World number one and former champion Ashleigh Barty limped out of Roland Garros on Thursday, throwing the battle for the women’s title wide open as Rafael Nadal prepared to celebrate his 35th birthday inside an empty stadium.
Top seed Barty, already suffering from a left hip injury, retired injured midway through the second set of her second-round match against Poland’s 45th-ranked Magda Linette.
The Australian, who won the title on her last visit to Roland Garros in 2019, left the court for medical treatment after losing the first set 6-1.
She then called it quits at 2-2 in the second set on Court Philippe Chatrier. “It’s heartbreaking,” Barty said. “It’s a miracle I got past the first round.”
“We did absolutely everything we could to give myself a chance. It sucks.” The 25-year-old’s withdrawal leaves the tournament already without the world’s top three-ranked women’s players.
World number two Naomi Osaka pulled out following a media boycott, saying she has suffered “bouts of depression” for three years.
Third-ranked Simona Halep, the 2018 French Open winner, withdrew before the event with injury. That leaves world number four Aryna Sabalenka as the top remaining player in the draw.
Linette goes on to face Ons Jabeur, the Tunisian 25th seed who eased past Australian wild card Astra Sharma 6-2, 6-4.
Fourth seed Sofia Kenin, the 2020 runner-up, saw off American compatriot Hailey Baptiste 7-5, 6-3. Three-time quarter-finalist and fifth seed Elina Svitolina was similarly untroubled against Ann Li of the United States, winning 6-0, 6-4.
However, ninth seed Karolina Pliskova exited at the hands of 2018 runner-up Sloane Stephens as the 59th-ranked American won 7-5, 6-1.
– Nadal dominant –
World number three Nadal, bidding for a 14th French Open and record-setting 21st Grand Slam title, faces Richard Gasquet, a player he first met when they were 12 years old.
However, schedulers have handed the Spaniard the evening session, leaving his 35th birthday party celebrations a little flat as the match clashes with a 9pm Covid-19 curfew and a spectator ban.
Gasquet won his first junior clash against Nadal at the Petits As tournament in France in 1999.
Sadly for him, that was as good as it would ever get.—AFP