Rafael Nadal feels Serena Williams' withdrawal from the French Open is "very sad news for tennis" and has backed her to make a strong recovery.

Williams, 39, has been struggling with an Achilles injury since reaching the semi-finals at the US Open.

Despite gutting out a first-round win over Kristie Ahn on Monday, the 23-time grand slam champion could not take to the court against Tsvetana Pironkova on Wednesday after acknowledging she was struggling to walk.

Williams told reporters her 2020 season is most likely over and while Nadal knows injury comebacks are harder in the latter stages of a player's career, he is hopeful the American will be back at her best before too long.

"I don't want to speculate how bad is the injury or not when I don't know," he told reporters after thrashing Williams' compatriot Mackenzie McDonald in his second-round match.

"Of course, it is very sad news for tennis, for Roland Garros, and especially for her. Sorry for her. 

"I can just wish her a fast and good recovery. It is true that all the comebacks are tough, especially when you get a little bit older - every time is more difficult.

"She showed amazing passion for this sport. I really believe that she will be good in the next couple of months."

Williams had tried to hide the extent of her injury during her first match in Paris this week and Nadal was asked whether he had ever been in the same situation.

"Well, you don't want to show that [you have an injury] if you really believe that you can keep going," added Nadal. "You don't have to give advantages to the others, no?

"Of course, when you are suffering pain, but you really believe that maybe you win that match, then you can improve little bit for the next couple of matches with the doctor or the staff after that victory, then is normal that you are not showing anything to the world. 

"Then if you can't keep going, that is the moment to go and say, 'You know, guys, I can't any more'. That's it. 

"That is, for example, what happened to me in 2016. I think I had to pull out in the third after the first two rounds.

"I won two matches. I didn't say much to the people, but I was playing with an infiltration. I knew the wrist was in trouble, but I wanted to give myself a chance. 

"Then the wrist goes worse. That's a moment to come to the press and say, 'Guys, you know what, I can't keep going. I have to go back home’. Honestly, these are very tough moments."

Serena Williams conceded she is unlikely to play again in 2020 after withdrawing from the French Open on Wednesday due to injury.

The American pulled out of the final grand slam of the year ahead of her second-round match against Tsvetana Pironkova because of an Achilles problem.

It means her long wait for a record-equalling 24th grand slam will go on as she remains one behind Margaret Court.

Williams, who turned 39 last week, revealed the stages for her injury comeback and admitted that it meant she would likely not be back on court until 2021.

"I think I need four to six weeks of sitting and doing nothing, at least two weeks of just sitting down, and then from after that two weeks I have been told that I need to start doing a little training," she explained to reporters at Roland Garros.

"So, I think I'm going to call it [for the year], more than likely. I don't know, doing the math on that, I don't know if I'll be able to play another tournament this year.

"I'm definitely going to take that first two weeks of just nothing, and then start from the next two weeks, and then from that I will get a little bit better.

"But it will give me a lot of time to fully recover for the future."

Williams has not won a grand slam since the 2017 Australian Open - though she missed the first four majors immediately after that as she gave birth to her daughter.

However, having reached the semi-finals of the US Open earlier this month, Williams still feels she has plenty to give the sport as she continues her quest to equal Court's record.

"I love playing tennis, obviously," she added.

"I love competing. I love being out here. It's my job. It's been my job, and I'm pretty good at it still.

"So, until I feel that I'm not good at it, then I'll be, like, okay... and I'm so close to some things, so I feel like I'm almost there. I think that's what keeps me going."

Injury cruelly robbed Serena Williams of her latest opportunity to match Margaret Court's record of 24 grand slams, with an Achilles problem forcing her withdrawal from the French Open.

The American great first encountered trouble at the US Open, where she was beaten in the semi-finals, and the issue led to her pulling out of a second-round contest against Tsvetana Pironkova at Roland Garros on Wednesday.

Since winning the Australian Open in 2017 to break the record for the most slams won during the Open Era, it has been a frustrating pursuit of Court's all-time tally for superstar Williams, who became a mother for the first time barely seven months after that 23rd major.

There have been several near misses along the way for the 39-year-old and here we chronicle her efforts in tennis' big four tournaments since her last grand slam win.


French Open 2018: Withdraws ahead of R4

Playing her first slam since giving birth to her daughter, Williams had defeated Kristyna Pliskova, Ash Barty and Julia Goerges to book a mouth-watering fourth-round showdown with long-term rival Maria Sharapova. Unfortunately, Williams had to pull out shortly before the match due to a pectoral injury.

Wimbledon 2018: Loses final to Angelique Kerber

Remarkably, a little over a month later Williams returned to court in SW19 and enjoyed a scarcely believable run to the final. However, an inspired Angelique Kerber ran out a 6-3 6-3 winner in the showpiece match.

US Open 2018: Loses final to Naomi Osaka

Later that year, Williams had another chance to level Court's record but was beaten 6-2 6-4 by Naomi Osaka in a match most vividly remembered for Williams receiving a game penalty for a series of ugly rows with umpire Carlos Ramos.

Australian Open 2019: Loses in quarter-finals to Karolina Pliskova

Having ousted Simona Halep in the previous round, Williams wasted a 5-1 third-set lead and four match points against Karolina Pliskova in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open. Victory would have led to a rematch with Osaka.

French Open 2019: Loses in third round to Sofia Kenin

In a tournament of shocks in the women's draw, Williams was defeated in straight sets by the unseeded Sofia Kenin, who was booed at times by the Parisian crowd, in round three.

Wimbledon 2019: Loses final to Simona Halep

Another Wimbledon, another final for Williams in 2019, who became the oldest women's grand slam singles finalist. But the then 37-year-old could not complete her mission, as Halep earned a dominant 6-2 6-2 triumph in under an hour on Centre Court.

US Open 2019: Loses final to Bianca Andreescu

A fourth final since her last slam win came a year ago at Flushing Meadows but there was disappointment again for Williams. On this occasion a 19-year-old Bianca Andreescu, playing in the main draw at Flushing Meadows for the first time, was in outstanding form to earn a 6-3 7-5 win.

Australian Open 2020: Loses in third round to Wang Qiang

Williams' quest for 24 continued in Melbourne this year but a brilliant Wang Qiang dug deep for a three-set win. It was sweet revenge for Wang, who was defeated in just 44 minutes by Williams at the US Open a few months prior.

US Open 2020: Loses in semi-finals to Victoria Azarenka

With the French Open postponed and Wimbledon cancelled due to the coronavirus pandemic, the next slam took place at Flushing Meadows, New York. Williams was taken the distance in winning the three previous rounds but on this occasion was beaten in three sets by Victoria Azarenka in a match where her Achilles injury was clearly causing discomfort.

French Open 2020: Withdraws ahead of R2

Williams managed to come through her first-round contest with Kristie Ahn but the Achilles problem meant she was forced to withdraw prior to her match with Pironkova.

Serena Williams has withdrawn from the French Open ahead of her second-round tie against Tsvetana Pironkova with an Achilles injury.

The American great began her latest attempt to level Margaret Court's overall record of 24 grand slams by beating Kristie Ahn in straight sets on Monday.

However, the 39-year-old announced shortly before Wednesday's contest with Pironkova that she will play no further part at Roland Garros.

Williams stated that a lack of recovery time from the US Open, where she was beaten in the semi-finals by Victoria Azarenka a little over a fortnight ago, has influenced her decision.

"I love playing in Paris. I actually adore the clay. It's so, sort of, I don't know, fun for me," Williams said.

"I really want to give an effort here. It's my Achilles that didn't have enough time to properly heal after the [US] Open.

"I was able to get it somewhat better but [I was] just looking long-term at this tournament and [wondering], will I be able to get through enough matches?

"So, for me, I don't think I could and I'm struggling to walk, so that's kind of a tell-tale sign I should try to recover."

Williams is a three-time singles champion at Roland Garros, the last of which she won in 2015 by beating Lucie Safarova in the final.

She had defeated Pironkova in the quarter-finals at Flushing Meadows earlier this month, rebounding from losing the first set to progress in three.

The veteran insists her body is still able to cope with the demands of professional tennis despite the setback.

"I feel like my body is willing, I just literally…this is not a nagging injury, it's an acute injury, so if it was my knee it would be more devastating for me, but this is something that just happened and it's super acute," she added.

"I feel like my body is doing really well. I just ran into, for lack of a better word, bad timing and bad luck really in New York.

"It happened but my body is actually doing really, really well. I can never do too much sitting because I've been working for over 20-something years.

"I tried. I always give 100 per cent, everyone knows that, maybe more than 100 per cent if that's possible. I take solace in that.

"I think Achilles is really an injury you don't want to play with because that is not good if it gets worse. I think it's one of the worst, I don't want it to get to that point."

Serena Williams has withdrawn from the French Open ahead of her second-round tie against Tsvetana Pironkova with an Achilles injury.

Serena Williams is ready to go the distance with Tsvetana Pironkova again at a grand slam after clearing the first hurdle in her bid for French Open glory.

Williams, who turned 39 on Saturday, took her time to warm up on a cool Monday in Paris, Kristie Ahn making life particularly difficult for the sixth seed in a well-contested opening set.

The American duo had also met in the opening round of the US Open and - as was the case in New York - the favourite eventually prevailed in straight sets,meaning a clash with another familiar foe next.

Pironkova threatened to cause an upset when they did battle in the quarter-finals at Flushing Meadows earlier this month, though faded down the stretch to lose in three.

Still, Williams - chasing a 24th slam to move level with Margaret Court's record - expects another tough test from the Bulgarian, who defeated Andrea Petkovic 6-3 6-3.

"She's playing well, but I am too. I'm ready to play her. She'll be ready to play me," the three-time French Open champion said in her post-match press conference. 

"It will be a long match, she will get a lot of balls back, but so am I. I'll be ready."

Williams revealed she was a little flat against Ahn in a first set that went to a tie break, before a more positive approach allowed her to breeze through the second without dropping a game.

"The biggest difference was just confidence. I just need to play with more confidence, like I'm Serena," she said. "So that was it. I just started playing like that. And I love the clay and I started playing like it, opening the court and moving and sliding."

SUCCESS FOR SEEDS ON DAY TWO

Three other top-10 seeds at the tournament avoided early exits. Elina Svitolina, Kiki Bertens and Petra Kvitova prevailing, though none of the trio had it all their own way.

Bertens was in danger of going home early when the fifth seed fell a set behind but rallied impressively to see off Katarina Zavatska 2-6 6-2 6-0.

Seventh seed Kvitova overcame Oceane Dodin 6-3 7-5, though admitted afterwards her opponent had made her work for the win.

"You know, she didn't make that many mistakes and it was really a tough one," Kvitova - a semi-finalist at Roland Garros in 2012 - told the media. "I just really tried to stay there mentally strong and wait for the chance to break her and serve well."

Meanwhile, Svitolina, the third seed, triumphed 7-6 (7-2) 6-4 against Russian Varvara Gracheva.

KEYS LOST IN FRENCH CAPITAL, KERBER CRASHES OUT

Madison Keys, the 12th seed, was on the wrong end of an upset, the American beaten in straight sets by Zhang Shuai.

Prior to that match on the same court, 15th seed Marketa Vondrousova was crushed by Iga Swiatek of Poland, winning just three games in a surprisingly lopsided contest that spanned just 63 minutes.

Angelique Kerber also suffered a shock exit, the three-time major winner going down 6-3 6-3 to world number 102 Kaja Juvan.

Karolina Muchova was also dumped out, going down to Christina McHale, but 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza avoided a similar fate against Tamara Zidansek, overcoming a one-set deficit to eventually prevail 5-7 6-4 8-6.

Serena Williams overcame a sluggish start to her French Open campaign before easing to a 7-6 (7-2) 6-0 victory over Kristie Ahn.

Aiming to finally secure a 24th grand slam title and draw level with Margaret Court's record tally, Williams twice dropped serve in a competitive opening set that spanned 74 minutes. 

Ahn had also provided solid early resistance when the two Americans met in the first round at the recent US Open, though eventually lost on that occasion in straight sets. 

The world number 102 suffered a similar fate in the French capital, simply unable to cope against an opponent who moved through the gears to cruise through to round two.

Williams had appeared to warm quickly to her task despite the cool temperatures in Paris, winning her first service game to love in a hurry.

However, the sixth seed stuttered afterwards and was broken next time around, Ahn edging ahead at the sixth attempt to grab a lead she maintained through to the eighth game. 

Williams levelled at 4-4 – much to her obvious delight as she yelled out when finally clinching a game that spanned 12 minutes and 42 seconds – and while broken immediately afterwards, Ahn was crucially unable to serve out for the set. 

The tie-break ultimately proved a one-sided affair, the three-time champion on clay clinching it in style with an ace. 

Playing in a far more aggressive manner, Williams dominated in the second to set up a clash with another familiar foe in Tsvetana Pironkova, who she beat in the last eight at Flushing Meadows. 

Data slam: Williams was surprisingly tepid in her approach in the early going. Unable to assert any dominance, she committed 28 unforced errors in a first set that could quite easily have gone Ahn's way. Yet from sluggish beginnings, she grew into the match and the second was far more straightforward, aided by four aces and 11 winners.

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Williams – 26/36
Ahn – 13/27

ACES/DOUBLE FAULTS

Williams – 11/5
Ahn – 1/4

BREAK POINTS WON

Williams – 5/14
Ahn – 2/8

Serena Williams said she does not have any expectations at the French Open and is simply "rolling with the punches" this year amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The rescheduled French Open will get underway at Roland Garros on Sunday, with new government restrictions only allowing 1,000 fans per day.

The French Open was due to take place from May to June but the COVID-19 crisis forced the grand slam to be pushed back in Paris.

As former world number one and sixth seed Williams gears up for her opening-round match against Kristie Ahn, the 23-time grand slam champion was asked about her preparations and said: "It's so different, but I feel like this year, you've just got to roll with the punches.

"You can't expect anything and there are so many things, negative things - and positive - a lot of world changes that happened this year, so I'm not really feeling any bad way about anything really."

Williams experienced the US Open without fans in New York earlier this month – the American superstar beaten in the semi-finals by Victoria Azarenka.

The 39-year-old will resume her bid for a record-equalling 24th major crown at the French Open, where she has won three titles.

"I think the only difference is that it's at the end of September. Usually I end my season after the [US] Open, but this time around I'm here at Roland-Garros," Williams said. "That's the only difference. It's always cold for me."

Williams will also go from the American hard courts straight to clay without a lead-up tournament.

"I honestly don't really think about it," she added. "I think I had some good practices. I haven't played on clay yet, so we'll see.

"I thoroughly enjoy the clay so much, I just love it. So I'm looking forward to playing some."

Lewis Hamilton has the backing of tennis legend Serena Williams as he seeks to equal Michael Schumacher's long-standing record tally of Formula One race wins.

The Briton, a six-time world champion, will start from pole at Sunday's Russian Grand Prix after he avoided a penalty for leaving the track during qualifying.

If he can hold off the challenge of his rivals, the 35-year-old will equal Schumacher's total of 91 grand prix victories, and long-time fan Williams – who is chasing a landmark of her own at the French Open – is certain Hamilton will ultimately surpass the German.

"He is for me the greatest driver that our generation has seen," said Williams on her 39th birthday as she prepared to challenge for a record-equalling 24th grand slam title.

"I'm confident that he will break the record of Michael Schumacher, who was also a fabulous driver.

"Lewis and I are super close. I've known him for years. I love that guy. He's a really good friend of mine. The guy is such a champion, has such a champion's mindset.

"I look at what he does training, physically, his job, it's really no words for it, to be honest."

Hamilton has campaigned for greater diversity in motorsport and has never been afraid to speak his mind, which is a quality Williams has come to admire in him.

"Lewis is so intense," she said. "If you know anything, even if you're a fan, you know he lives his life on his sleeve. He's very emotional. He says what he says.

"That's just who he is. He doesn't care who you are. That's one thing I've grown to really appreciate about him, as well."

Hamilton has won six times already this season, including last time out at the Tuscan Grand Prix at Mugello.

Williams, seeded sixth in Paris, opens her campaign at Rolland Garros against Kristie Ahn on Monday and, while history may beckon, she is happy just to be playing at such a ripe age.

"I honestly never thought I would be playing at my age," she admitted.

"I mean, I don't quite look 39. I don't know when it's going to stop for me. I just have fun. When I feel it's over, it's over.

"But I could have guaranteed and pretty much bet my life that I would not have been playing at 39. This is why I don't bet."

Margaret Court's record is still in play, but Serena Williams' era of dominance on the WTA Tour looks to be winding down as another grand slam approaches.

Williams has won none of the past 13 majors, dating back to her most recent success at the 2017 Australian Open, though she missed the first four of those having given birth.

This is the 23-time champion's longest stretch without a grand slam win since she made her Melbourne bow in 1998.

Williams has reached at least the semi-finals in five of her past eight major appearances, yet she has not recorded a win in that time and, having not made the Roland Garros quarter-finals since 2016, an end to that miserable run appears unlikely in the coming weeks.

So could the future of the women's game be present in Paris? Well, finding Serena's heir is proving rather difficult.

While she is one of seven female players to have claimed 10 or more major titles, Serena is the only member of that elite group to have won a championship in the 21st century.

Justine Henin and Serena's sister Venus have each had seven wins, yet other genuine rivals have been a rarity over the past 20 years.

Roland Garros results have illustrated this trend as well as any championship. Only Serena, Henin and Maria Sharapova have won multiple French Open titles since the start of the 2000 season, with Henin's 2005-2007 run the last time a woman celebrated consecutive triumphs on the red clay.

That drought will continue for at least another year, too, due to Ash Barty's absence.

Another name missing from this year's draw is perhaps the most likely candidate to emulate Williams' success. US Open champion Naomi Osaka is still just 22 but has won three of the past seven majors she has contested. That also amounts to just three victories in three seasons, but time is on her side as she looks to shape her own legacy.

Williams is Osaka's idol, as was so painfully evident when the Japanese shed tears following a grand slam breakthrough that came during Serena's 2018 US Open meltdown. The pair watched one another at Flushing Meadows earlier this month, although Serena's last-four defeat prevented a highly anticipated final rematch.

"I feel like she's such an intense player that is really exciting to watch," Williams said of Osaka, who looks to have adopted her role model's single-minded drive.

Discussing her impressive grand slam record prior to this month's victory over Victoria Azarenka, Osaka revealed her approach: "No-one remembers anyone but the winner."

Yet Osaka has work to do if she is going to be a winner on all surfaces like Williams, one of just two players - along with Sharapova - to win a career Grand Slam since the turn of the century. Angelique Kerber could join that club in the coming weeks, yet French Open success seems increasingly unlikely for the two-time quarter-finalist and world number 22. Osaka has not been past the third round at Roland Garros or Wimbledon, reserving her success for the hard courts.

Meanwhile, although victory at the Australian Open in 2019 quickly added to Osaka's first triumph, that second title has proved tricky for a number of other hopefuls.

Since Serena's 23rd major honour, six women have become one-off grand slam winners - including Sofia Kenin, 21, and Bianca Andreescu, 20. The pair are younger than several other champions, yet neither have even reached a quarter-final outside of their sole successes.

Andreescu has seen her 2020 season completely wrecked by injury and withdrew from Roland Garros this week. In her stead, others will look to join her as a champion. Qatar Open winner Aryna Sabalenka, Elena Rybakina and last year's French Open finalist Marketa Vondrousova are each younger than Osaka and hold a place in the WTA's top 20.

Then, of course, there is Coco Gauff, ranked 51st.

The 16-year-old beat Venus at both the 2019 US Open and the 2020 Australian Open, also eliminating defending champion Osaka at the latter. At each tournament, she lost only to the eventual winner.

"She clearly wants it, works very hard, is extremely mature for her age," Venus said. "I think the sky's the limit for her."

But a first-round exit at the US Open represented a reality check for Gauff. With no Barty and no Osaka, might she seize the opportunity and bounce back in stunning style at Roland Garros?

Or is this Serena's time? Number 24 at last. It is up to the next generation to ensure she cannot afford to keep passing up such chances.

US Open champion Dominic Thiem was dealt a difficult hand in an exciting men's French Open draw, while Serena Williams was handed a tough route in the women's competition.

Thiem finally ended his wait for a first major title in New York earlier this month, beating Alexander Zverev in a five-set epic after losing his prior three finals.

Two of those came in the most recent two French Open finals against Rafael Nadal, although there will be no repeat this year.

Thiem is in the bottom half of the draw along with Nadal, who starts against Egor Gerasimov, and has a tricky schedule right from the outset.

The Austrian has grand slam winner Marin Cilic in the first round, and Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka – two other former major champions – are potential fourth-round opponents as they begin against one another in an intriguing clash.

Nadal could have to tackle John Isner in the last 16, while Zverev is also in the bottom half of the draw.

World number one Novak Djokovic has Mikael Ymer up first and could meet Pablo Carreno Busta in the quarter-finals, having been defaulted from the US Open when facing the Spaniard – his only defeat of the year.

Daniil Medvedev and Stefanos Tsitsipas are in the top half, too.

Meanwhile, Williams, still bidding for a record-equalling 24th major title, is set to meet Victoria Azarenka in round four.

Azarenka came from a set down to beat Williams in the semi-finals at Flushing Meadows before she was defeated in the championship match by Naomi Osaka, who is absent in France.

Defending champion Ash Barty and 2019 US Open winner Bianca Andreescu are also missing, while world number 10 Belinda Bencic withdrew shortly before the draw.

But Williams still faces a difficult task just to reach the final.

A potential victory over Azarenka in the last 16 could see the 38-year-old paired with third seed Elina Svitolina in the quarters, while top seed, world number two and 2018 champion Simona Halep is also in the same half.

Williams starts against Kristie Ahn, who she defeated in her US Open opener.

Kiki Bertens is in the same quarter as Halep, which sees arguably the pick of the first-round matches as Coco Gauff takes on Johanna Konta, last year's semi-finalist.

Marketa Vondrousova, beaten by Barty in the 2019 final, is a potential fourth-round opponent for Halep.

Karolina Pliskova and Petra Kvitova are in the same section as former champion Jelena Ostapenko and Germany's Angelique Kerber, who could complete a career Grand Slam.

Garbine Muguruza, another previous winner, is in Sofia Kenin's quarter with Aryna Sabalenka.

Tiger Woods can identify with the struggles of Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal as they each bid to make history in their sport, with time working against them.

This week, 40-year-old Woods will yet again seek to add to his major haul of 15 in pursuit of Jack Nicklaus' record tally of 18.

It was a mark that Woods appeared destined to surpass when he reached 14 in 2008, but his 2019 Masters triumph ended an 11-year drought brought on by injury and personal issues.

Fellow American Williams has similarly hit a barrier in her quest to catch Margaret Court's grand slam total of 24, with the 38-year-old having been one behind since 2017.

Nadal, the youngest of the trio at 34 and also one shy of the all-time mark, faces a slightly different challenge in that his target could be a moving one, with Roger Federer still looking to increase his number of slams victories above 20.

Asked if the proximity to such historic milestones made it harder to win, Woods suggested age was the greatest factor.

"You know, I think it gets harder to win as we all age," he said at Winged Foot ahead of the second of three majors this year. 

"I think that when you're in your prime, in your peak years, you have to take advantage of those opportunities so that when you get to the all-time marks, you have the opportunity.

"I think that whether it's Rafa or Fed or Serena, they've been so consistent and so dominant for such a long period of time, that's how you get to have those all-time marks.

"Consistency over a long period of time is the hallmark of those records."

The U.S. Open has not been at Winged Foot since 2006, when surprise winner Geoff Ogilvy took the honours after finishing five over par.

That sums up the difficulty of the challenge facing the field this week, with Woods citing this track as one of the toughest in the world.

"I think it's right up there next to Oakmont and I think Carnoustie as far as just sheer difficulty without even doing anything to it," he said.

"I think those three golf courses, they can host major championships without ever doing anything to them.

"The winning scores here have never traditionally been very low. I don't see that changing this week.

"The golf course is going to be hard. It depends on how difficult they want to set up these pins, give us a chance at it.

"But with the forecast, it's going to be difficult no matter what."

Serena Williams has pulled out of the Internazionali d'Italia tournament in Rome, citing an Achilles injury.

The US Open semi-finalist entered the WTA Tour event with the intention of gaining match practice on clay before the upcoming French Open.

That delayed grand slam takes place from September 27 to October 11 in Paris, switched from its original May start due to the COVID-19 crisis.

Williams fell short in her bid to land a record-equalling 24th grand slam when she was edged out by Victoria Azarenka in New York this week, when she needed medical assistance for the Achilles pain.

She stressed afterwards that she intended to play the French Open, but the Rome event, which begins on Monday, has now been scratched from her plans.

Former world number one Williams said in a statement released by the WTA: "I regretfully must withdraw from the Internazionali BNL d'Italia due to an Achilles strain."

Petra Kvitova and Bianca Andreescu will also be absent from the tournament after the WTA announced their withdrawals.

Simona Halep is among those returning to action, however, with the world number two having opted to miss the US Open due to concerns related to the pandemic.

Victoria Azarenka will try to take a "neutral" mentality into her US Open final showdown with Naomi Osaka after claiming she is no longer a player fuelled by ego.

The 31-year-old former world number one overcame a torrid first set to defeat Serena Williams 1-6 6-3 6-3 and book a place in the Flushing Meadows showpiece.

Williams, whose search for a record-equalling 24th grand slam goes on, beat Azarenka in each of her previous final appearances in New York in 2012 and 2013.

The Belarusian won the Australian Open in each of those years but a succession of form, fitness and personal problems have contributed to those being her most recent triumphs at the highest level.

After earning the chance to end that drought against Osaka, who Azarenka was due to face in the final of last month's Western & Southern Open before her opponent withdrew due to a hamstring strain, she told reporters it was an opportunity she would approach with humility.

"I think when you're coming up from kind of nothing, then you become a number one player in the world, sometimes you can start to think you're invincible and that you're better than everybody, and it's not true," Azarenka said.

"So the ego starts to grow. It's very hurtful when it gets damaged, so...

"Instead of getting the ego damaged, I tried to remove that and learn from my mistakes of that ego, and realising that being a tennis player doesn't make you better or worse than anybody else, that you're still human, and all you can do is try to be the best version of yourself and keep improving."

Azarenka has taken to sitting with her eyes closed during the change of ends and explained this was an exercise used to clear her mind of any thoughts during high-pressure moments.

"Absolutely nothing. That's my goal," she said.

"When s*** happens to you, you're like, oh, let's be positive, let's be positive.

"It's sometimes impossible to be positive. So being neutral, just not going into negativity is very useful. It's very simple."

Williams confirmed afterwards that she would take part in the forthcoming French Open and Azarenka admires her old rival's longevity and quest to match Margaret Court's all-time slam record.

"I think it's amazing," she added. "There's no other thoughts.

"Someone who is an amazing champion going for what she wants to do. All admiration from my side."

Two-time major champion Naomi Osaka will go into this year's US Open final with a different mindset.

Osaka won her first grand slam singles title at Flushing Meadows two years ago, overcoming Serena Williams in a match that was overshadowed by the 23-time major champion's incredible meltdown.

The Japanese followed that success up with glory at the 2019 Australian Open, but did not go beyond the fourth round of a major again until this fortnight in New York.

Osaka defeated Jennifer Brady 7-6 (7-1) 3-6 6-3 on Thursday and, having been the runner-up at the Western & Southern Open when tennis returned from its suspension amid the coronavirus pandemic, she feels in a better place going into her third major final.

"I feel like my mindset is much different this time around. I feel like I've learned so much through the ups and downs, not even counting the finals, but just regular tour tournaments," said Osaka after her semi-final triumph.

"I would say mentally I feel stronger. I feel fitter now. It's going to be interesting to see what happens.

"I feel like the older you get, the more mentally strong you are. I think that's something that you learn from being on the tour for such a long time, playing so many matches.

"But for me, definitely my goal during these two tournaments was to be more mentally strong and to fight for every point. So that's what I'm going to go into the final with. Nothing is going to change that."

Osaka was denied a rematch with Williams in the US Open final by Victoria Azarenka, who won a semi-final against the great American 1-6 6-3 6-3.

World number 27 Azarenka is in good form having won the Western & Southern Open by walkover after Osaka withdrew from the final due to a left hamstring injury.

Osaka said of the Belarusian: "I've played her once in Roland Garros. I played her twice, but the Roland Garros one is the most recent one that I remember.

"Yeah, she seems really confident now. She's moving well. I don't know. I don't try to think about other matches right after the match that I just finished. But [it] should be tough."

Osaka believes the hard work she put in during lockdown has paid dividends since the return of professional tennis.

"You're never really sure how things will pan out. But I felt like I put in as much work as I could, and I tried as hard as I could during the quarantine to get myself ready. For me, I felt that's the only thing I could possibly to," she said.

"Yeah, I feel like my first match in [the Western & Southern Open], I was super nervous. But I was really happy with the level that I was playing. I just tried to keep building from that. Now I'm here."

Page 1 of 8
© 2020 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.