Estonian qualifier Anett Kontaveit pulled off a major upset on Wednesday when she beat the world’s No. 1 player, Angelique Kerber, 6-4, 6-0, to reach the third round of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome.
“It feels great,” said Kontaveit, who is ranked 68th. “It’s my first time beating the No. 1 in the world, so, you know, I’m super excited.”
Kontaveit adds the win over Kerber to a victory over 2016 French Open champion Garbine Muguruza three weeks ago.
“I think it does feel like an advantage in a way that I have had a few matches,” she said of the opportunity to play qualifying. “I feel comfortable on the courts here. Yeah, I think it’s been good.”
Things have not been going well this year for Kerber, who regained the No. 1 ranking this week and won two Grand Slam titles in 2016. She has not won any of the 11 tournaments she has played this year and got to the finals of only one.
She has not beaten any player ranked among the top 20 this season, and this was her fourth loss to player ranked outside the top 30.
In her opening match in Rome, she had just seven winners to 22 unforced errors.
“Everybody knows I’m not a clay court specialist,” Kerber said afterward. “I was not playing good last year, as well. I had a great year, but I mean, these few weeks I was not playing good.
“I think I need one good match to get also my confidence back and then to seeing that it works, actually. Because I’m working hard, I’m trying to practice really hard and trying to improving the movement, especially on clay, because it’s not 100 percent. I’m not feeling so well on this surface.”
Kontaveit trailed 2-4 to start the match, then won the final 10 games. She hit 32 winners to 18 unforced errors.
“I think I believe in myself more. I have more confidence, and I’m feeling really comfortable on the tennis court,” she said.
Up next for the qualifier will be No. 16 seed Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.
American Venus Williams needed a key break late in each set to advance with a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko.
Williams won this event in 1999 but struggled since. She won consecutive matches once in Rome since reaching the quarterfinals in 2012 but the No. 9 seed will face Johanna Konta for a chance to reach the round of eight.
“I thought my opponent played really well,” Williams said. “She’s so consistent, super competitive, took her opportunities. It was nice to get a win against an opponent who is playing well.”
While Williams had a tough difficult match, it was a breeze for Czech Karolina Pliskova, who is the third-ranked player.
Pliskova needed 57 minutes than an hour to beat Lauren Davis, 6-1, 6-1. It was her seventh straight win over an American opponent.
The easy win set up a meeting with Switzerland’s Timea Bacsinzky, who won their encounter in Rome in 2015. Bacsinszky advanced by beating Czech Barbora Strycova 6-4, 6-2.
“I think this was my easiest match this year,” Pliskova said “I am excited to be in the third round here — it’s my first win in this tournament, a big win for me. Hopefully I can still improve — I am expecting a tough one against Timea. It’s not going to be easy.”
Pliskova never let Davis get any momentum. She converted five aces and committed only one double fault.
“I played pretty fast and pretty aggressive,” Pliskova said. “It’s 30 degrees outside, it’s flying a lot and it’s quite fast. I like weather like this, for me it’s better to play in these conditions.”
Also, third-seeded Muguruza had to rally beat Jelena Ostpenko of Latvia 2-6, 6-2, 6-1, and sixth-seeded Simona Halep of Romania recorded a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Laura Siegemund of Germany.