Simona Halep is "honoured" to be the favourite to win the French Open and the top seed says that tag will not put extra pressure on her to regain the title.

Halep savoured a first grand slam triumph at Roland Garros in 2018 and went on to double her tally at Wimbledon last year.

The world number two has won back-to-back tournaments since returning to the WTA Tour following a six-month hiatus due to the coronavirus pandemic, her latest success coming at the Internazionali d'Italia in Rome last weekend

Defending champion Ash Barty, the world number one, and US Open champion Naomi Osaka are among the absentees for what will be the final major of the year.

Halep, who plays Sara Sorribes Tormo in the first round of her grand slam comeback after skipping the US Open, appears to be more concerned about the cold and rain in the French capital than being expected to lift the Coupe Suzanne Lenglen for a second time.

The Romanian said: "I'm honoured to hear that I am the favourite, people thinking that I'm the favourite. But I don't look in that way.

"I know that most of the players are favourite because everyone is working hard, everyone is ready for this tournament. So I'm not going into that too much. I just try to play my chance, try to play every match, and we will see how it is going to be in the end.

"It's not extra pressure [to be the favourite]. I'm used to this kind of pressure because I've been number one seeded in the past. I've been in this position. So, no, I take it in a right way, and I take it as a normal tournament. So no extra pressure."

She added: "I feel good. I feel confident. But you never know. So I will take day by day and I will try to give my best every day to get ready for the tournament."

Halep says it will be strange to play in the clay-court grand slam four months later than usual as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

The 28-year-old said: "To play Roland Garros in September, end of September, it's a little bit weird. But it's nice that we have the chance to play at this tournament. We should thank everyone for fighting so hard to do it possible. Let's see now who is going to be ready for it."

"When it's cold, it's a little bit heavier and a little bit different. It's a big difference between Rome and here, that's for sure. Fifteen degrees less. I feel the cold. I feel like struggling a little bit. But it is the same for everybody."

The French Tennis Federation (FFT) says it "deeply regrets" new government restrictions that will only allow 1,000 spectators per day into Roland Garros to watch the French Open. 

Tournament organisers were forced to reduce the number of people allowed into the famous venue on a daily basis from 11,500 to 5,000 last week due to new rules introduced to try and stop the rise in coronavirus infection rates. 

Just two days before the grand slam gets under way, the FFT has had to inform those with tickets that they may be left disappointed due to further restrictions. 

A daily draw will now take place to determine who will be able to attend what will be the last major of the year. 

A statement on the French Open website said: "Following the announcements made by government authorities, 1,000 spectators will be permitted to enter the Roland Garros grounds per day. 

"This cap applies across all 16 courts in the 12-hectare site and is equivalent to one 35th of the usual number of spectators that have attended in the first week of the main draw in previous years.    

"From the very outset of the public health crisis that our country is experiencing, the French Tennis Federation has consistently worked closely with government departments, to determine how to organise the tournament in the current situation.  It deeply regrets these new restrictions. 

"On Sunday, 27 September, the world's greatest players will compete in the main draw, in a transformed stadium, in a tournament broadcast in 222 countries around the world. 

"The new rules mean that we will be required to adapt our ticketing situation, by organising a draw for each day of the tournament among the current ticket-holders. These draws will be supervised by a legal custodian."

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.

Elina Svitolina progressed to the semi-finals of the Internationaux de Strasbourg but will have to wait until Friday to find out her opponent after rain suspended play between Aryna Sabalenka and Katerina Siniakova.

Number two seed Svitolina was made to work hard for her 6-4 6-3 victory over Jil Teichmann, battling back from a break down in both sets.

The world number five took an hour and 23 minutes to secure her first semi-final for six months.

"It was a great fight from Jil and I think both of us were playing at a really good level at some points," Svitolina said.

"I was fighting. I didn't start the match very well, but I was trying to be very focused and fight back. In the end, I'm very happy with how I handled the match."

Sabalenka and Siniakova will resume their contest on Friday after the latter claimed the first set 6-2. Play was suspended due to rain with the Czech 2-1 down in the second but serving next.

The other semi-final will be contested by fifth seed Elena Rybakina, who defeated Zhang Shuai 6-3 6-2, and Nao Hibino, who ousted 2017 French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 7-6 (7-2) 7-6 (7-4).

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.

Aryna Sabalenka avoided an upset by fighting back to defeat Anna Blinkova 1-6 6-4 6-2 and reach the Internationaux de Strasbourg quarter-finals.

The world number 12, this year's champion in Doha, made the last-eight stage for the first time since the WTA returned after the coronavirus shutdown having won just three matches before this week.

Katerina Siniakova awaits after the Czech upset the odds to defeat seventh seed Ekaterina Alexandrova 6-2 6-4.

Alexandrova defeated Siniakova when winning her first WTA singles title in Shenzhen this season but was unable to repeat the feat.

"I feel really good on clay," Siniakova said. "It was tough, it was a good match, I'm happy about it."

Nao Hibino defeated Zarina Diyas in straight sets, while third seed Kiki Bertens withdrew injured when trailing 4-2 in the decided set of her clash with Jelena Ostapenko.

Bianca Andreescu will not play again in 2020 after confirming her intention to skip the clay-court swing.

The 2019 US Open champion has not played a competitive match since sustaining a knee injury during the WTA Finals last October.

Andreescu's agent had already confirmed her withdrawal from the French Open, with the main draw due to begin on Sunday.

And in a post on social media, Andreescu wrote: "I have come to the difficult decision to skip the clay-court swing this year and will be taking the remainder of the season off to focus on my health and my training.

"As hard as it was to come to this conclusion, I have so much to look forward to in 2021, including the Olympics; I want to use this time to focus on my game so I can come back stronger and better than ever.

"As always, all of your encouraging words and support mean the world to me and I look forward to getting back on the court and competing for Canada next year!"

Andreescu became the first Canadian to win a grand slam title when she defeated Serena Williams in the final at Flushing Meadows last year.

She remains number seven in the WTA rankings despite her elongated period of inactivity.

Elina Svitolina battled past Magda Linette to reach the quarter-finals of the Internationaux de Strasbourg on Tuesday.

The second seed won the first set via a tie-break and came back from a double break down in the second to seal a 7-6 (7-0) 7-5 victory in an hour and 58 minutes.

Linette was just two points away from winning the opener and missed an opportunity to force a decider on set point in the second.

"It definitely was not easy. She was fighting back, she was trying to produce a good level; I was up and down," said Svitolina, who reached the quarter-finals on her return to the WTA Tour at the Internazionali d'Italia last week.

"It's not easy to come from another tournament with different balls, different conditions. I was trying just to fight and, in the end, I was lucky I finished in two sets."

Jil Teichmann awaits Svitolina in the last eight following a 7-6 (7-3) 7-5 win against 2018 champion Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, while there were also victories for Elena Rybakina and Zhang Shuai.

Aryna Sabalenka revealed her decision not to take on Dieter Kindlmann as a coach after she cruised to a straight-sets win over Ellen Perez at the Internationaux de Strasbourg.

Number four seed Sabalenka was in fine form as she made a convincing start to her campaign, taking just over an hour to beat qualifier Perez 6-4 6-3 and move into the second round.

Perez was last year's doubles champion in Strasbourg but was no match for the world number 12, who is currently operating with her hitting partner as a coach.

Sabalenka had been working with Kindlmann, who used to coach her doubles partner Elise Mertens, heading into the US Open, but the Belarusian elected not to keep him on.

"I told him that I think I'm not ready for a new person on my team," Sabalenka explained.

"He's a great guy, great coach, but I'm just not ready. I'm going to work with my hitting partner for now as my coach."

Anna Blinkova, who beat Myrtille Georges 6-1 6-2, awaits Sabalenka in round two.

Former US Open champion Sloane Stephens succumbed to the shock result of the day, meanwhile, as she crashed out to world number 83 Nao Hibino. 

Stephens was going up against an opponent who was 0-3 across her first three events since the season was restarted, but Hibino secured a hard-fought 6-2 3-6 6-1 triumph.

"Last week, I lost in qualies in Rome and it was not a good match, so I learned from that," Hibino said after the match. "Of course, Sloane is a good player, especially on clay courts. I prepared mentally and with tactics, so I think it helped a lot today."

It was a bad day for Stephens' compatriot Christina McHale, who went down 6-7 (4-7) 7-5 7-6 (7-3) to Zarina Diyas.

Magda Linette beat Pauline Parmentier to set up a tie with second seed Elina Svitolina, while third seed Kiki Bertens will meet Jelena Ostapenko.

There were also victories for Elena Rybakina, Ekaterina Alexandrova, Alize Cornet, Shuai Zhang and Katerina Siniakova.

Simona Halep is not putting any pressure on herself ahead of the French Open after Karolina Pliskova's retirement handed her the Internazionali d'Italia title.

Halep was leading the two-time defending champion 6-0 2-1 in Rome when Pliskova retired in tears because of injury.

The Czech called a medical timeout between sets and had treatment on her lower back and leg.

It is Halep's third consecutive title, with the two-time grand slam champion on a 14-match winning streak after a triumph that further solidifies her status as French Open favourite.

The 2018 Roland Garros champion is not willing to burden herself with the weight of expectation despite her hugely impressive form.

"It's just another tournament," Halep said. "I'm not going to put pressure on myself. I've played really well this year, with three titles already.

"I've played so much on clay, so I feel confident and happy that I'll have a chance to play another grand slam this year.

"I'm not going to let myself be bothered by things like the weather. I'll just be happy to take positives from this tournament and go there smiling.

"It's a dream for everyone to win the grand slam tournament from the first day, so it's my dream as well, but I'm not thinking that far.

"I just want to go there, get used to the courts and the atmosphere, and try to win every match I play. Every match is a battle, so I'll be ready for it."

Pliskova had won three of the previous four meetings with Halep but was full of appreciation for the Romanian after falling short this time around.

"Disappointing for me to not finish today, but Simo, obviously too strong," said Pliskova. 

"I always have to be 100 per cent to play a good match against you. Congratulations for the whole week. I think you deserve the title."

World number two Simona Halep extended her winning streak to 13 matches as she reached the final to delight the fans in attendance at the Internazionali d'Italia. 

Spectators were allowed at a WTA Tour event for the first time since the coronavirus pandemic suspended competitions, the Rome crowd witnessing Halep defeat Garbine Muguruza 6-3 4-6 6-4 in two hours and 14 minutes. 

Muguruza was the last woman to beat Halep, in the semi-finals of the Australian Open in January, but she was unable to produce a repeat in Italy, where the Romanian will be hoping to add to the recent titles she won in Abu Dhabi and Prague either side of the break. 

Halep, a two-time runner-up at this tournament, was 5-1 up in the third set but was pegged back to 5-4, only for Muguruza to produce back-to-back double faults that handed her opponent the victory.

"The victory is really important against Muguruza, always," Halep said afterwards.

"She's a very, very difficult player and a good player. It's always a good vibe and feeling when I win against her.

"I feel confident now that I was able to win this match."

Next up for Halep is Karolina Pliskova after the defending champion overcame Marketa Vondrousova 6-2 6-4.

Pliskova raced into a one-set lead against her fellow Czech, who was the runner-up at Roland Garros last year, but dropped her serve at the start of the second.

Vondrousova was unable to consolidate and paid the price for failing to stay in the rallies with the former world number one in the closing stages of a match that lasted one hour and 22 minutes. 

US Open finalist Victoria Azarenka lost a three-set thriller to Garbine Muguruza in the quarter-finals of the Internazionali d'Italia to set up a meeting with top seed Simona Halep. 

Muguruza beat her fellow former world number one 3-6 6-3 6-4 after two hours and 19 minutes, having been one point away from falling 5-3 down in an entertaining decider at Foro Italico. 

The 2016 French Open winner managed to hold her serve on that occasion, then broke to love in the next game before going on to seal the match at the third attempt. 

"I think it was a tough match. I knew it was going to be a tough match. She's a good player, she's playing good, she's with a lot of confidence," said Muguruza. 

"I knew it was going to be a tough battle. I was ready for it. I stood behind her and was waiting for my opportunities. She was playing great at the beginning. She took the first set. I kept myself together and said, 'Okay, let's start another battle in the second set'."

Next up for Muguruza is two-time Rome finalist Halep, who saw Yulia Putintseva retire from their quarter-final meeting due to a lower back injury. 

After dropping her serve to fall 6-2 2-0 down to the world number two in 47 minutes, Putintseva, who played back-to-back three-set matches in the previous two rounds, pulled out of the match. 

Halep said of Muguruza: "Every time I played well against her, [I was] as much as possible aggressive. If I play my best game and if I feel great physically on court, I have a big chance to win the match. But every time is different, because she's playing so hard. 

"You don't really know what to expect. It's tough every time. So I don't plan for a specific match, because you never know on court."

Two-time Internazionali d'Italia champion Elina Svitolina was comprehensively beaten 6-3 6-0 by Marketa Vondrousova, who was the runner-up at last year's French Open. 

Standing between Vondrousova and her first final appearance since Roland Garros last year is reigning champion Karolina Pliskova. 

Second seed Pliskova overcame Elise Mertens 6-3 3-6 6-0 as she continued to impress after initially struggling when the WTA Tour returned in August.

Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova cruised into the last eight at the Internazionali d'Italia on Friday, while Garbine Muguruza impressed again.

Tournament favourite Halep eventually looked comfortable in her 7-5 6-4 against Dayana Yastremska, but the Romanian had to fight back from a break down in the opening set as she was put on the back foot.

Halep slid 3-0 down in the opener, but she produced an admirable response when winning 12 of the following 13 points as she levelled up.

Another break from 5-5 allowed Halep to take charge, and from there she rarely looked in trouble, remaining in the ascendancy early in the second as she went 3-0 up, ultimately seeing out the win professionally despite Yastremska giving herself a chance with a break of her own.

"It was not easy against her because you don't really have the rhythm. She hits it very strong and it's tough to return her balls," Halep said, highlighting the need to get her head straight after the early wobble.

"After I lost the first three games, I just had to focus a little bit better and stop giving her the balls that she likes.

"I tried to change it up a little bit, make her move, [hit shots] a little bit high. I think during the match I found some solutions that were good to win.

"Big picture, I think it was a great match and gives me confidence that even in these conditions with a big hitter that I could win in two sets."

Awaiting Halep is a meeting with Yulia Putintseva, who fought back from a set down against fellow Russia-born Kazakh Elena Rybakina to edge an absorbing contest 4-6 7-6 (7-3) 6-2.

Second seed and defending champion Pliskova came through fairly comfortably against Anna Blinkova 6-4 6-3, with the Czech next going up against Elise Mertens, who saw off Danka Kovinic in similarly routine fashion with a 6-4 6-4 victory.

Another tantalising quarter-final will be contested between Victoria Azarenka and Garbine Muguruza. Spaniard Muguruza caught the eye as she beat seventh seed Johanna Konta 6-4 6-1, not dropping serve once against her British opponent.

Azarenka, who incredibly crushed Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin without dropping a game on Thursday, should be fresh for the quarter-final as her last-16 opponent Daria Kasatkina retired due to an ankle injury at 6-6 in the first set of their contest.

US Open champion Naomi Osaka will miss the French Open due to a hamstring injury.

The Japanese star claimed her third grand slam title with a win over Victoria Azarenka in the final in New York on Saturday.

Osaka had her left leg heavily strapped during the tournament and the 22-year-old confirmed she would miss the French Open, with the main draw due to start on September 27.

"Hey guys, first and foremost thank [sic] so much for all the support over the last three weeks. I couldn't have done it without you!" she posted on Twitter.

"Unfortunately I won't be able to play the French Open this year. My hamstring is still sore so I wouldn't have enough time to prepare for the clay – these two tournaments came too close to each other for me this time. I wish the organisers and players all the best."

Osaka's best result at Roland Garros has been reaching the third round three times, including in 2019.

Only 5,000 fans per day will be allowed in at the French Open amid a spike in coronavirus cases in the country.

Main-draw matches are scheduled to begin at Roland Garros on September 27 after the grand slam was moved due to COVID-19.

It was announced earlier this month that 11,500 spectators would be allowed in per day, although several players raised concerns after the US Open was held behind closed doors.

France reported 10,593 new cases of coronavirus on Thursday before a reduced capacity for Roland Garros was announced.

"The FFT [French Tennis Federation] will therefore assume the responsibility of organising the tournament with a new lay out," a statement read.

"It is important for the sporting, social and economic life of the country that a major event like Roland Garros can be put on while respecting health imperatives.

"Such will be the case for the 2020 tournament.

"The FFT is conscious of how disappointing this news will be for those who will not be able to come to the stadium due to the reduction in capacity. We would like to thank you for your understanding and your dogged support of the tournament.

"Roland Garros 2020 will set an example by endorsing, promoting and defending its cherished sporting values."

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