‘Brutal’ conditions: Arm injury hampers Barty as French Open loomsby Scott Spits · WAtoday
World No.1 Ashleigh Barty is adamant the decision to retire with an arm injury during her Italian Open quarter-final was the right one, ensuring she has enough time to manage the complaint before Roland-Garros.
The 25-year-old was forced to pull out in Rome while leading her rain-interrupted match against American Coco Gauff due to the pre-existing complaint which she said “pops up every now and again”.
Champion on clay in Paris two years ago, Barty will use the fortnight ahead of the clay-court major to get her body right after a busy schedule on clay which has included a WTA title in Germany and finishing runner-up at the Madrid Open.
“The conditions are [were] brutal,” the Queenslander said after the match against 17-year-old Gauff, which finished with Barty leading 6-4, 2-1.
“It was a little bit heavier today, with the rain as well. The balls were getting quite heavy.
“I felt like I wasn’t able to serve anywhere near at 100 per cent ... kind of manufacturing a little bit.
“At the end it came to point where it wasn’t [a] management [issue], it was getting worse. That’s where it’s important to understand my body, and I understand my injury.
“It’s a pre-existing injury, it’s an issue we’ve had troubles with before.
“We know what the recovery looks like and [we will] not allow it to get to a stage where it becomes uncontrollable, in a sense where we can’t recover from it.”
Barty was up during the second set when she called a physio and had her right-arm strapped with a compression sleeve. She eventually decided to retire, allowing Gauff to reach her first WTA semi-final.
“As tough as it is, I hate withdrawing, I mean I hate pulling out of a match halfway through – it’s not in my make-up, it’s not what I like to do,” Barty said.
“But it was really important today that I listen to what my body was telling me to make sure in a couple of weeks’ time we’re good to go.”
Barty said it is a pre-existing arm issue which her team has been managing for up to a decade.
“It just pops up every now and again,” she added. “I think the conditions today certainly didn’t help that, but we’re confident we know how to manage it.”
The Queenslander wasn’t critical of the decision to suspend her match until the next day in the trying conditions. In the men’s draw, however, fellow world No.1 Novak Djokovic’s quarter-final against Stefanos Tsitsipas was suspended due to the conditions with the Greek ahead 6-4, 2-1.
“We were on and off a couple of times. But Coco and I we were accepting of the situation. It was unfortunate I wasn’t able to finish,” Barty said.
“I can’t comment on Novak. I haven’t seen him. I haven’t seen that court. I’ve been on the other side of the site for the last few hours preparing for my match, and getting ready to play my match.”
Barty missed almost the entire 2020 season due to the COVID-19 pandemic but has returned to the tour even stronger this season, winning the title in Stuttgart before finishing runner-up to Aryna Sabalenka in Madrid last week.
Holding a sizeable lead in the WTA singles rankings, Barty will head to Paris for the first time since her breakthrough 2019 major, this year’s clay major beginning on 30 May.
Gauff will face the winner of the quarter-final between reigning French Open champion Iga Swiatek and Elina Svitolina.
Meantime, Rafael Nadal ended a run of three straight losses to Alexander Zverev with a convincing 6-3, 6-4 win over the German to reach the Italian Open semi-finals.
Zverev beat Nadal in straight sets at the same stage in Madrid a week ago and their latest meeting was also one-sided.
Nadal raced to 4-0 in the first set and saved all eight break points he faced in the second.
“I played more solid than Madrid. Conditions are different,” Nadal said, alluding to the fact that the high-altitude of the Spanish capital allowed Zverev to dominate more with his serve. “Here are little bit more normal conditions. I was able to control a little bit more.”
Nadal, aiming for a record-extending 10th Rome title, will next face big-serving American Reilly Opelka, who reached his first Masters semi-finals by edging Argentine qualifier Federico Delbonis 7-5, 7-6 (2).