Leylah Fernandez follows through on a forehand.

Photo : Martin Sidorjak

Leylah Annie Fernandez will head into Roland-Garros without a WTA 1000 win on clay in 2023 after she suffered a stunning defeat in the first round of the Italian Open on Tuesday at the hands of Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

The Canadian, who appeared to be struggling with a cough as the match went along, looked well on her way to the second round when she led by a double break in the third set, but her opponent turned on the jets late, finishing strong for a 7-6(4), 4-6, 6-3 win.

Serve was a problem for Fernandez as she only put 49 per cent of her first serves in play and won just 39 per cent of her second serve points. Both women broke serve five times.

Right from the start, Fernandez found herself under pressure in a marathon opening service game. Sasnovich converted her third break point to start the match with a break and she nearly rode it through the opening set, but after the Canadian saved a set point with a tightly-angled backhand, Sasnovich double-faulted to put the set back level at 5-5.

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Only two points in the first set tiebreak were won by the server. Both went the way of Sasnovich, including a return long from Fernandez on set point as the world No. 44 took the opening frame.

Fernandez wasted no time in getting herself back in the match, using her brilliant defence to break twice and take a 3-0 lead in the second set. Sasnovich managed to reclaim one of the breaks but the Canadian hung on to the other to force a deciding set.

The third looked to be a carbon copy of the second set when the first five games went the exact same way, with Fernandez breaking twice for a 3-0 lead, Sasnovich breaking and then holding for 2-3.

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But unlike the second, Sasnovich kept rolling. She broke again to level at 3-3 and never looked back, winning the last six games in a row to pull out the improbable victory.

Bianca Andreescu is the only other Canadian woman in the singles draw and has a first-round bye.