Ash Barty gave it her best shot but retired in her second round match at the French Open on Thursday due to a left hip injury, blowing the women’s draw wide open.
It's just a bridge too far this week. We had a fantastic lead-up and for my body to let me down is really disheartening, but knowing that we also, we did nothing wrong. It's something that can't be explained at this time. Ash Barty
With both top seeds exiting Paris without losing a match, Aryna Sabalenka, the 3rd seed, takes on the mantle of title favourite, with defending champion Iga Swiatek also a strong contender.
Gone also is Karolina Pliskova, the No 9 seed from the Czech Republic and a former World No 1, who fell at the hands of Sloane Stephens on Day 5, 7-5 6-1, after 91 minutes, while another, Russia’s Ekaterina Alexandrova, the No 32 seed, was also dispatched 6-2 6-3 by Czech Barbora Krjecikova,
Stephens, who fell to Simona Halep in the Paris final in 2018, is into the third round for the 8th time in 10 appearances and next faces 18th-seeded Czech Karolina Muchova.
The 28-year-old American had a slow start to her year, and had just 9 victories to her name coming into Roland-Garros, but is enjoying a revival on the clay and is becoming a serious threat moving forward.
Other seeds in the top half of the draw all reached the 3rd round safely, including Sofia Kenin, Elina Svitolina and Swiatek.
While an injury ended 2019 champion Barty’s campaign in the second round, 4-time Grand Slam winner Osaka pulled out after a first round win following a row over her decision to boycott post-match media duties.
“I’ve had my fair share of tears this week,” admitted Barty after the top seed called it a day at 6-1, 2-2 down against Poland’s Magda Linette. “It’s heartbreaking.
“We have had such a brilliant clay-court season, and to get a little bit unlucky with timing more than anything to have something acute happen over the weekend and just kind of run out of time against the clock is disappointing.
“It won’t take away the brilliant three months that we have had, as much as it hurts right now.
“It was a small miracle that we were able to get on court for that first round. Today it was no better and getting worse again.”
The World No 1 came into Paris in great form but had struggled against American Bernarda Pera in her first match, and revealed afterwards that a left hip problem had flared up at the weekend.
“It’s all good. Everything happens for a reason,” she continued. “There will be a silver lining in this eventually. Once I find out what that is, it’ll make me feel a little bit better, but it will be there, I’m sure.”
The Australian held onto her first service game but was clearly hampered and was then broken twice in succession before heading off court for treatment at the end of the set.
She played a little more freely at the start of the second, holding serve twice in succession, but her facial expressions betrayed the discomfort she was feeling.
After Linette held serve to make it 2-2 in the second set, Barty shook her head and put her racket away.
The Aussie revealed the injury had happened during a training session when she landed on a serve, and she had pulled the plug because she was becoming concerned about what might happen.
“I just tried to give myself a chance and see how it felt,” she said. “Obviously practising we’ve had our restrictions and essentially tried to stay as fresh as possible and not aggravate it in any way, but in a match that’s unavoidable at times.
“It got worse today and it was becoming at the stage where it was unsafe. As hard as it is, it had to be done.”
Having sat out last year’s Roland-Garros as a result of travel restrictions due to the coronavirus pandemic, Barty had started 2021 in style as she won 3 titles and reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open.
She had retired from a quarter-final match in Rome against American Coco Gauff with severe pain in her arm earlier this month, but was fully fit and ready for another title run by the time she arrived in Paris before everything changed during a practice session at the weekend.
The hip injury was ‘completely new’ and Barty said the type of injury was also new for her physio as her team had consulted with people across the world to try to gain some insight into how best to manage it.
“I’m confident we do have a plan,” Barty said. “It’s just that we ran out of time here.
“As far as we can tell, it was literally acute, landing on serve one day. It was brutal and tough to accept.
“It’s just a bridge too far this week. We had a fantastic lead-up and for my body to let me down is really disheartening, but knowing that we also, we did nothing wrong. It’s something that can’t be explained at this time,” Barty concluded.
She will now focus on trying to be fully fit in time for the grass, which she still rates as her favourite surface despite having won her first Grand Slam title on clay.
Linette moves on to face Tunisian 25th seed Ons Jabeur for a place in her maiden Grand Slam fourth round, who trounced Australian wild-card Astra Sharma, 6-2 6-4.
Elsewhere, 4th-seeded Kenin was a 7-5, 6-3 winner over Hailey Baptiste, while Svitolina, the 5th seed came from 4-1 down in the second set to beat American Ann Li, 6-0 6-4.
Kenin, who lost to Swiatek in last year’s final, played out on Court 14 and produced a professional performance to beat fellow American Baptiste, a qualifier who won four matches in Paris in her French Open debut.
Winning 71 per cent of the points behind her first serve, Kenin broke Baptiste 5 times in the 81-minute clash and now faces another compatriot in the next round in the form of the ever-dangerous Jessica Pegula, who eased to a 6-3 6-3 win over Tereza Martincova of the Czech Republic.
Meanwhile, Svitolina took an hour and 14 minutes to see off Li on Court Suzanne-Lenglen, moving into the 3rd round here for a 7th consecutive year, thanks to victory over the World No 75.
The Ukrainian blitzed the first set in just 28 minutes with superbly-controlled aggression and then rallied from 1-4 down in the second to sail through in straight sets.
“It was a great start for me,” the Ukrainian said. “In the second set I was 1-4 down, so it was really challenging.
“I was sweating a lot to get back into it and I’m very happy I won in straight sets in the end.”
She next faces an in-form Krejcikova, who extended her current winning streak to 7 matches in a row after her win over Alexandrova, having picked up the Strasbourg title last Saturday.
In a lighthearted on-court interview with Fabrice Santoro, Svitolina was asked if she and fiancé Gael Monfils got into any tennis debates at home, away from the courts.
“He always has to agree with me because I’m the boss in the house,” she joked.
The World No 6 enjoyed a fruitful build-up to her favourite swing of the season, achieving semi-finals in Stuttgart and a quarter-final ticket in Rome.
The 26-year-old, already with a nutrition degree to her name, is completing online courses to enhance her mental fortitude and future.
“I’m very interested in psychology and I’m doing some courses. I think it’s a big part of tennis, of any sport, and working myself with a mental coach, as well,” revealed the inquisitive Svitolina.
“I think it’s very important, especially these days with everything what’s happening with Covid, with all the restrictions that we get and anything that happens with athletes.
“It’s important to keep yourself really composed, really like sane with your mind, to be just ready for anything what comes your way and try to accept that and work with that.
“It’s not only about sports, it’s also just a general one because we are athletes but also there is life after tennis.
“You have to be ready to stop any time because you never know what can happen. The injury can come any time and, touch wood, it will not happen, but you never know, try to be ready for anything.”