ROME, Italy — As Elisabetta Cocciaretto let out a roar of victory, her home crowd rose to salute her effort in battling to a 4-6, 7-5, 6-3 win over Renata Zarazua. Gala’s “Freed From Desire,” that eternal classic of Italian house music and a staple of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia DJs, began blasting over the Grand Stand sound system.

It’s a scene that’s been played out many times in the storied history of this event. The soul of the tournament can be found when Italians cheer on Italians — and in the furthest-flung courts of the Foro Italico the better. When a home player is battling away deep in the third set, the stone steps of the outside courts come alive.

This year, the weather nearly had other ideas.

The first Wednesday of the tournament was meant to be a celebration of Italian tennis. Six Italian women were on the original order of play, most scheduled toward the end of the day when lively evening crowds could be relied upon to provide raucous cheers.

But a mid-afternoon downpour delayed proceedings by an hour, and the rest of the day was played out under cold, damp drizzle. Fans headed for the exit. On Centrale, Lucia Bronzetti fell in straight sets to Sofia Kenin in front of a sparse audience. On an equally empty Grand Stand, Cocciaretto fell behind 5-2 to qualifier Zarazua in a blur of unforced errors.

Thursday, though, brought sunshine and support. Cocciaretto mounted a valiant comeback, and chants of “Vai, Elisa!” echoed around Grand Stand as she overturned a break deficit in the third set. Even a stoppage for a medical emergency in the crowd didn’t quell its enthusiasm. If anything, the fans were more energized on resumption, willing Cocciaretto to hold after saving three break points.

Former finalist Errani bests Anisimova for first Rome win since 2015

“For sure, the crowd helped me a lot,” Cocciaretto said afterward. “I was lucky yesterday to stop the match because I was not playing very good. It was amazing — this is the best tournament of the year and every Italian wants to play well here and enjoy the crowd.”

She wasn’t the only one. Across the way on Court 1, beloved 37-year-old veteran Sara Errani was facing a taller, stronger big hitter, Amanda Anisimova, as she’s done so many times in her career. The cry went up: “Sara! Sara! Sara!”

And as she’s also done so many times in her career, Errani responded. The 2014 finalist ran down everything, then denied Anisimova with sneaky drop shots that left the American flat-footed. By the third set, Errani was running away with the match, and the crowd was in ecstasy.

Errani’s quick finish was just as well. Minutes after she’d wrapped up victory — her first since 2015 on these courts — the heavens opened again.


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