World no. 2 and two-time defending Rome finalist Simona Halep will not lift the trophy in the Italian capital in 2019 too, losing in the second round to the young Czech Marketa Vondrousova 2-6, 7-5, 6-3 in two hours and 12 minutes.
Halep was the finalist in Madrid last week and she had to deal with a cold in the last couple of days, working hard on the court and hoping to start the event at 100%. That might have happened but Vondrousova proved to be too strong today, beating the Romanian for the second time this year after Indian Wells where she also prevailed in three sets.
The 19-year-old has now won 18 of the last 22 matches and will find herself in the top-30 very soon if she continues to play like this. Simona served at 73% but just as many times this season that didn't bring her much, losing 40% of the points in her games and playing against 13 break points.
Marketa grabbed just four of those and that forced her to dig deep for the win, taking 96 points just as Simona and fending off three out of seven break points given to the Romanian. Also, the Czech played with more variety, hitting 14 drop shot winners (!!) and moving Halep all over the court with well-placed strokes that had both the angels and spins.
Simona saved two break points in the second game of the match and settled into a good rhythm afterward, rattling off five straight games for a 6-2 in just over 30 minutes. They traded four consecutive breaks at the beginning of the second set and Marketa delivered another one in game 12 to steal the set 7-5 and gain a massive boost ahead of the decider where she had the momentum now.
Nothing could have separated them in the first six games and Marketa fended off a break point at 3-3 with a forced error from Halep, breaking the Romanian in the next game when Simona netted a backhand to serve for the victory.
Hold at 15 propelled Marketa into the third round, celebrating one of her biggest wins in a career. "Well, it's been a little bit tough because we had to stay late here yesterday but it was the same for all of us, I can't complain about that.
I just couldn't win today but I have extra days off, which is good. I will enjoy the rest now and try to be ready for the French Open. Of course, I didn't want to lose today. I started to feel a little pain in the leg in the second set after sliding.
Yesterday I didn't do much. I had two days off so it was a little bit tough to get back to this very high rhythm. The injury will be o.k in a few days, I'm sure. It is very tricky to deal with Marketa's drop shots, she had many of those today.
I think she's very talented, an excellent player. She is going to be at the top o the game in my opinion. She is a left-hander with a good serve, slice and movement, it is always difficult to play against her. I can't expect anything in Paris because to be a defending champion at Grand Slam is for the first time is something new for me.
I will be more relaxed than a year ago, trying to enjoy more and hopefully, I can win some matches. I don't know what is going to happen at the French Open, tennis is very open now, even at the top. Kiki Bertens has a chance, in my opinion, and Stephens again. Many players are playing well on clay, we will see. I'm very curious, as well."