Kenin sees off Sabalenka on day of upsets in Rome
World No.2 Aryna Sabalenka suffered an early shock at the Italian Open as the in-form Belarusian crashed to a 7-6(4) 6-2 defeat by American Sofia Kenin in a high-octane second-round match.
Sabalenka wobbled on serve early in her first match since claiming the Madrid title last week and squandered three chances to break Kenin before finding her groove to level a pulsating opening set at 4-4.
The players traded breaks again to set up a tiebreak where Kenin displayed glimpses of the form that marked her 2020 Australian Open title run to grab the early advantage following an unforced error by Sabalenka.
Kenin, who was once ranked number four but has slipped to 134 in the world due to illness and injuries, heaped pressure on the reigning Melbourne Park champion in the second set for a 4-2 lead and held firm for a famous victory.
Earlier, 2013 runner-up Victoria Azarenka snapped the six-match winning streak of Saint Malo champion Sloane Stephens with a 6-4 6-3 victory over the American.
However, it was the end of the road for another former world No.1 in Karolina Pliskova, who fell to a 7-6(5) 6-2 defeat by qualifier Anna Bondar while third seed Jessica Pegula lost 6-2 3-6 6-3 to fellow American Taylor Townsend.
Last year's French Open runner-up Coco Gauff continued her preparations for the year's second grand slam by dropping only one game in her victory over Yulia Putintseva.
"I usually have long matches with her," Gauff said. "I was fully prepared for that. But I told myself to play on my terms.
"She's a tricky player, has some big wins. Made the quarters of the French a couple times. I know clay is her surface. It's also kind of mine, too, so it was a good match today."