Rome | Rybakina advances as Swiatek retires hurt to meet Ostapenko in semi-final

Elena Rybakina staged a remarkable come-back to snatch the second set after World No 1 Iga Swiatek failed to close out their quarter-final contest despite leading 6-2, 4-2, and then sustaining a thigh injury in the tiebreak that resulted in her retirement 4 games into the decider.

Hi Guys! I'm sure you're thinking about what happened last night. We're checking it. During the second set I got a thigh injury. The diagnostic is in progress. More info in the following days. Will keep you updated. Iga Świątek

“It’s never good to win like this,” Rybakina said after she advanced with the score at 2-6 7-6(3) 2-2. “I hope it’s nothing serious for Iga.”

It is, nevertheless, a major set-back for the defending champion ahead of the French Open in Paris, which starts on Sunday 28 May.

Swiatek blew her chance to go up by a double break as she seemed to be heading for a comfortable straight-sets win over the reigning Wimbledon champion, but Rybakina refused to quit, and she managed to get the break back before forcing matters into a second set tiebreak.

In the breaker, Swiatek appeared to hurt her right knee as she scampered wide trying to retrieve the ball in defence, stopping short and shielding her face in pain.

After losing the set and close to tears, the 21-year old Pole took an off-court medical timeout, and returned to the court with her right thigh strapped.

She played 4 more games before signalling her retirement after 2 hours and 20 minutes of play, with the clock showing well past midnight on a damp and chilly night in Rome.

“I saw something happen in the tiebreak, on almost the last point, but I didn’t know how serious it is,” Rybakina said. “The first two games she started really aggressive, so I understood that she couldn’t really move that much.

“But she was still making good returns and I knew that I had to be focused. I know myself that if anything is hurting you’re trying to go for it, and a lot of times it works. So she probably did the same, but after, I guess it was too much.”

The retirement ended Swiatek’s 14-match winning streak in Rome where she has won the title twice, and it raises questions about her fitness for Roland Garros, which starts in 10 days’ time, and where the Pole is also the defending champion.

Iga Swiatek of Poland holds her knee after an injury that forced her to retire in the quarter-final against Elena Rybakina in Rome

© Justin Setterfield/Getty Images

Swiatek started the match strongly, dominating on the clay and taking the first set with the loss of just 2 games.

There was some hilarity when Swiatek dashed to her chair to turn off her mobile phone that was ringing in one of her bags, and despite her best efforts, the Pole was unable to find it, drawing laughter from the crowd.

Swiatek eventually located it and handed it over to her team court-side, returning, somewhat sheepishly to play.

In the second set, Swiatek struck out for a 4-2 lead and a chance to go up by a double break, but she went down 15-30, and fired a forehand wide to give Rybakina 2 chances to get back on serve.

The Kazakh needed just the one, as Swiatek landed another driven forehand wide to even the set at 4-4.

Rybakina carried that resilience into her next service game, where she wiped out 3 break points from 15-40 down to hold to go ahead 5-4 as Swiatek, suddenly tight and misfiring on her forehand, missed her chances.

In the tiebreak, Rybakina showed why she has lost just one breaker this season, playing it perfectly to move her record to 9-1 and take the match into a third set after 2 hours of play.

After suffering the injury and her movement clearly impaired, Swiatek tried to hang in, but Rybakina began to exploit the World No 1’s physical limitations and, 4 games into the third, the Pole called it quits.

“It was a really tough match, especially the beginning,” Rybakina said. “I would say I didn’t start that good.

“With Iga she was really aggressive from the beginning, she was more explosive, she was moving better.

“I was struggling with the first serve in the first set a lot, so it was not really helping me to play every time with a second serve. In the second set, I started to feel a little bit better.”

Iga Swiatek forgot to switch off her mobile phone which rang in her bag during play and after eventually finding it, she handed it off to her team courtside

© Alex Pantling/Getty Images

It is the third time that the big-serving Rybakina has beaten Swiatek this year, accounting for 3 of the Pole’s 6 losses in 2023.

With wins over Swiatek at the Australian Open and Indian Wells earlier this year, Rybakina is now 3-2 against reigning World No 1s in her career, while the 23-year-old is into her third WTA 1000 semi-final of the season, and her first Last 4 appearance on clay.

“I was coming to this match without any expectations and I’m just happy that in the second set I started to feel much better the forehand and started to move better,” Rybakina said. “So I think it was just good from me overall no matter the result.

“Just happy to play another match and looking forward to it.”

On Thursday morning, Swiatek took to social media to update fans on her injury status: “Hi Guys!” she wrote “I’m sure you’re thinking about what happened last night.

“We’re checking it. During the second set I got a thigh injury. The diagnostic is in progress. More info in the following days. Will keep you updated.”

Jelena Ostapenko (R) got past Paula Badosa in 3 sets to reach her first semi-final in Rome where she will take on Elena Rybakina

Alex Pantling/Getty Images

Rybakina’s semi-final opponent will be Jelena Ostapenko, who beat Paula Badosa, 6-2 4-6 6-3, earlier in the day to reach her first semi-final on clay since winning the 2017 French Open.

Ostapenko has recorded her best ever run in Rome after reaching the semi-finals of the tournament for the first time.

She has endured a difficult season with her run to the Last 8 at the Australian Open her best performance of the year to date.

Now, Ostapenko, the 20th seed from Latvia, has advanced to her first semi-final of the year following her close encounter with the Spanish No 1.

“This is one of my favourite tournaments. I really love playing here,” Ostapenko said. “I was never was more than in quarter-finals, and now, I’m finally in the semi-finals.

“Paula is a great player and I know she is such a fighter, so I expected a tough battle.”

Ostapenko got off to a strong start, then suffered a mid-match slump that she followed with a relatively comfortable conclusion, breaking Badosa in the opening set’s first 3 service games, and, in the decider, winning 5 of the final 6 games from 2-2.

The Latvian increased her career head-to-head record against the Spaniard to 2-2 with the 1 hour and 47-minute win.

In the first 5 games of the match, which lasted a scant 19 minutes, Ostapenko made 10 winners, giving her a 4-1 advantage, but Badosa regained her composure in the face of the Latvian’s power tennis, and seized a 4-1 advantage tin the second set before riding it out to level.

Ostapenko started the third with an early break in the first game, and although Badosa broke back in the 4th to draw level at 2-2, the Latvian broke her twice again to win in three, the 3rd time she has needed a final set in her 4 wins in Rome so far.

“The most important thing was to fight for every point,” Ostapenko added. “The match is only over when you shake hands, so even though some points, and games didn’t go my way, I just managed it.

“I think I played well in deciding moments.”

It is not Swiatek that Ostapenko will play for a place in the final, but Rybakina, against whom the Latvian holds a 2-1 record.

Veronika Kudermetova will play Anhelina Kalinina in the second semi-finals in Rome

© Alex Pantling/Getty Images

The other semi-final will feature Veronika Kudermetova, the 11th seed from Russia against Anhelina Kalinina, the 30th seed of Ukraine.

Kalinina advanced to the biggest semi-final of her career on Tuesday when she outlasted Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia in the longest match of 2023.

“It feels great, but I can’t feel my body or my legs,” Kalinina said after that win. “I think it was the longest match of my career. Thanks to my coach and thanks to my fitness coach because this win is not my win. My part is 50 percent and 50 percent is my fitness coach.”

Kudermetova also needed 3 sets to get past China’s Zheng Qinwen after 2 hours and 31 minutes.



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