Simona Halep advances in Rome despite sluggish start

World No 2 beat wildcard Jasmine Paolini 6-3, 6-4 to move into the third round of the Italian Open

epa08672587 Simona Halep of Romania in action during her second round match against Jasmine Paolini of Italy at the Italian Open in Rome, Italy, 16 September 2020.  EPA/Clive Brunskill / POOL
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Top seed Simona Halep overcame a couple of hiccups in her first match at the Italian Open in Rome to beat wildcard Jasmine Paolini 6-3, 6-4 to move into the third round on Wednesday.

The 28-year-old Wimbledon champion has only lost twice this year but found herself a break down in both sets before she recovered to seal her first victory since winning the Prague Open a month ago.

World No 2 Halep, who had skipped the US Open due to Covid-19 concerns and opted to stay in Europe and practice on the claycourts ahead of the French Open, looked sluggish at the Foro Italico with 14 winners offset by 15 unforced errors.

"I was a little bit tight at the beginning, it was tough to get a rhythm in the whole match," Halep told reporters. "It's always tough in the first match of the tournament and she played really well.

"I felt like I played very well when needed. Mentally, I was very strong and I didn't give up at all and I wasn't upset on court. I'm trying to improve in that direction and today it was a big plus."

Halep had received a bye into the second round but was far from her best on serve and was broken five times in the match.

However, Paolini was also let down by seven double faults in the match while both players struggled to win games on serve, with six consecutive breaks marking the early stages of the second set.

Halep capitalised on Paolini's second serve, winning 15 of 17 points to take the opening set.

She switched gears late in the second to take the game away from the Italian, who was playing a top 10 player for only the second time in her career, as Halep finished the match after converting her eighth break point.

Halep, twice a runner-up in Rome, will next play either Dayana Yastremska or Amanda Anisimova in the next round. (Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru, editing by Pritha Sarkar and Christian Radnedge)