Aryna Sabalenka, Jessica Pegula handed early exits in Rome

Apr 15, 2023; Delray Beach, FL, USA; Jessica Pegula (USA) returns a shot against Julia Grabher (AUT) in the Billie Jean King Cup tie against Austria at Delray Beach Tennis Center. Mandatory Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports
Credit: Susan Mullane-USA TODAY Sports

Two of the top three seeds at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia were upset in their opening matches during the Round of 64 on Thursday in Rome.

American Sofia Kenin was a surprising 7-6 (4), 6-2 winner over Belarusian No. 2 seed Aryna Sabalenka, and Taylor Townsend outlasted fellow American Jessica Pegula, the third seed, 6-2, 3-6, 6-3.

Sabalenka entered the tournament with momentum, having downed world No. 1 Iga Swiatek of Poland on Saturday to win the Madrid Open title. But Kenin, the 134th-ranked player in the world, turned in the better performance on Thursday, saving five of seven break points and winning 32 of 44 first-service points (72.7 percent).

It’s the first time all year that Sabalenka, the Australian Open champ, had failed to reach at least the quarterfinals of an event.

Townsend — the world No. 168 — got into the Rome field via qualifying and handed Pegula a stunner. Townsend served five aces without a double fault, while her opponent double-faulted five times. Townsend broke Pegula’s serve four times in 10 opportunities while winning 39 of 54 first-service points (72.2 percent).

“It was 100 percent mental for me,” Townsend said afterward on the Tennis Channel broadcast. “I knew I didn’t have anything to lose. … I just felt super prepared. I tried to stay as free as possible and have a lot of fun out there, and I did.”

It was only the second time Townsend defeated a top-10 player, while Pegula lost her opening match of a tournament for the first time in more than a year.

French fifth seed Caroline Garcia also looked to be in trouble. Romanian Ana Bogdan led Garcia 5-3 in the third set, but Garcia rallied to win four straight games to escape with a 6-4, 3-6, 7-5 victory. Garcia served up nine aces in the match.

No. 6 seed Coco Gauff fared much better, dispatching Kazakhstan’s Yulia Putintseva 6-0, 6-1 in 59 minutes. Gauff served six aces and never faced break point.

Three more seeded players bowed out on Thursday. Hungary’s Anna Bondar defeated No. 13 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic 7-6 (5), 6-2. Camila Osorio of Colombia beat No. 29 seed Petra Martic of Croatia 6-4, 6-2, and Xiyu Wang of China took down No. 31 seed Irina-Camelia Begu of Romania 6-4, 7-5.

Other winners included No. 11 seed Veronika Kudermetova of Russia, No. 12 seed Beatriz Haddad Maia of Brazil, No. 14 seed Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, No. 17 seed Magda Linette of Poland, No. 19 seed Madison Keys of the United States, No. 22 seed Qinwen Zheng of China, No. 23 seed Anastasia Potapova of Russia, No. 27 seed Marie Bouzkova of the Czech Republic and No. 30 seed Anhelina Kalinina of Ukraine.

–Field Level Media

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