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When in Rome, fight like hell

Matt Zemek

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Susan Mullane - USA TODAY Sports

When in Rome, do what the Romans do. That familiar saying has been transformed into something more specific at the WTA Rome tour stop, the Premier 5 event leading into Roland Garros.

On Tuesday, five three-set matches unfolded at the Foro Italico. Carla Suarez Navarro won the first set against Dayana Yastremska before losing the second but then regrouping in the third. That was the only three-setter of the five on Tuesday in which the winner of the first set won the match.

In the other four three-setters on Tuesday, the loser of the first set came back to win the next two sets. Of these four matches, two both involved comebacks from 5-2 deficits in the third set.

When in Rome, fight like hell.

We are seeing at this tournament the wild scoreboard swings which remind us that tennis isn’t a timed sport. You can’t run out the clock or waste time. You have to keep making shots (or forcing opponents to miss). There is no time limit on opportunity. It is part of what makes tennis great.

Victoria Azarenka and Marketa Vondrousova both applied this reality and made it their friend.

Azarenka came back from 5-2 down in the third to beat two-time defending Rome champion Elina Svitolina, while Vondrousova conjured some 5-2 fightback magic to beat Barbora Strycova. These two huge comebacks occurred one day after Elise Mertens — down 5-1 in the third to Venus Williams — broke Venus three times when the older Williams sister was serving for the match. Mertens lost the final-set tiebreaker, but the reality of a big third-set lead being anything but a guarantee of victory was not lost on — or in — the WTA locker room. That mentality carried into Tuesday with eye-popping turnarounds. Azarenka stood at the top of the list.

Azarenka needed a positive experience to give fresh hope to her season. Now she has such a moment to point to. This doesn’t mean everything will change in her favor. It DOES mean she can be more optimistic about the future. It guarantees very little, but it matters.

Vondrousova, still just 19 years old, has done really well this year. She can use this match as one more upward step, one more small but genuine encounter of affirmation, as she learns how to play on tour.

Tuesday was such a loaded day on the WTA side that the Azarenka and Vondrousova comebacks might have caused people to overlook the two other comebacks made by the WTA’s fastest-rising players outside the top five but within the top 20.

Belinda Bencic (No. 15) beat fellow top-15-er Anastasija Sevastova in three after losing the first set. Ashleigh Barty beat Viktoria Kuzmova in a long three-set battle after losing the first. Bencic and Barty keep digging out these kinds of wins, the triumphs which separate upper-tier players from medium-tier players.

All in all, Tuesday in Rome was a day for fighting skills, a day to never give up. The wildness of the day also underscored just how volatile and tenuous the upcoming French Open figures to be.

Matt Zemek is the co-editor of Tennis With An Accent with Saqib Ali. Matt is the lead writer for the site and helps Saqib with the TWAA podcast, produced by Radio Influence at radioinfluence.com. Matt has written professionally about men's and women's tennis since 2014 for multiple outlets: Comeback Media, FanRagSports, and independently at Patreon, where he maintains a tennis site. You can reach Matt by e-mail: mzemek@hotmail.com. You can find him on Twitter at @mzemek.

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