Elina Svitolina, Alexander Zverev shocked in Rome as Serena Williams withdraws from Italian open

ROME, may 15

Two-time women’s holder Elina Svitolina crashed out of the WTA and ATP Italian Open on Tuesday along with Germany’s Alexander Zverev as Serena Williams’s return to the courts was short lived with her knee injury flaring up to force the American star out of the final warm-up before the French Open in two weeks times.

Svitolina — who had a first round bye as fifth seed — held a match point at 5-2 in the third set before slumping 6-4, 1-6, 7-5 to Belarus Victoria Azarenka in a 2hr 14min battle at the Foro Italico which was twice interrupted because of rain.

Serena earlier announced she was withdrawing having just returned after two months out injured, before she was due to play her older sister Venus for the first time in 21 years in Rome. The 37-year-old had eased past Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson in her first round match on Monday, but a day later could not continue “due to pain in my left knee”.

“I’ll be concentrating on rehab and look forward to seeing you all at the French Open and next year in Rome,” Serena said in a statement. Her withdrawal sends Venus, the 1999 winner, through to a third round meeting with either Britain’s Johanna Konta or US seventh seed Sloane Stephens.

There are now doubts whether Serena can target a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title in Paris, having played just nine matches this year, and one on clay. Her last Grand Slam singles title was won at the Australian Open in 2017, where she was pregnant, breaking a tie with Steffi Graf for the most, and she is just one short of Margaret Court.

The three-time French Open winner revealed getting back to fitness has been tougher than she had expected. “I haven’t been able to train or practice a lot, I was out much longer than I expected,” she explained.
“I feel like I’m taking it one day at a time.”

Nevertheless, last year she arrived at Roland Garros without any clay-court warm-up and still reached the last 16 before retiring before her match against Maria Sharapova, also because of injury. Svitolina and Azarenka battled late into the night at the Foro Italico before former two-time Australian Open winner Azarenka won through.

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