Azarenka, Kerber lead casualty list in day of shocks

There were eight seeds knocked out at the WTA Internazionali d'Italia on Wednesday. Azarenka was defeated by Begu; Kerber lost Bouchard and Halep fell to Gavrilova. Kvitova, Vinci, Safarova, Ivanovic and Venus also waved goodbye.

victoriaazarenka - Cropped

Victoria Azarenka in action at the WTA Internazionali d'Italia in Rome on Wednesday.

It was a black Wednesday for the big stars at the WTA Internazionali d'Italia as Victoria Azarenka, Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep and Petra Kvitova were among the seeds to tumble in the second round.

There were eight seeds knocked out in total in a day of shocks at the clay-court tournament in Rome, with fourth seed Azarenka's demise arguably the most surprising.

Azarenka had not lost since February until a back injury forced her to withdraw from the Madrid Open last week, and the Belarusian was perhaps still feeling the effects in a shock 6-3, 6-2 defeat to Irina-Camelia Begu.

But the surprises did not end there as Australian Open victor and second seed Kerber was defeated by Eugenie Bouchard in three sets, before sixth seed Simona Halep - champion at the Madrid Open last weekend - also fell in three to Daria Gavrilova.

Petra Kvitova and Roberta Vinci continued a miserable day for the top seeds with respective defeats to Madison Keys and Johanna Konta, while Lucie Safarova, Ana Ivanovic and Venus Williams also waved goodbye.

AZARENKA'S BACK PAIN RETURNS

Begu is known as a tough competitor on clay, but Azarenka had beaten her opponent twice on the red surface in the past, including at the same tournament 12 months ago.

However, Azarenka - who has fought back from several injuries to re-establish herself at the top of the game - was out of sorts throughout.

"The back's not good right now. We'll see what happens. I thought I was okay and was ready to play, and came back, so I'm just disappointed."

HALEP LOSES BATTLE OF 2015 SEMIFINALISTS, VINCI COY ON ROME RETURN

Halep, a 2014 French Open finalist, headed to Italy in supreme confidence having triumphed in Madrid, but Gavrilova - who enjoyed a run to the last-four last year - saved her best for Rome again in a 6-3 4-6 6-3 win.

The Romanian was a semi-finalist herself 12 months ago, and Halep believes a rain delay may have played a part in her defeat saying: "Maybe if it wouldn't rain I would have played better. But that's it I can't change anything."

Home favourite Vinci comprehensively lost to Briton Konta 6-0 6-4 and at 33 it may be her last visit: "I don't know [if you will see me next year]. Don't make me say anything. So let's just say ni [yes and no]."

BOUCHARD ENDS WAIT FOR TOP-10 WIN, KEYS CONQUERS KVITOVA

By the end of 2014 Bouchard was world number seven, but a tumultuous injury-plagued 2015 season saw her drift down the rankings.

Bouchard headed into her second-round contest against Kerber having won the last two matches between the duo, the last of which came in 2014, and she once again had the upper hand in a battling 6-1 5-7 7-5 victory.

The Canadian had led 3-0 in the second set and she feels she has plenty to learn: "My goal next time is if I'm in a position like that is to really be more mentally disciplined and keep pushing. Because, you know, these players, if you give them a chance they will come back."

Fifth seed Kvitova would have hoped to take advantage of her rivals falling out of contention, but the Czech - whose match was last up in Rome - was off colour as Keys ran out a 6-3 6-4 winner.

BIRTHDAY GIRL McHALE FINALLY GETS SERENA SHOWDOWN

Qualifier Christina McHale was another surprise victor as she ousted Ana Ivanovic 6-7 (3-7) 6-4 6-1. McHale now faces world number one Serena Williams on Thursday, an opponent she would have faced in round three last year before the 21-time grand-slam champion withdrew through injury.

Serena's sister, Venus Williams, was stopped in her tracks in a 6-7 (5-7), 7-5, 6-4 loss to Timea Babos, while Safarova fell 6-3, 7-5 to Misaki Doi.

Spanish third seed Garbine Muguruza did provide some relief for the seeds, though, as she battered Ekaterina Makarova 6-1, 6-0.