By Dave Carroll / Staff reporter, with AFP, ROME
Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei on Tuesday was a two-time victor at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia, while Russian star Maria Sharapova giggled with delight as she revealed how she plucked up the courage to pop the question and got to practice with Rafael Nadal on the clay courts in Rome.
Qualifier Hsieh had to wait for the rain to ease before cruising past Belarussian world No. 45 Aryna Sabalenka 6-2, 6-4 in 1 hour, 22 minutes.
The Kaohsiung-born world No. 50 saved one of three break points and converted five of seven, winning 64 of 118 points to advance to a second-round clash with British world No. 22 Johanna Konta.
Hsieh has a 2-2 career record against Konta and although she lost their most recent encounter on the grass courts at Wimbledon last year, she did win their last match on clay at last year’s French Open.
Hsieh returned later to book a spot in the second round of the doubles as she teamed up with Daria Gavrilova to defeat Alicja Rosolska of Poland and Abigail Spears of the US 6-4, 6-4 in 1 hour, 14 minutes.
The Taiwanese-Australian duo saved two of five break points and converted five of 16 as Hsieh advanced to another second-round clash with Konta, who is partnering Zhang Shuai of China.
On the practice courts, Sharapova and Nadal hit balls together on the red clay of the Foro Italico where they are both multiple winners.
“I saw he was practicing on the court right before me and I said to my team: ‘Wouldn’t it be amazing if I just came up to Rafa and said would you hit a couple balls with me?’ And they’re like: ‘Yeah, what’s wrong with that? And I was like: ‘A lot of things. There’s a lot of things wrong with just coming up to Rafa.’ They’re like: ‘No, you should. It’s not like you’re asking him to go on a date, and so I did,” Sharapova said after advancing to the second round of the singles past Australian Ashleigh Barty. “He probably thought I was really weird. I think he still thinks I’m really weird.”
In her first-round match, five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova needed 2 hours, 30 minutes to master world No. 18 Barty 7-5, 3-6, 6-2.
She next meets Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova as she bids to recapture the title she won three times in 2011, 2012 and 2015.
“This tournament has been special in my career,” said the 31-year-old, who received a wild-card entry last year as she made her comeback from a 15-month doping ban.
She retired injured from her second-round match to end her hopes of qualifying on merit for Wimbledon’s main draw after being denied a wild-card entry to Roland Garros.
“It’s brought me a lot of great matches and a lot of match play toward the Grand Slam that we all look forward to playing, and usually it’s the last tournament I play before Roland Garros, so it is an important one,” said two-time French Open champion Sharapova, who reached the quarter-finals at the Mutua Madrid Open last week.
Maria Sharapova returns to Ashleigh Barty during their first-round women’s singles match at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia on Tuesday in Rome. Photo: AFP