Halep, Azarenka advance in Rome, Osaka pulls out with injury

ROME   -   Former world number ones Simona Halep and Victoria Azarenka advanced to the second round of the Italian Open in Rome while four-times Grand Slam champion Naomi Osaka was forced to withdraw from the tournament due to an ankle injury.

Halep, champion in Rome in 2020, beat France’s Alize Cornet 6-4 6-4, exacting revenge for her fourth round loss at the Australian Open in January. In a match that had 10 break points converted by the two players, Halep led 5-1 in both sets before Cornet fought back on both occasions before the Romanian got the job done, sealing progress with a forehand winner on Cornet’s serve.

Azarenka met a familiar foe in Swiss Viktorija Golubic, who she beat at the same stage of the Madrid Open late last month. Although the match in Madrid was a closer contest, this time Azarenka beat her emphatically with a 6-3 6-0 scoreline, wrapping up the match in just 68 minutes. Organisers confirmed Osaka had withdrawn due to a left ankle injury and her opponent Sara Sorribes Tormo will now face lucky loser Nuria Parrizas Diaz. Defending champ and top seed Iga Swiatek and Madrid champ Ons Jabeur are in action on Tuesday.

Osaka injured herself in her first-round win over Anastasia Potapova at the Madrid Open 10 days ago and she said she ‘hasn’t healed yet’. “I need to be careful, especially in advance of Roland Garros,” Osaka said. Osaka was slated to open against Sara Sorribes Tormo, the Spaniard she lost to in the second round in Madrid. Osaka will be replaced in the draw by Nuria Parrizas Diaz.

Meanwhile, fresh off his victory at the Madrid Open, Carlos Alcaraz withdrew from the Italian Open on Monday because of a right ankle injury. The 19-year-old Alcaraz beat Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic back-to-back in Madrid then defeated Alexander Zverev in Sunday’s final for his tour-leading fourth title of the year. Alcaraz hurt his ankle during the quarterfinal win over Nadal.

Rome organizers said Alcaraz’s place in the Rome draw would be taken by Finnish player Emil Ruusuvuori, who will open against Cristian Garin in the second round. Alcaraz, who was seeded seventh at the Foro Italico, had a first-round bye. Alcaraz will be chasing his first Grand Slam title at the French Open, which starts in less than two weeks.

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