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Wawrinka, Cilic Make Strong Starts; Qualifier Upsets Blake

Rome, Italy

Crivoi Upset Blake© Getty ImagesCrivoi Upset Blake

Last year’s runner-up and No. 10 seed Stanislas Wawrinka made a confident start to his Internazionali BNL d’Italia campaign with a 6-3, 6-4 victory over Igor Kunitsyn on Monday to reach the second round of the ATP World Tour Masters 1000 clay-court tennis tournament in Rome.

World No. 12 Wawrinka fired five aces as he saved five of six break points and broke serve three times to secure victory over his Russian opponent in 82 minutes. The 24 year old improved to a 13-7 match record on the season, highlighted by a semi-final appearance at the Monte-Carlo Rolex Masters (d. Federer, l. to Djokovic).

"I'm very happy with my game," said Wawrinka. "I know I play very well. I start good this week today with a good win against Kunitsyn, so I'm happy with my game and with the clay court season."

The Swiss reached his first ATP World Tour Masters 1000 final in Rome last year with back-to-back victories over World No. 8 James Blake and No. 6 Andy Roddick (retired) before losing to World No. 3 Novak Djokovic.

No. 15 seed Marin Cilic recorded his first victory at the Foro Italico by winning 71 per cent of points on serve as he defeated Italian wild card Flavio Cipolla 6-2, 6-2. The Croatian lost in the first round to Potito Starace on his debut last year. The 20-year-old Cilic is this week ranked a career-high No. 15 in the South African Airways 2009 ATP Rankings. He added to his ATP World Tour title collection early in the season in Chennai (d. Devvarman) and Zagreb (d. Ancic) and has a 20-5 match record.

In the second round Cilic will face Belgium’s Christophe Rochus, who converted five of 11 break points as he dismissed Juan Ignacio Chela 6-1, 6-2.

There was disappointment for American James Blake as he was ousted in the first round by Romanian qualifier Victor Crivoi (pictured). The No. 112-ranked Crivoi saved only one of four break points but was able to convert five of 10 break point chances on Blake’s serve to defeat the No. 14 seed 7-5, 6-3 in 72 minutes and record his first ATP World Tour-level win of the season (1-3 record). It was Blake’s third first-round loss of the season and his second on clay after he fell at the first hurdle (l. to Canas) in his last tournament at Houston.

"So far it hasn't been good," Blake said of his clay-court season. "Hasn't been my best tennis lately. I'd love to snap my fingers and magically turn it around and be playing better, but I don't have those powers. I don't know what's going to happen. I don't know how I'm going turn it around. I've played worse before and turned it around and had some good results. Hopefully this time it'll be the same."

Spaniard Albert Montanes advanced to a second-round meeting with defending champion Novak Djokovic after edging out Italian wild card Potito Starace 7-6(8), 6-4. World No. 33 Montanes has had mixed results on clay in 2009 – he reached the semi-finals in Casablanca (l. to Serra) and the third round at ATP World Tour Masters 1000 Monte-Carlo, when he lost to Djokovic in three sets, but last week suffered a first-round exit at his home-town tournament in Barcelona (l. to Tipsarevic). He is looking to reach the third round in Rome for the first time since his debut in 2002 (l. to Costa).

Also Monday, Argentine qualifier Juan Monaco dismissed German Nicolas Kiefer 6-2, 6-3 and Serbian Viktor Troicki defeated Romanian Victor Hanescu 6-3, 6-3. They will respectively face No. 4 seed Andy Murray and No. 5 Juan Martin del Potro in the second round.

Murray said about Monaco: "He plays well on hard and on clay. He had a bad illness last year, and before that he was ranked inside the top 20... On clay, he plays well in the South America clay court tournaments at the start of most years, and that's where he's had most of his success. He obviously likes this surface."

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