Two highly-favoured prospects for the French Open women’s title are prematurely out of contention following Serena Williams’ untimely withdrawal and Victoria Azarenka’s emphatic loss to Anna Karolina Schmiedlova on Wednesday, while Elina Svitolina and Kiki Bertens fought through 3 sets apiece to survive.
I think I need four to six weeks of sitting and doing nothing. I have been struggling to walk so that's a telltale sign that I should try to recover. Achilles is an injury you don't want to play with - I think it was one of the worst, don't want to get to that point, I want it to get better. Serena Williams
Way before Parisienne lunchtime, a sonic boom, caused by a military jet breaking the speed of sound, as if to announce the news, rocked the city and briefly halted action at Roland Garros, .
“A very loud noise was heard in Paris and in the Paris region. It was not an explosion, it was a fighter jet crossing the sound barrier,” Paris police said on their Twitter account, urging people to stop calling emergency phone lines.
The noise, which was heard all across the city and shook windows, rattled Parisians already on edge after a knife attack outside the former offices of the satirical weekly Charlie Hebdo last week that the government has called an act of terror.
Williams did not make it onto Court Philippe Chatrier, saying she had a short warmup and decided she couldn’t continue because of an Achilles injury.
The 39-year-old American, who has won 23 Grand Slam singles titles and was aiming to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24, had been scheduled to play her second-round match against Bulgaria’s Tsvetana Pironkova.
“I think I need four to six weeks of sitting and doing nothing,” Williams told a news conference. “I have been struggling to walk so that’s a telltale sign that I should try to recover.
“Achilles is an injury you don’t want to play with – I think it was one of the worst, don’t want to get to that point, I want it to get better.”
Williams, who picked up the Achilles problem during her US Open semi-final defeat by Victoria Azarenka earlier this month, added that her ankle didn’t have time to recover after the hard court major in New York.
On Monday, she beat fellow American Kristie Ahn 7-6(2) 6-0 in the first round, but said she was struggling physically.
“In the second set I felt I needed to walk with a limp,” Williams added. “I had to focus on walking straight so I wasn’t limping. I tried and always give 100%, I take solace in that.
“I’m not sure I will play another tournament this year. It is not an acute injury, it is a nagging injury. I ran into bad timing and bad luck really.”
Williams won the French Open in 2002, 2013 and 2015 and is currently ranked 9th in the world.
Unseeded Pironkova, 33, moves into the third round for only the 3rd time in her career and will play either 32nd seed Barbora Strycova or Barbora Krejcikova from the Czech Republic.
Schmiedlova upsets Azarenka
After beating Venus Williams in her opener, former World No 26 Anna Karolina Schmiedlova of Slovakia scored her second win over a Grand Slam champion in as many matches in Paris with a victory over No 10 seed Victoria Azarenka in the second round of the French Open, 6-2 6-2.
Azarenka lost her serve in the first game of the match and hardly led again from there, unable to string together enough momentum together and racking up 38 unforced errors over the course of 1 hour and 42 minutes.
Schmiedlova was the steadier from the baseline as Azarenka proved erratic, and did not lose her serve while breaking, breaking the former World No 1 4 times for an easy win.
“Especially here in Paris, I’m extremely happy because it’s my favourite Grand Slam and favourite tournament of the year,” Schmiedlova said. “I always play good here.
“I had many chances in last couple of years. I had match points or really close matches. I always play good here, just didn’t close it.
“I always thought that one year it has to come. I’m happy that this year I am in the third round. I’m extremely happy.
“Especially when I won against such great players, I have big respect for both of them.”
The 26-year-old, who arrived in Paris on a 13-match losing streak in Grand Slam main draws dating back over 5 years, entered the singles on a Special Ranking after missing the second half of 2019 with a knee injury.
Now she earned a spot in the round of 32 at a major for the 3rd time in her career, the 2nd time in Paris, and a meeting with Argentine qualifier Nadia Podoroska, who took 3 sets to upset the No 25 seed Yulia Putinsteva from Kazakhstan, 6-3 1-6 6-2.
Svitolina and Bertens struggle
Earlier, 3rd seed Elina Svitolina beat Mexican qualifier Renata Zarazua after losing her way as the Ukrainian, 26, failed to win a game in the second set but recovered to claim a 6-3 0-6 6-2 victory.
World No 178 Zarazua stood a set from becoming the first Mexican woman in 50 years to reach the third round in Paris but Svitolina drew on all her big-match experience to overcome the second-set wipeout under a closed roof on Court Philippe-Chatrier.
“I was trying to get back into the match,” she said. “I lost my way a bit and was making too many errors.”
Svitolina, a two-time quarter-finalist in Paris, steadied herself sufficiently to post her win after 93 minutes and will face Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova for a place in the fourth round.
The Ukrainian won her 15th WTA title in Strasbourg last week, but is yet to reach a Grand Slam final.
Alexandrova, the World No 31, brought an end to Australian Lucky Loser Astra Sharma’s hopes, 6-3 6-3.
Fifth seed Kiki Bertens narrowly avoided joining the exodus of French Open women’s favourites as she survived a match point against Italian former runner-up Sara Errani before hobbling into the third round on Wednesday.
Bertens eventually won 7-6(5) 3-6 9-7 in a clay court duel lasting more than 3 hours, but her prospects of continuing looked bleak after she left the court in a wheelchair after struggling physically in the final set.
The 33-year-old Errani, who came through qualifying to start her first Grand Slam for two years after a doping ban, served for the match three times.
She tried every trick in her arsenal, including some dinked underarm serves, but Bertens stood firm despite appearing on the verge of collapse on occasions.
Errani’s serve is one of the weakest on Tour and it failed her at 5-4, 6-5 and 7-6 as she became increasingly vociferous.
The Italian had one nightmare game in which she received 2 time violations and only landed 1 overarm serve over an entire game.
With her confidence sapping away, Errani struggled through the disastrous service game in which she was broken to love, with several aborted ball tosses and a missed first serve over the baseline.
The pair combined for 24 breaks of serve across the 3 sets, including a stretch of 10 in a row in the decider as they played out the marathon final set.
At 6-5 Errani brought up a match point with a killer drop shot, but Bertens survived with an angled forehand winner.
The 28-year-old Dutchwoman eventually held serve to lead 8-7 and had triple match point in the next game, only for Errani to save them all.
Bertens got another opportunity and scrambled over the line to post her only victory over Errani in 6 attempts.
The orange-clad Bertens collapsed onto the clay, shaking with emotion, as 2012 runner-up Errani stalked off.
Bertens reached the semi-final in 2016 but is short of match play coming into Roland Garros, having failed to win a match since the Tour resumed after the COVID-19 shutdown.
She awaits the winner between Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Katerina Siniakova in the third round.
Last year’s semi-finalist Amanda Anisimova, the No 25 seed, was in imperious form against fellow American Bernarda Pera as she sped to a 6-2 6-0 win in just 57 minutes.
In the third round, the 19-year-old could get a rematch with top seed Simona Halep, whom she upset en route to the final four last season.
Halep faces fellow Romanian, and potential Olympics doubles partner, Irina-Camelia Begu, in a second-round clash on Court Suzanne-Lenglen later today.