Ill Rybakina absent from Roland-Garros as Chinese Zhang aims for historic victory

Fever: Elena Rybakina addresses a press conference at Roland Garros on Saturday where she withdrew from the tournament

Fever: Elena Rybakina addresses a press conference at Roland Garros on Saturday where she withdrew from the tournament

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

Rybakina was scheduled to face Spaniard Sara Sorribes Tormo in the third round of the opener on Philippe Chatrier court.

“I didn’t feel well yesterday and the day before yesterday. I didn’t sleep last night,” said the 23-year-old Wimbledon champion.

“I had a fever and a headache and it was difficult to breathe. I tried to play during the warm-up but I think it’s the right decision to retire.”

Rybakina had swept the last 32 without dropping a set.

The Russian-born Kazakh was seen as a potential champion who arrived at Roland Garros with the prestigious Italian Open clay title under her belt.

She had been seeded to face two-time champion Swiatek in the semifinals.

“I guess with my allergy, my immune system crashed and I caught something,” Rybakina said. “The doctor said there was a virus in Paris.”

Rybakina said she will focus on recovery before defending her title at Wimbledon, which begins on July 3.

“The plan was to play in Berlin, Eastbourne and Wimbledon. There aren’t many grass-court tournaments, but the most important thing is to get healthy.”

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

She will face either Russian Ekaterina Alexandrova or Brazilian Beatriz Haddad Maia for a place in the quarter-finals.

– ‘No pressure on me’ –

Later on Saturday, world number one Swiatek takes on 80th-ranked Chinese Wang Xinyu for a place in the last 16 as she continues her bid to become the first consecutive champion since Justine Henin in 2007.

Zhang meets world number four and last year’s runner-up Casper Ruud in hopes of becoming the first Chinese since Kho Sin-Khie in 1936 to advance to the knockout stages in Paris.

Zhang, ranked 71st, had never won a Grand Slam main draw match before this French Open, but he had announced himself as a capable clay-court player by reaching the quarter-finals of the Madrid Open on last month.

“For me it’s not a pressure to be here,” said the 26-year-old.

“I try to show my best, show everything I have and try to compete with these guys. That’s why I’m here. It’s not a pressure for me.”

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

Andreeva made it through qualifying and shrugged off her world ranking of 143 by losing just six matches in two rounds in the main draw.

The France-based Russian is the youngest player to reach the last 32 since Sesil Karatantcheva, 15, qualified for the quarter-finals in 2005.

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

“My dream? I know Novak Djokovic has done 22 Grand Slams so I want to go up to 25,” said Andreeva who played the junior tournament in Paris last year.

Holger Rune, who reached the quarter-finals on his 2022 debut, takes on Argentina’s Genaro Alberto Olivieri.

The 231st-ranked Argentine dedicated his third-round run to his father who died during the pandemic.

“He was my sidekick, the person who helped me in every way – psychologically, emotionally,” the 24-year-old said.

“I always remember him. I hope he now looks at everything that’s happened to me this week and has an even bigger smile than me.”


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