Rybakina out of French Open as Zhang chases landmark win

Sunday, Jun 04, 2023

PARIS: World number four Elena Rybakina withdrew from the French Open on Saturday due to illness, handing a significant and unexpected title boost to defending champion Iga Swiatek as Zhang Zhizhen chased history for China.

Rybakina had been due to face Sara Sorribes Tormo of Spain in the third round in the opening match on Court Philippe Chatrier. “I was not feeling good yesterday and the day before. I didn’t sleep last night,” said the 23-year-old Wimbledon champion.

“I had fever and a headache and it’s difficult to breathe. I tried to play in the warm-up but I feel it’s the right decision to withdraw.” Rybakina had swept into the last 32 without dropping a set. The Russian-born Kazakh was seen as a potential champion having arrived at Roland Garros with the prestigious Italian Open clay court title under her belt.

She had been seeded to face two-time champion Swiatek in the semi-finals. “I guess with my allergy that my immune system just went down and I picked up something,” said Rybakina. “The doctor said there’s a virus in Paris.”

Rybakina said she will focus on recovery ahead of defending her title at Wimbledon which gets underway on July 3.

“The plan was to play Berlin, Eastbourne, and Wimbledon. There are not many tournaments on grass, but the most important thing is to get healthy again.”

Sorribes Tormo, ranked 132 in the world, will be playing in the second week of a Grand Slam for the first time.

She will face either Ekaterina Alexandrova of Russia or Brazil’s Beatriz Haddad Maia for a place in the quarter-finals. Later Saturday, world number one Swiatek was to take on China’s 80th-ranked Wang Xinyu for a place in the last 16 as she continues her bid to become the first back-to-back champion since Justine Henin in 2007.

Zhang meets world number four and last year’s runner-up Casper Ruud hoping to become the first Chinese man since Kho Sin-Khie in 1936 to make the last 16 in Paris.

Zhang, ranked 71, had never won a Grand Slam main draw match until this French Open but he had announced himself as a capable clay-courter by reaching the quarter-finals of the Madrid Open last month. “For me, it’s not pressure to be here,” said the 26-year-old.

“I’m trying to show my best self, show everything what I have and try to compete with these guys. That’s the reason I’m here. It’s no pressure for me.”

Russian 16-year-old Mirra Andreeva, the breakout star of Roland Garros, faces 2022 runner-up and sixth-ranked Coco Gauff for a place in the fourth round.

Andreeva came through qualifying and has made a mockery of her world ranking of 143 by dropping just six games in two rounds in the main draw.

The France-based Russian is the youngest player to make the last 32 since a 15-year-old Sesil Karatantcheva went to the 2005 quarter-finals.

She is just the seventh player under the age of 17 to make the third round in 30 years, a group that includes the likes of serial Slam champions Serena Williams and Martina Hingis.