A three-time Rome champion Maria Sharapova had to work hard to book her place in the third round, overpowering Dominika Cibulkova 3-6 6-4 6-2 in two hours and 30 minutes. Playing against each other for the seventh time (they had met in Rome 10 years ago as well), Maria has managed to overcome her opponent and play some vintage tennis in the final set to earn the victory and stay in contention for another good result in Rome.
The Russian had to play against five break points, suffering two breaks of serve but creating 14 break chances on the return and converting four of those to prevail as a winner. Cibulkova grabbed the opening set with an early break in game two, fending off two break points in game nine to move a set away from the triumph.
Nothing could separate them in the first seven games of the second set, with great serving and shotmaking on both sides, and it was Sharapova who seized the break in game eight on her fourth break chance, leading 5-3 and serving for the set in the following game.
Dominika broke back at love to reduce the deficit and stay in touch but Maria broke her for the second time in a row in game 10 to take the set 6-4 and force a decider where she was the favorite now. The Russian repelled two break points at the start of the final set and she broke in game two to open up a 4-1 lead, serving well and controlling the pace with her forehand to overpower the Slovak from the baseline.
Cibulkova had to dig deep to save two break points in game six but there was no way back for her as Sharapova sealed the deal with another break in game eight, this time at love, and she was very pleased with the way she performed against a tough opponent.
The 11th seed Angelique Kerber had to work hard to prevail against the clay court specialist Irina-Camelia Begu, defeating the Romanian 3-6 7-5 7-5 in two hours and 37 minutes for the place in the last 16. Begu won three points more than Kerber but she fell short in the closing stages of sets two and three, earning breaks in the 10th game of each set but getting broken shortly after that to hit the exit door.
Kerber saved eight out of 14 break points and that helped her to stay in contention, together with the fact she grabbed six breaks from 10 opportunities. The Romanian claimed the first set in style, rattling off the last four games and 16 out of 18 points, building the momentum before the rest of the match.
Kerber ended her downfall with a double break at the start of the second set and she served for it at 5-4. Irina-Camelia broke back to level the score at 5-5 and keep her chances of winning the match in straight sets but she got broken in game 11 again, allowing Angelique to close the set on third set point in game 12, sending the encounter into a decider.
There, Kerber had an early advantage before she played a loose service game at 3-2 to bring her rival back into contention, only to break Begu again in game nine to serve for the triumph. The Romanian made one last push in the following game when she broke back in game 10 but just like in the previous set she gave her serve away in the 11th game before Kerber sealed the deal with a hold at love in game 12 to reach the third round.
The first part of the season has been nothing but a struggle for Johanna Konta, reaching the quarter-final in Brisbane and failing to repeat that in the remaining tournaments, winning just nine matches prior to Rome.
She is looking good in the Italian capital, though, beating Su-Wei Hsieh 6-0 6-4 in 65 minutes for the place in the last 16. This was their fifth meeting and the third win for the Briton who lost serve twice from as many opportunities she gave to Hsieh.
On the other hand, Su-Wei couldn't do much in her service games, losing the first seven games of the match and suffering six breaks from 11 chances Konta created, staying in touch with her rival only in the second set.
Johanna needed just over 20 minutes to bring the opening set home, dominating on both serve and return to lose only six out of 30 points. They traded breaks in the opening games of the second set before Konta raced into a 5-2 lead with breaks of serve in games five and seven, marching towards the finish line.
Su-Wei managed to break back in the following game, reducing the deficit to 5-3 and moving even closer to her opponent after saving two match points on own serve in game nine. Nonetheless, Johanna brought the game home on her fifth match point in game 10, celebrating a quick win and looking for more of the same in the following round as well.
Second round results: