Barty Retirement Advances Gauff To Rome Semis

Coco Gauff (photo: @InteBNLdItalia/Twitter)

ROME/WASHINGTON, May 15, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

It’s an extraordinary occurrence when World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty retires from a match. It rarely happens – the last time was three years ago in Strasbourg – and when it does, know that she’s listening to her body. Plus, with the start of the French Open just a few weeks away, it’s a good bet that Barty is playing the long game, too.

On Friday, at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia in Rome, ahead 6-4, 2-1 in her rain-delayed quarterfinal match against Coco Gauff on Grand Stand Arena, and with the American teenager about to serve, Barty retired with a right arm injury during the changeover. It caught everyone by surprise – chair umpire Kader Nouni, the fans, and certainly Gauff, who is now into her first WTA 1000 semifinal of her young career.

“When she called the physio, I mean, I knew she had her leg taped before the match, but I think she always has that taped,” Gauff said during her virtual press conference after the match. … “When she came up to me, I was shocked. I didn’t know what to make of it, just because I didn’t feel like there was anything going on.

“It’s not a way you want to win a match. … Obviously, I felt for her, but when you have the chance to play the No. 1 player in the world, it’s not a good feeling to win this way.

“I send the best well wishes, and hopefully she can get well before the French Open.”

Barty, who was appearing in her 16th clay singles match of the season, began with her left thigh wrapped and was also wearing a compression sleeve on her right arm, her dominant one used for serving. Barty explained to reporters afterward that she’s had a recurring problem with her arm during her career.

“It became worse while we were playing,” Barty said during a virtual media session, appearing upbeat as she explained her predicament. “So, I think that’s the challenging thing is to make the decision to stop. It’s never nice. It’s the thing that I hate the most is not being able to finish a tennis match.

“But the pain was becoming too severe, so it was important that I listen to my body and of course try to do the right thing, knowing that we have a Grand Slam in two weeks’ time.”

The last time that Barty failed to finish a match came in 2018 during the semifinals of the Internationaux de Strasbourg in France.

“I hate withdrawing,” Barty continued. “I hate pulling out of a match halfway through. It’s not in my makeup, not what I like to do, but it was really important that I listen to what my body was telling me to make sure that in a couple weeks’ time we’re good to go.”

At the time of her retirement, Barty had struck 20 winners to 15 unforced errors and had broken Gauff twice in seven attempts. She was ahead on total points 52-43. Gauff had hit six aces and 12 winners overall to 13 unforced errors. She had broken Barty once in six tries.

Svitolina, Swiatek, Pliskova, Martic still in Rome title chase

Gauff will oppose either fifth seed Elina Svitolina of Ukraine or No. 15 seed Iga Swiatek from Poland, Saturday afternoon. First, they will first play in the final quarterfinal match, which was rained out Friday. Gauff has played Svitolina once, losing in the second round of this year’s Australian Open. She has not faced Swiatek.

Meanwhile, the other semifinal will pair No. 9 seed Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, who won the Rome title in 2019 and was a finalist last year, against unseeded Petra Martic from Croatia, who is enjoying her best run of the season. This is the third straight year Pliskova has reached the semifinal round in the Italian capital city.

Pliskova beat 2017 Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko, 4-6, 7-5, 7-6 (1), in two hours and 20 minutes after saving three match points in the third set at 5-4.

“Just proud, I think mostly, how I fought,” Pliskova said of her triumph. “I’m just happy that I stayed in there and fought until the end.”

As for the No. 25 Martic, she reached her first semifinal of the season after her 7-5, 6-4 victory over Jessica Pegula of the United States in one hour and 40 minutes. The win was the fourth in a row for Martic, who is being coached by former Italian star Francesca Schiavone. Prior to Rome, Martic had not won more than two consecutive matches this season.

“The key was to overtake, to not let her play and take control of the points of the rally and just make me run,” Martic said. “So, I tried to do that before her. I tried to use my serve. Obviously, she didn’t like my kick so much, so I knew I had to really be sharp on those first shots after return of serve and not let her overtake. I think I did that pretty well for the most part.”

Djokovic-Tsitsipas to resume quarterfinal

When the rain-interrupted men’s quarterfinal between World No. 1 and five-time Rome champion Novak Djokovic (14-2) and fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas (29-7) resumes on Saturday morning, it will find the Greek rising star ahead by a set and a break at 6-4, 2-1.

Regardless of who wins – and the Serbian leads the head-to-head 4-2 – either Djokovic or Tsitsipas will return later in the day (not before 6:30 p.m. CEST) to face either seventh seed Andrey Rublev of Russia or the lone remaining Italian Lorenzo Sonego in a semifinal match with the winner advancing to Sunday’s championship match.

The Djokovic-Tsitsipas match on Campo Centrale was interrupted by rain several times, the first time at 3:13 p.m. with Tsitsipas ahead 4-3. Play resumed after a three-and-one-half hour delay for 22 minutes, in which the two played a total of six games. After leaving the court to return to the locker room at 7:05 p.m., Djokovic and Tsitsipas waited until play was called for good for Friday at 8:05 p.m.

Meanwhile, Rublev and Sonego began to warm up for their scheduled 7 p.m. match on Grand Stand Arena, but never got started.

Mektic-Pavic top-seeded doubles team remaining

For the second straight week, Croatians Nikola Mektic and Mate Pavic, who are seeded No. 2, find themselves as the team to beat following the early-round upset of No. 1 seeds Juan Sebastian Cabal and Robert Farah, both from Colombia.

On Friday, Mektic and Pavic reached the semifinal round at Rome without dropping a set. They beat Adrian Mannarino and Benoit Paire, both from France, 6-4, 6-2, in 63 minutes. The Croatians are in pursuit of their third Masters 1000 doubles title of the year to go with earlier titles won in Miami and Monte-Carlo. They reached the final last week in Madrid before losing to Marcel Granollers of Spain and Horacio Zeballos of Argentina.

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Saturday’s Italian Open order of play

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