Swiatek demolishes Sabalenka to win third Rome title

Swiatek demolishes Sabalenka to win third Rome title
Swiatek demolishes Sabalenka to win third Rome title

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - ROME: Rafael Nadal said Saturday that he is leaning toward playing at the French Open despite his second-round elimination in Rome, as Novak Djokovic laughed off being hit by a bottle which briefly cast doubt on his continued participation.

Clay-court icon Nadal had previously said that he would only play at the French Open, where he has won a record 14 titles, if he feels competitive after a raft of injury problems over the last two years which have left him languishing 305th in the world rankings.

And the manner of his elimination in his first ever encounter with Hubert Hurkacz — winner in straight sets 6-1, 6-3 — seemed a step backwards after reaching the last 16 in Madrid, leaving a question mark hanging over his plans.

“The decision, as you can imagine, is not clear in my mind today. But if I have to say what’s my feeling and if my mind is closer one way or the other way, I am going to say to be in Roland Garros and try my best,” Nadal told reporters.

“Physically I have some issues, but not probably yet enough to say I’m not playing in the most important event of my tennis career. Let’s see what’s going on, how I feel myself mentally tomorrow, after tomorrow, and in one week.”

Nadal held his own in the first two games in the first set, which took 26 minutes to complete, but then quickly fell away, Hurkacz winning without dropping a service game and seemingly without breaking a sweat.

That level of dominance over Nadal on clay, much less a court where he has won a record 10 titles, would have been unimaginable a few short years ago.

Hurkacz will face Tomas Etcheverry in the third round after likely ending Nadal’s love affair with Rome as the 22-time Grand Slam winner said that he was “98 percent” sure that he would never again grace the Roman clay.

“No-one will ever have a record like him on this surface. He’s just bigger than the sport at the end of the day,” said Hurkacz.

Second seed Daniil Medvedev kicked off his title defense by beating Jack Draper in straight sets 7-5, 6-4 to set up a third-round clash with qualifier Hamad Medjedovic, while Stefanos Tsitsipas came back from a set down to beat Jan-Lennard Struff 6-7 (1/7), 6-4, 6-4.

World No. 1 Djokovic donned a cycling crash helmet on his way to practice to show that he was fit and ready to face Chile’s Alejandro Tabilo on Sunday afternoon.

Djokovic was left crouching in agony after being accidentally hit on the head by a hard water bottle while signing fan autographs on Friday night.

But he suffered only minor injuries, and on Saturday he joked “Today I came prepared” with a video of him arriving while wearing the helmet.

Iga Swiatek, Naomi Osaka and Coco Gauff all reached the last 16 as the women’s tournament begins to heat up.

Osaka is ranked at 173 in the world after taking a break from the tour to have her first child but is in good form, yet to drop a set after beating 10th-seeded Daria Kasatkina 6-3, 6-3.

“I’m very grateful to be healthy because I know how much hard work it took for me to be here,” said four-time Grand Slam champion Osaka, who will next play seventh-seed Zheng Qinwen.

“I feel like I’m just clawing my way back to hopefully where I think I belong.”

World No. 1 Swiatek will next face Angelique Kerber after seeing off Yulia Putintseva 6-3, 6-4 as she bids to become the first woman since Serena Williams to claim a third Rome title.

The 22-year-old came into the event having won the Madrid Open last weekend and will also be gunning for a fourth French Open crown later this month.

Third seed Gauff, meanwhile, has Spain’s Paula Badosa in the last 16 after the US Open champion battled to a 6-1, 0-6, 6-3 victory over Jaqueline Cristian.

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