Serena Williams has withdrawn from the clay-court tournament in Rome with a persistent knee injury casting doubt on her participation in the French Open which begins this month.
The 37-year-old American world No.11 had been due to face sister Venus in an eagerly-awaited second-round clash in Rome.
Venus received a walkover into the third round, where she will meet either Sloane Stephens or Johanna Konta.
Former No.1 Caroline Wozniacki retired due to a left leg injury after losing a first-set tiebreaker to American Danielle Collins.
Denmark’s Wozniacki, who also retired from her opening match at the Madrid Open last week, took a medical timeout at 5-2 down to receive treatment then came back to force the tiebreaker but quickly retired after losing the set.
Kristina Mladenovic brushed aside French compatriot Caroline Garcia 6-1 6-2, while defending champion Elina Svitolina fell 4-6 6-1 7-5 to resurgent former world No.1 Victoria Azarenka.
“It was such a dramatic match – it was a lot of breaks and stuff with the rain, and that was quite difficult to deal with,” Azarenka told wtatennis.com.
“But I’m happy I was able to just block it out, play my game, survive the match point, and then pick it up from there to play great tennis.
Serena, a 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, has struggled throughout the year and completed only two matches since the Australian Open, where she reached the quarterfinals.
“I must withdraw from the Italian Open due to pain in my left knee,” Williams told the WTA website. “I’ll be concentrating on rehab and look forward to seeing you all at the French Open and next year in Rome.”
Also progressing to the third round alongside Azarenka and Venus were fourth seed Karolina Pliskova – a straight-sets winner over Ajla Tomljanovic – and eighth seed Ash Barty, who recovered from a set down to beat Viktoria Kuzmova.
Svitolina loss means that:
– Ashleigh Barty is going to be in the top-8 for the first time in her career after Rome.
– Svitolina will drop out of the top-8 for the first time since 22nd May 2017. She will start Roland Garros seeded n.9
— Diego Barbiani (@Diego_Barbiani) May 14, 2019
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