Serena withdraws from French Open; Nadal, Thiem advance to 3rd round

Paris, Sep 30 (efe-epa).- American great Serena Williams pulled out of the French Open on Wednesday prior to her second-round match due to an Achilles injury, while Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem each took another step toward a potential blockbuster semifinal showdown.

Williams arrived in Paris in search of a record-tying 24th Grand Slam women’s singles title and showed strong form in the second set of her first-round 7-6 (7-2), 6-0 victory over countrywoman Kristie Ahn.

Serena injured her Achilles tendon during her semifinal loss to Belarusian Victoria Azarenka at the recently concluded US Open, and she said Wednesday that the problem has lingered at Roland Garros.

“I really wanted to give an effort here. It’s my Achilles that didn’t have enough to properly heal after the Open. I was able to get it somewhat better, but just looking long-term in this tournament, will I be able to get through enough matches? For me, I don’t think I could,” she said in a statement.

“(I’m) struggling to walk so that’s a tell-tale sign that I should try to recover.”

Williams’ withdrawal from the tournament sent Bulgaria’s Tsvetana Pironkova (who lost to Serena earlier this month in the US Open quarterfinals) into the third round of the French Open for the third time in her career.

In other women’s singles second-round results on Wednesday, top-seeded Romanian Simona Halep downed countrywoman Irina-Camelia Begu 6-3, 6-4, third-seeded Ukrainian Elina Svitolina overcame Mexico’s Renata Zarazua 6-3, 0-6, 6-2 and fifth-seeded Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens outlasted 2012 French Open runner-up Sara Errani 7-6 (7-5), 3-6, 9-7 in a more than three-hour marathon.

But American teenage phenom Cori Gauff was undone by 19 double faults in a 4-6, 6-2, 7-5 second-round loss to Italy’s Martina Trevisan, and the 10th-seeded Azarenka suffered a stunningly abrupt loss of form in a 6-2, 6-2 defeat against 161st-ranked Slovak Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

In men’s singles, the second-seeded Nadal, who has won a record 12 titles at tennis’ clay-court Grand Slam and is seeking a record-tying 20th major title this fortnight, needed just an hour and 40 minutes to brush aside American MacKenzie McDonald 6-1, 6-0, 6-3.

The Spaniard came into this year’s Roland Garros with more question marks than usual due to a limited number of matches in the coronavirus-interrupted 2020 season and a quarterfinal loss at this month’s Italian Open to Argentina’s Diego Schwartzman.

He may have changed the minds of some doubters with his performance on Wednesday, including an impressive stretch between the early part of the first set and the end of the second set when he reeled off 11 consecutive games.

Nadal looked like the best version of himself, keeping his unforced errors to a minimum while controlling the action with his monstrous forehand.

On the other hand, McDonald’s inability to pressure Nadal with his serve or stay with the world No. 2 from the baseline made it difficult to fully assess the 19-time Grand Slam champion’s performance.

“I am just trying my best every single day. I am working hard in every practice to try to be better and better in every match,” Nadal was quoted as saying by the ATP Tour’s website, adding that the conditions allowed him to rev up his high-bouncing topspin game. “Today was not that cold, so that’s the main thing. Not that cold, the conditions are not that bad.”

Nadal will next take on Italy’s Stefano Travaglia, a 6-4, 2-6, 7-6 (9-7), 4-6, 6-2 winner Wednesday over Japan’s Kei Nishikori.

Also advancing on Wednesday was the third-seeded Thiem, who raced through the first two sets against American Jack Sock before encountering staunch opposition in the third set in a 6-1, 6-3, 7-6 (8-6) victory.

Thiem dominated in the early going, not facing a single break point and breaking Sock’s serve three times in the opening set and once in the second set.

The 2020 US Open champion and Roland Garros runner-up (to Nadal) in 2018 and 2019 then appeared to have the match totally under control when serving at 4-3, 40-15 in the third set.

But Sock rallied to break serve in that game and then held three set points at 6-3 in the tiebreaker before Thiem struck back to take the final five points and clinch the win.

“I’m very happy,” the Austrian world No. 3 was quoted as saying on the ATP Tour’s website. “I messed it up a bit in the third set, up 4-3 and 40-15. I found myself in the tie-break and he played very well, particularly in the second and third sets. I was lucky to save the three set points in the tie-break.”

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