Juvan Stuns No. 2 Seed Vondrousova In Palermo

WASHINGTON, August 5, 2020 (by Michael Dickens)

After just two days, the upsets have been plenty at the 31st Palermo Ladies Open in southern Italy. Early Tuesday morning, No. 3 seed Maria Sakkari was unceremoniously taken down. Then, Tuesday afternoon, No. 2 seed Marketa Vondrousova and No. 5 seed Elise Mertens followed suit. However, there’s one seed so far who has been steady and in control. It’s the WTA International event’s top seed, World No. 15 Petra Martic.

In the featured second match on the stadium court of the ASD Country Time Club early Tuesday evening, Martic wasted little time – just 65 minutes – or effort, in advancing to the second round. The native of Split, Croatia, who was playing her first competitive match in five months, easily took down No. 57 Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium, 6-0, 6-3.

In her first Palermo appearance, Martic won 71 percent of her service points and was solid on her return, where she broke her opponent four times in eight attempts and won 21 of 43 points. Martic outpointed Van Uytvanck 57-37 overall to move on against qualifier Liudmila Samsonova. The 117th-ranked Russian upset No. 77 Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium, 6-4, 6-2, in one hour and 33 minutes.

“I think I felt my nerves a little bit more, because the break was so long,” said Martic, as quoted from a video chat on the WTA website, following her second career win over Van Uytvanck. “It’s such a big uncertainty going on the court not knowing how you’re going to be.

“I played well before the break, so I was happy with the rhythm, but obviously five months off disrupts everything. Once the match started, I kind of let go and just played.

“I didn’t expect [that score], I didn’t expect anything. That was the main goal today, because it’s been such a long break and I don’t think anyone knows what to expect when the real match comes. Practice is so different from this.

“Today, I just focused on my game, and I tried to enjoy the fact that we are back on court again. And I think I managed both.”

Meanwhile, the second day of the 31st Palermo Ladies Open began with the surprising 1-6, 7-5, 6-4 victory by 19-year-old qualifier Kaja Juvan of Slovenia against Vondrousova. Ranked No. 121 and making her Palermo main draw debut, Juvan survived three rounds of qualifying over the weekend and Monday just to reach the main draw. She came into her match against last year’s French Open finalist with just one career WTA win on clay, which came last year in Bucharest. So, on paper, everything seemed to favor Vondrousova, the talented left-hander from the Czech Republic.

“Probably, on paper, yes,” said Juvan during an on-court interview after her win. “But I’m just getting into the rhythm. I’m happy I get to play another match (Thursday).”

Although it took the young Slovenian (who is one of two 19-year-olds in the main draw) some time to get on track after losing the opening set 6-1, she also threw away her shot when she let her more-experienced opponent back into the second set after taking a commanding 4-0 lead – even after holding serve in a 22-point marathon fourth game – thanks to a couple of service breaks. However, once Vondrousova leveled the set and held her own serve for a 5-4 advantage, Juvan went to work. In short order, she held, broke, then served out the one hour and 11-minute set to force a decider.

The third set began in similar fashion to the second as Juvan jumped ahead quickly 4-0. Then, she was broken in consecutive service games and, suddenly, it was 4-all. However, Juvan broke Vondrousova for the sixth time in the match in the ninth game to push ahead 5-4, then served out the victory to advance.

Statistically, it was not a pretty win for Juvan – she won just 46 percent of her first-serve points and her service was broken seven times – but the victory against the 18th-ranked Vondrousova was her first against a Top 20 opponent.

During a socially distanced on-court interview after her triumph, Juvan was asked if she expected to win. “Definitely not, but I don’t like to think ahead before my matches. I don’t like to lose matches before I go on court,” she said, suppressing a giggle as she answered the interviewer’s question.

“I wanted to do my best. Obviously, it’s very hard for everybody right now. I’m glad I was able to win.”

When Juvan was asked if her conquest of Vondrousova was the most important win of her career, Juvan answered the question in a matter-of-fact tone of voice. “I don’t like to think about matches like that. I like to take it a step at a time.

“I’ve already had four matches in four days, so I’m a little bit tired. Tomorrow’s a new day and I’m going to reset. Hopefully, do well tomorrow.”

Steady Mertens among the surprise upsets

No. 5 seed Elise Mertens of Belgium had the best clay-court winning percentage among the Palermo field coming in with a 33-14 main draw win-loss record on clay in her career. However, she became the second seed to fall following Monday night’s elimination of third seed Maria Sakkari and ahead of No. 2 seed Marketa Vondrousova.

The 23rd-ranked Belgian was upset by 119th-ranked qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus, 6-4, 6-1, in one hour and 23 minutes. Sasnovich took advantage of four breaks of Mertens’ serve and won 49 percent of her return points.

The loss dropped Mertens’ win-loss record to 11-6. It was her first tournament action since losing in the round of 36 at Doha in February.

Other first round matches:

• No. 4 seed Anett Kontaveit of Estonia escaped the threat of an upset with her 6-3, 6-3 victory over No. 85 Patricia Maria Tig of Romania. It was the 22nd-ranked Estonian’s 10th victory in 15 matches this season. Coming in, she had split her two previous matches with Tig, both on hard courts. “I’m just really happy to have won that match,” Kontaveit said afterward, quoted by the WTA website. “It was a little bit difficult switching from hard courts to outdoor clay. It was a little windy and I wasn’t used to the bad bounces. I fought well, managed to come back in the second set, never gave up on the set when I was 3-0 down and really stayed in there. I feel like I played the important points well, and I wasn’t missing on those.”

• No. 53 Fiona Ferro of France defeated 172nd-ranked qualifier Nadia Podoroska of Argentina, 6-2, 6-1, taking advantage of six service breaks. The win evened Ferro’s win-loss record this year at 5-5.

• Lucky loser Oceane Dodin from France, ranked 116th, pulled out a 2-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over No. 71 Tamara Zidansek of Slovenia that lasted two hours and 26 minutes. It was the fourth time this year she’s come back to win after losing the first set.

• No. 89 Camila Giorgi of Italy continued the streak of first-round victories by Italian players in Palermo with her 7-5, 6-4 win over No. 44 Rebecca Peterson of Sweden. Giorgi improved to 11-6 and will face Juvan in the second round on Thursday. “The first match each week is complicated, no matter the circumstances,” said the 28-year-old Giorgi, quoted by the WTA website. “Of course, it’s even more complicated now, after such a long break.”

Passing shots

• Of Wednesday’s four Center Court matches on Wednesday, three of them will feature three Italians, who all won on Monday – Jasmine Paolini (vs. Aliaksandra Sasnovich) and wild cards Sara Errani (vs. Kristyna Pliskova) and Elisabetta Cocciaretto (vs. No. 6 seed Donna Vekic) – who all triumphed on opening day Monday. The day begins with No. 8 seed Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia versus Fiona Ferro at 4 p.m. CEST.

• After her 6-4, 6-4 first-round victory over No. 3 seed Maria Sakkari early Tuesday morning – the match ended shortly after 2 a.m. local time – Kristyna Pliskova told the WTA Insider: “Conditions were really tough. Before the match I was sleeping a little bit. I think it’s tough for her as well, so I was thinking like this, it’s the same for both of us. I felt a little bit slow because the body is not used to play(ing) at 2 a.m. But I think my serve was there.”