Venus Williams set up a showdown with sister Serena at the Italian Open after coming through an epic three-set battle with Elise Mertens in Rome.
Venus, who won her only Rome title 20 years ago, defeated Elise Mertens 7-5 3-6 7-6(4) after more than three hours and requiring nine match points before eliminating her Belgian opponent.
“It was a very long match,” said Venus. “I couldn’t really tell when or how it was going to end, was happy it did.”
Serena had earlier looked sharper than in her last match in March as she opened her claycourt season with a routine 6-4 6-2 win over Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson, who had put out Australia’s Samantha Stosur in qualifying the previous day.
Serena was back in action in only her fourth tournament of the season and the first since being forced to withdraw from the Miami Open in March due to a knee injury.
— WTA (@WTA) May 13, 2019
The 37-year-old American fell behind 3-1 but recovered with a string of powerful groundstrokes from the baseline, clinching five of the next six games for the opening set.
Peterson, the world No.64, dug deep to grab two break points in the final game of the match but Williams saved both, before wrapping up the win in an hour and 15 minutes.
The Williams sisters’ last match on red clay came in the 2002 French Open final, won by Serena, while in their last match in Rome, Venus won their second career meeting way back in the 1998 quarterfinals.
“That’s crazy,” Serena said. “I vaguely remember that. We play each other a lot. Seems like every tournament nowadays we meet early.”
Serena leads the career series against 38-year-old Venus 18-12.
Britain’s Johanna Konta will play Sloane Stephens after a 6-4 6-1 win over another Alison Riske, and following an opening-round exit at the Madrid Open last week, former world No.1 Garbine Muguruza scored her first win in over a month as she eased past China’s Zheng Saisai 6-3 6-4.
Wildcard Victoria Azarenka was another first-round winner as she saw off China’s Saisai Zheng 6-3 6-4.
In the men’s first round, 10th seed and Monte Carlo champion Fabio Fognini got off to a winning start on home ground as he beat Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-3 6-4.
Russia’s Karen Khachanov, the 11th seed, defeated Lorenzo Sonego 6-3 6-7(1) 6-3, while 13th seed Borna Coric of Croatia beat Canada’s Felix Auger-Aliassime 6-7(4) 6-3 6-4.
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