Naomi Osaka claimed a straight sets victory over Clara Burel in the first round of the Italian Open.

Making her first appearance in Rome since 2021, former world number one Osaka prevailed 7-6 (7-2) 6-1 on Wednesday, marking her first win over a top-50 opponent on clay since she defeated Victoria Azarenka at Roland Garros in 2019.

Osaka, who is now ranked 173rd in the world by the WTA, will face Marta Kostyuk in the second round. 

She previously faced Kostyuk in the 2020 US Open, en route to winning her third major title.

Data Debrief: Back with a bang

Osaka reached the quarter-finals of the Italian Open in 2019, but did not win a game in 2021 and has not appeared at any other edition since then.

That means the 26-year-old won her first match at the event since she beat Mihaela Buzarnescu in 2019 (1,819 days ago). She wrapped up the win in one hour and 24 minutes, finishing with 27 winners, including eight aces.

Coco Gauff believes winning a medal at the forthcoming Paris Olympics would be "equal" to winning a Grand Slam.

The world number three was forced to miss the Games in Tokyo three years ago after testing positive for COVID-19, and is eager to sample the "once-in-a-lifetime experience".

The tennis events will be played on the clay of Roland Garros, where Gauff will be bidding for a second major title at the French Open later this month.

And the reigning US Open champion is looking forward to competing, though she admits her preparations will be unprecedented.

"For me, the Olympics is a top priority. I'd say equal to the Grand Slams," Gauff told reporters at the Italian Open, where she will face Magdalena Frech in the last 64.

"I wouldn't put it above or below just because I've never played before. This is my first time. Obviously, I always want to do well, try to get a medal. But the preparation is going to be interesting, because I've never done the grass to clay transition before.

"I'm not putting too much pressure on it because I really want to fully indulge in the experience. Hopefully, I can have it many times in my lifetime. I'll treat it as a once-in-a-lifetime experience."

Before that, Gauff is focused on getting ready for the French Open, where she was runner-up to world number one Iga Swiatek two years ago.

The 20-year-old will step up her preparation at the Italian Open this week, aiming to build on her run to the round of 16 at the Madrid Open last time out, where her run was ended by compatriot Madison Keys.

"For me, it's just about serving better than I did last week," she added. "I feel the other parts of my game are improving. If I can work that through, I think it'll set me up for a very good Roland Garros."

Iga Swiatek will not rest on her laurels after overcoming Aryna Sabalenka in last week's Madrid Open final, pledging to learn from that gruelling battle ahead of the Italian Open.

Swiatek toppled Sabalenka in an enthralling battle between the world's top two players on Saturday, saving three championship points en route to a 7-5 4-6 7-6 (9-7) win in over three hours on court.

The world number one has now won every European clay court tournament at WTA 500 level or higher, including back-to-back triumphs in Rome in 2021 and 2022.

As she prepares to open her Italian Open campaign against either Caroline Dolehide or a qualifier on Friday, Swiatek is determined to ensure she does not let her level drop.

Speaking during an appearance on the WTA Insider Podcast, Swiatek said: "I feel like after such a match, I deserve a two-month vacation, but I can't have that so I'll trade it for six tiramisus or something!

"I can let it go and rest and just forget about it, or I can really take a big lesson from it, so it depends on what is going to happen in the next few weeks in terms of how I analyse it."

Swiatek's latest win – her seventh in 10 meetings with Sabalenka – saw her put further distance between herself and the world number two in the WTA rankings.

However, the four-time grand slam champion knows she cannot afford to let up, given the fierce competition on the WTA tour.

"I'm not thinking about Aryna when I'm practising, but it's more that I know that the competition is big and if I stop for a while I might be pushed out," Swiatek said.

"But I had this kind of thing in Rome 2022, with the final against Ons [Jabeur]. Physically, I was so tired. The rallies were long, Ons was playing a pretty tricky game. 

"So after that game for the next few years, when I was doing the worst practices on court and I was dying, I was thinking about that game."

Jannik Sinner says that he is aiming to make a return for Roland-Garros if he is "100 per cent" fit following a hip issue.

The world number two withdrew from the Madrid Open last week ahead of his quarter-final tie with Felix Auger-Aliassime due to the injury.

Sinner confirmed on Saturday that he will not be playing in what would be a home tournament in Rome.

Providing an update on his progress on Sunday, Sinner said: "I went back to Monte-Carlo, we did some more tests, which made me take this hard decision because I have to skip the most special tournament of the year for me.

"I have to accept it even if it hurts me and many fans. We realised something is not totally good. If it is not 100 per cent healed, I'll stay out a little longer. Caring for the body is much more important than everything else.

"I’ll just try to get back to 100 per cent as soon as possible, hopefully trying to play in Paris and then Wimbledon and all the rest.

"We'll take our time, there's no rush and, hopefully, I can get back very, very soon."

Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic could meet in the Italian Open final after being positioned on opposite sides of the draw.

Nadal, a record 10-time champion at the tournament, could meet reigning champion Daniil Medvedev in the quarter-finals should they both get that far, while newly crowned Madrid Open winner, Andrey Rublev, would be a potential semi-final opponent.

In the top half of the draw, Djokovic will take on either Roman Safiullin or a qualifier in his first competitive appearance since Monte Carlo.

The Serbian, who is just two wins away from his 1100th tour-level career victory, is seeded to face Casper Ruud in the quarter-finals. Alexander Zverev and Grigor Dimitrov are also on their side of the draw.

Meanwhile, top seed Iga Swiatek has been drawn in the opposite half of the draw to Elena Rybakina, the reigning Italian Open champion.

Swiatek is projected to face Coco Gauff in the semi-finals for the second consecutive WTA 1000 event should they both progress.

Rybakina is due to meet second seed Aryna Sabalenka at the same stage, having lost to the Belarusian at last week’s Madrid Open semi-finals.

Aryna Sabalenka is encouraged by her run to the Madrid Open final and feels her performance levels "can only get better", despite defeat by Iga Swiatek.

In a repeat of last year's showpiece, the world number two went down 7-5 4-6 7-6 (9-7) in a thrilling encounter with the Pole, who avenged her loss from 12 months ago. 

Sabalenka, who saw three championship points go begging, narrowly missed out on becoming only the second woman to win three titles in Madrid after Petra Kvitova. 

Nevertheless, the reigning Australian Open champion reached her first final since triumphing in Melbourne, while extending her winning streak in the Spanish capital to 11 matches before defeat to the world number one.

"I really want to see many more finals against [Swiatek]. I want to see more wins than losses," she said. "But I really hope that we'll be able to keep the level or increase the level every year.

"I'm happy with the level I played, with the effort I put into this match and into this week. I'm leaving Madrid with positive thoughts.

"Probably when I broke [Swiatek] in the third set, I should have been more focused on my serve. But at the same time, it's not like I double-faulted; she played great tennis, and she broke me back.

"I think after the Australian Open, I struggled for a couple of months. It's been intense. I'm super happy that, here in Madrid, I was able to bring it all together and be able to get back to my level. It can only get better from now on."

Swiatek was not to be denied a third title of the season - a tally only matched by Elena Rybakina - and she has now won each of her last seven WTA Tour-level finals since losing out to Sabalenka in Madrid last year.

The three-time French Open champion has also now triumphed in every European clay court tournament at WTA 500 level or higher.

"When I look back in maybe a few years, it will mean a lot," the Pole said. "But for now, I'm just happy that I won this tournament anyway. It doesn't matter to me if I won it before or not. I try to win each tournament that I play.

"I think it was more about who was going to be less stressed and who was going to be able to play with more freedom.

"For most of the match, I felt like some decisions [from her] were pretty courageous. I was sometimes a little bit back. So, in the end, I just wanted not to do that and to also be courageous.

"I don't know what made a difference. I think we both deserved to win; I think it was only about those little points in the tiebreaker."

Iga Swiatek clinched the Madrid Open title after downing defending champion Aryna Sabalenka in a gruelling final.

In a rematch of last year's final, the top two players in the world did battle in thrilling fashion on Saturday, with Swiatek eventually prevailing 7-5 4-6 7-6 (9-7) after three hours and 14 minutes on court.

It marked Swiatek's first title in Madrid, and the Pole had to do it the hard way, saving three championship points before finally coming out on top in the tie-break, which she sealed with her second championship point when Sabalenka sent a backhand long.

This victory means Swiatek, who has won the French Open on three occasions, has now won every European clay court tournament at WTA 500 level or higher.

It was also Swiatek's seventh victory over Sabalenka, from what was their 10th meeting.

Data Debrief: Clay queen Swiatek rolls on

Swiatek has now won her past seven WTA Tour-level finals, since the defeat to Sabalenka in Madrid last season, while only Elena Rybakina can match her haul of three titles so far in 2024.

This was the longest singles final of the year so far on the WTA Tour, while it was the fourth show-piece match in a WTA 1000 event to be decided by a third set tie-break.

Since the format’s introduction in 2009, only Serena Williams (13) and Victoria Azarenka (10) have more WTA 1000 titles than Swiatek, whose tally of nine equals the efforts of Simona Halep and Petra Kvitova.

Meanwhile, of players to have made at least 10 appearances at clay court tournaments, only Chris Evert, Margaret Court and Steffi Graf have a higher ratio of victories in the Open Era than Swiatek (8/18).

In fact, Swiatek has now claimed a tournament victory in 31 per cent (9/29) of the WTA 1000 main draws she has entered, the highest percentage of any player since the format’s introduction in 2009.

Jannik Sinner has joined Carlos Alcaraz in withdrawing from the Italian Open due to injury.

Sinner, who pulled out of his quarter-final tie with Felix Auger-Aliassime at the Madrid Open this week, is suffering with a hip issue.

It means the world number two will not participate in what would have been a home tournament in Rome, in what is sure to be a disappointment to the Italian fans.

"It is not easy to write this message but after speaking again with the doctors and specialists about my hip problems I have to announce that unfortunately I will not be able to play in Rome," he wrote on X.

"Obviously I'm very sad that I didn't recover, it being one of my favourite tournaments ever. I couldn't wait to come back and play at home in front of the Italian crowd."

Sinner added he was focusing on recovering in time to play at the French Open, which starts towards the end of May.

On Friday, world number one Alcaraz withdrew from the Italian Open due to an arm problem.

Carlos Alcaraz has withdrawn from next week's Italian Open due to the arm injury that troubled him at the Madrid Open, where Andrey Rublev and Felix Auger Aliassime will face off in Sunday's final.

Alcaraz saw his bid for a third successive Madrid Open crown halted by Rublev in the quarter-finals on Wednesday, the Spaniard being pegged back after taking the opening set in a 4-6 6-3 6-2 loss.

The two-time grand slam champion – who had won his previous 24 matches at Spanish clay-court events – looked tired throughout that match and has now withdrawn from next week's ATP 1000 Masters event in Rome.

In a post to X, Alcaraz wrote: "I felt pain after playing in Madrid, discomfort in my arm. 

"Today I had some tests and I have muscle edema in the pronator teres, a consequence of my last injury. Unfortunately I won't be able to play in Rome. I need rest to recover and be able to play 100 per cent pain-free." 

Alcaraz only has limited time to recover if he is to feature at the year's second major, with the French Open due to begin on May 20.

Alcaraz's conqueror Rublev advanced to the final of the Madrid event on Friday, producing a commanding performance to beat American Taylor Fritz 6-4 6-3 in the last four.

Rublev entered the Madrid Open on a run of four straight losses, but he is now into his third ATP Masters 1000 final since the start of 2023 – a tally only bettered by Alcaraz and Daniil Medvedev (four apiece).

His opponent in Sunday's showpiece match will be Auger Aliassime, who progressed by virtue of a walkover on Friday after semi-final opponent Jiri Lehecka was forced to retire through injury.

Lehecka left the court for treatment on a back injury after just six games, with Auger Aliassime having held serve for 3-3. He only managed to play three further points on his return before calling the match to a halt in a disappointing ending to the night session.

Data Debrief: Lucky Auger Aliassime

Auger Aliassime would surely have preferred to win his semi-final the traditional way, but the Canadian should be fresh for Sunday's final after spending very limited time on court.

He has progressed through three rounds at this year's Madrid Open courtesy of a retirement or walkover, with Jakub Mensik and Jannik Sinner also stricken.

He is the first player since 1990 to progress through three rounds via retirement or walkover at a single ATP Masters event.

Aryna Sabalenka will face Iga Swiatek in the Madrid Open final for the second year running after beating Elena Rybakina 1-6 7-5 7-6 (7-5) in a semi-final classic on Thursday.

Fourth seed Rybakina made a flying start and took the opener within just 25 minutes, but Sabalenka hit back in a topsy-turvy second set featuring five breaks of serve to force a decider. 

Both players were imperious on their own serve from there, with a tie-break required to split them. Sabalenka's power looked likely to overwhelm Rybakina as she raced into a 5-1 lead, but the former Wimbledon champion clung on by saving two match points on her own serve.

Sabalenka would not be denied third time around, though, a huge serve giving Rybakina no chance as the defending champion teed up a rematch with Swiatek, who she beat in the Spanish capital in last year's showpiece match.

Data Debrief: Sabalenka's unwanted record

Sabalenka has dropped 60 games at this year's Madrid Open. That makes her the player with the most games dropped en route to reaching the final since the tournament's inception in 2009.

The world number two had to dig deep in a match which saw Rybakina win more total points (99 to 95), but she will not mind one bit if she goes on to capture a third Madrid Open title on Saturday.

Jiri Lehecka progressed to the first ATP Masters 1000 semi-final of his career as Daniil Medvedev retired hurt on Thursday at the Madrid Open.

Lehecka, who beat the great Rafael Nadal in the last 16, had just taken the first set 6-4 when Medvedev threw in the towel.

Medvedev had earlier received treatment from the physio, having seemingly struggled when moving to his right side.

"It's never easy in a match like this," Lehecka said. "If I were to choose the way how to win this match, it wouldn't be like that.

"So of course, it's never easy to see your opponent struggling, but at that moment, you just need to focus on yourself, trying to get the maximum level out of yourself."

Lehecka will face Felix Auger-Aliassime, who progressed thanks to a walkover following Jannik Sinner's withdrawal, for a place in the final.

Data Debrief: Czech mates

Lehecka is the third Czech player to reach the semi-finals in Madrid, following Jiri Vovak and Tomas Berdych.

Should Lehecka reach the final, he will move into the top 20 of the ATP rankings for the first time.

Iga Swiatek cruised into her second Madrid Open final on Thursday, maintaining her ominous form by beating Madison Keys 6-1 6-3 within 71 minutes.

Swiatek had been forced to fight back from a set down against Beatriz Haddad Maia in the quarter-finals, but there was no slow start on Thursday as she broke Keys' serve to love at the first attempt.

Only in the fifth game, when Keys failed to convert two break points, was Swiatek troubled in a 31-minute opener, and she carried that momentum into the second set with another early break. 

Having eliminated Coco Gauff and Ons Jabeur on a deeply impressive run, Keys had no answer for Swiatek's power as she clinically worked her way through the second set, the American's forehand running long on match point to seal a routine win for the world number one. 

Having lost last year's final against Aryna Sabalenka, Swiatek could face a rematch against the defending champion, who takes on Elena Rybakina in Thursday's other semi-final.

Data Debrief: Swiatek surpasses Serena 

Saturday's final will be Swiatek's 11th at WTA 1000-level, the Pole going all the way on 37.9 per cent of her 29 main-draw entries at that level. That is a better ratio than 23-time grand slam champion Serena Williams managed in her glittering career, the American doing so at 18 of 49 WTA 1000 tournaments (36.7 per cent). 

Swiatek has now played eight matches in 2024 without dropping a single game on her own serve, a tally only matched by her possible final opponent Sabalenka on the WTA tour. 

Jannik Sinner has withdrawn from the Madrid Open due to a hip injury ahead of his scheduled quarter-final clash with Felix Auger Aliassime.

The world number two was due to face Auger Aliassime for a place in the semi-finals after fighting back to overcome Karen Khachanov in three sets on Tuesday.

However, the Italian has been advised to withdraw to avoid aggravating an issue with his right hip, which he says has troubled him throughout the tournament. 

Sinner, who is 28-2 for the season and won his first grand slam title at the Australian Open earlier this year, wrote on X: "Very sad to have to withdraw from my next match here in Madrid. 

"My hip has been bothering me this week and has slowly been getting more painful. Taking the advice from the doctors, we decided it's best to not play further and make it worse."

Sinner's withdrawal means Auger Aliassime will advance to his first ATP Masters 1000 semi-final since 2022, with Daniil Medvedev or Jiri Lehecka – who eliminated Rafael Nadal on Tuesday – up next for the Canadian. 

On the other side of the draw, two-time defending champion Carlos Alcaraz suffered a surprise exit at the hands of Andrey Rublev on Wednesday, with the Russian set to face either Taylor Fritz or Francisco Cerundolo in the last four.

Carlos Alcaraz saw his hopes of a third straight Madrid Open crown dashed on Wednesday, as Andrey Rublev fought back to seal a statement quarter-final win over the defending champion.

Alcaraz had been pushed close in the last 16 by Jan-Lennard Struff on Tuesday, requiring two tie-breaks to see off the German in three sets, and those exertions seemed to take their toll as he produced a below-par display on Wednesday.

Seven unforced errors from Rublev helped the home favourite take the opener, but he appeared to tire from there as his seventh-seeded opponent fired in 27 winners in a 4-6 6-3 6-2 victory.

Rublev broke Alcaraz's serve in the first and fifth games of the decider, also serving impressively to deny the Spaniard a single break point after a nervous first hold. 

Alcaraz's exit ended home interest in the tournament, just one day after five-time champion Rafael Nadal was dumped out in the last 16 by Jiri Lehecka.

Speaking to Sky Sports Tennis, Rublev said: "I can't believe that I was able to stay calm throughout the match. I didn't say a word and even I'm impressed by that!

"I want to believe that I have been working on this because if not, then I'm stupid. I just thought to myself to keep trying, keep fighting, keep believing in yourself."

Data Debrief: Major scalp for Rublev

To say Rublev entered Wednesday's match as the underdog would be an understatement. Alcaraz was looking to become the first player to win three straight Madrid Open singles titles, and was 24-0 in Spanish clay-court events since the start of 2022.

Rublev, though, was not overawed by the occasion and punished a sluggish performance from the world number three. Wednesday's win was his first over a top-three opponent since 2022, and he will now face either Taylor Fritz or Francisco Cerundolo in the last four.

Elena Rybakina saved two match points as she outlasted Yulia Putintseva to win a dramatic encounter 4-6 7-6 (7-4) 7-5 in the Madrid Open quarter-finals on Wednesday.

The world number four was on the brink of defeat at 5-2 down in the third set, with her fellow Kazakhstani Putintseva eyeing a third win in as many head-to-head meetings between the pair.

However, Rybakina came up with one of the shots of the tournament on Putintseva's first match point, capitalising on a drop shot clipping the net cord to produce a nonchalant winner.

The 2022 Wimbledon champion didn't look back from that moment on, producing back-to-back breaks before holding her nerve through a tense final service game, converting her fourth match point to wrap up a gruelling two-hour, 48-minute contest.

Rybakina has now won 16 successive matches on clay, and she will face either Aryna Sabalenka or Mirra Andreeva in the semi-finals on Thursday.

Data Debrief: Rybakina rampant 

Rybakina is the form player on the WTA circuit, with Wednesday's win her 30th of 2024, more than any other player.

She is just the second player to win 30 or more matches in tournaments starting within the first four months of a calendar year, after Iga Swiatek managed 32 victories during the same span in 2022. Swiatek, of course, went on to win the French Open and US Open titles that season.  

Page 3 of 279
© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.