried again to close it out at 5-4.
The Belgian again broke and the traded breaks before Venus took the ensuing tiebreaker after just over three hours of play.
“It was a very long match,” Venus said. “I couldn’t really tell when or how it was going to end, was happy it did.
“I think the first match after a while, you’re just trying to hang in there, just get the motor going. I think that’s really what today was about, just trying to get going.”
After a well-deserved day off, Venus will now face sister Serena on Wednesday. Serena leads 18-12 however Venus won her only meeting on clay in Rome 21 years ago.
“I know that she’s going to play really well and compete really well. That’s a given,” Venus said.
Said Serena, “”I vaguely remember that, so I don’t really remember,” she said. “But, yeah, it could happen. We play each other a lot. Seems like every tournament nowadays we meet early. Yeah, it is what it is.”
Serena looked good in her clay debut getting through Rebecca Peterson 6-4, 6-2 in just 76 minutes.
“It felt good to be back in the match,” Serena said. “It’s been a while. I haven’t played a ton of matches this year. Not my choice, just by force. I really, really actually desperately wanted to be on the tour and to be playing, but it hasn’t been able to work out.
“It felt good to finally be back out. Hopefully I’ll be able to keep it up.”
Madison Keys, Amanda Anisimova and Sofia Kenin were also winners on a good day for Americans.
Other results included Anett Kontaveit, Dominika Cibulkova and Garbine Muguruza all advancing. So too did Victoria Azarenka who beat Shuai Zhang 6-2, 6-1 in a late match. She’ll have to return tomorrow to face 2-time defending champion Elina Svitolina who she leads 2-0 in their series.
Victoria Azarenka needed two sets to ease past Zhang Shuai at the Internazionale BNL d’Italia, where she’s booked a second round clash against defending champion Elina Svitolina.
“I’m definitely looking forward to the challenge,” Azarenka said. “It’s been a while since we played a match at a tournament. We actually practiced here together.
“I’m sure it’s going to be a tough battle. She plays amazing here, winning two times in a row. So it’s going to be fun, I think. We’ll also play at night tomorrow so hopefully we can get a good crowd and make things exciting.”
Karolina Pliskova, Ash Barty, Belinda Bencic and Caroline Wozniacki are all in action Tuesday. Wozniacki duels Danielle Collins.
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