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Two-time defending champion retires, Rybakina advances

The majestic 14-consecutive-match winning streak in Rome of Iga Swiatek came to an end in the worst possible way as the world number one was forced to retire from her quarter-final match against Elena Rybakina on the score of 2-6 7-6(3) 2-2. The Pole looked in pain after a desperate chase in the second set tiebreak, when her attempt to slide on the heavy clay at the bottom of the court failed and she immediately felt something in her upper right thigh. Swiatek went for a medical time out off court and returned for the start of the decider with a big bandage, looking very cautious in her movements until she decided to stop.

It’s never good to finish a match like this, especially because I think it was a good match,” said Rybakina on her on court interview: “I hope it’s nothing serious for Iga, hopefully she can recover soon”.

Indeed, it had been a good match until the injury occurred and the reigning Wimbledon champion did a superb job to stay close to the Swiatek, who had dominated for most of the first hour of it.

The first set was indeed a masterpiece performance by the world number one: following a funny moment with Swiatek’s phone ringing in the first game of the match, the Pole hammered winner after winner, dictating the rallies and moving Rybakina side to side. The Kazakh only won her first game after 30 minutes, but Swiatek had already won 4.

The defending champion kept playing her high intensity tennis and took the first set at her first chance.

Strong of a great first set, Swiatek started the second set just as well as the first one -bar no ringing phone-. Rybakina struggled to keep up and with two errors surrendered the break. The Pole kept riding on that wave until 4-2, when she even had a chance to take a double break advantage. The world number 6 had started playing better and suddenly the first chance of the match to break the Pole came: an unusual forehand error from Swiatek let her opponent back in the match on 4-4.

Swiatek tried to leave this first blip behind and she immediately went 15-40 in the next game, but Rybakina cleared the two break points with great serves. Another chance came on the next advantage, but this time an error cost the Pole the point. Rybakina held and did so again on 6-5 saving once again a break point.

Swiatek started the tiebreak on the back foot, but came back from 1-3 to 3-3, only to see Rybakina take a small advantage once again. On 5-3, the Kazakh attacked and Swiatek tried to side on the far back of the court on her forehand side. Something did not work and the expression of concern on the Pole’s face was very telling. On set point, Swiatek served carefully and then tried to hit two forehands without the help of the injured leg, but the second shot stopped on the net.

Second set Rybakina. Swiatek left the court for a medical time out.

The first seed came back with a big bandage and even though she held easily thanks to her serve, it was clear she was not ready to move. When Rybakina held for 2-2, she decided to risk no further and retire from the match.

Internazionali BNL d’Italia 2023 Roma 17/05/2023 Elena Rybakina Foto Giampiero Sposito

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