Photo: Martin Sidorjak
The draw gods were not kind to Leylah Annie Fernandez in Rome, but that did not stop her from causing an upset in her opening match at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.
Making her main draw debut in Rome, Fernandez upset 14th seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, rallying from a set down to defeat the 2021 Roland Garros runner-up 1-6, 6-2, 6-2.
It is the second time in the last year that the Canadian has beaten Pavlyuchenkova after dropping the opening set, having previously accomplished the feat last fall in Indian Wells.
This time, Fernandez ripped 30 winners, 10 more than her opponent, 27 of them coming in the second and third sets. She also benefitted from 43 unforced errors off the racket of Pavlyuchenkova. The Canadian also feasted on her opponent’s serve, winning 82 percent of the 14th seed’s second serve points.
The match started well for Fernandez, who held serve in the opening game and then had a break point for a 2-0 lead.
But after Pavlyuchenkova saved it with a big serve, the 2021 French Open runner-up completely turned the match around. Pavlyuchenkova simply refused to give an inch on the baseline as she won six straight games, breaking Fernandez three times, racing through the opening set.
The start of the second set was similar to the first, with Fernandez having a look at an early break. This time, she ripped a backhand winner down the line to convert and break for a 2-1 lead.
That one break shifted the momentum to the Canadian, who added a second to go up 4-1. While Pavlyuchenkova immediately broke back, Fernandez kept attacking and quickly reclaimed the double-break lead before serving the match into a deciding set.
Once again, Fernandez had an early look at a break in the third set, going up love-40 in her opponent’s second service game. She ripped a clean return winner down the line to seize the initiative in the deciding set.
With Fernandez ahead, the result look assured as the Canadian seemed to be growing in confidence, while Pavlyuchenkova looked defeated, hardly putting up any resistance as the teenager made her run laps around the baseline.
A second break, again set up by a huge return, gave the Canadian all the cushion she needed to complete the comeback victory.
The draw will not get much easier for Fernandez, as she will meet Daria Kasatkina in the second round, with a potential showdown with world No. 2 Paula Badosa on the horizon in round three.