Swiatek battles past Kerber as climate protestors invade courts

tennis12 May 2024 21:35| © AFP
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Iga Swiatek embraces Angelique Kerber © Getty Images

Iga Swiatek saw off Angelique Kerber 7-5, 6-3 at the Rome Open on Monday to set up a quarterfinal clash with Madison Keys, who came through against Sorana Cirstea despite her match being interrupted by climate activists.

World No 1 Swiatek is yet to drop a set and is favourite for a third Foro Italico crown before she begins her French Open title defence later this month.

The three-time Roland Garros champion arrived in the Italian capital off the back of a thrilling triumph in Madrid, her third WTA 1000 title of the season after also winning at Indian Wells and Doha.

But the 22-year-old didn't have it all her own way against former world No 1 Kerber, a three-time former Grand Slam champion who at 331st was the lowest-ranked player ever to reach the last 16 in this tournament.

Swiatek battled to the first set in just under an hour and was frequently put to the test by 36-year-old German Kerber, who fell behind after saving five set points in game 10 and then succumbing two games later.

Kerber went two ahead in the second set but Swiatek fought back and after the Pole broke serve in game eight she held steady to close out the match.

Swiatek will face Keys whose 6-2, 6-1 win was suspended for half an hour by a court invasion from activists from Ultima Generazione (Last Generation).

Wearing orange vests, protestors threw a liquid and confetti onto the Pietrangeli court, where Keys was playing, and court 12 where a men's doubles match was taking place.

There were also protestors in the stands with a tournament spokesman telling AFP that at least one person had tried to glue their feet to the floor in order to slow their removal.

"Obviously it's not the greatest feeling when you're on court, your first reaction is kind of your own safety," said Keys.

"I think maybe banning cementing glue from bags would be a start.

"It's obviously something that's becoming more of an occurence and something that tournaments are going to have to figure out how to stop."

Naomi Osaka's return to the Rome Open was ended at the last 16 by China's Zheng Qinwen who breezed past her four-time Grand Slam winning opponent 6-2, 6-4 to set up a last-eight clash with third seed Coco Gauff.

Japan's Osaka, who has never won a title on clay, was playing at the Foro Italico for the first time in three years after taking a break from the tour to have her first child and is ranked at 173 in the world.

"I think I'm happy with my performance in Rome. It's been a while since I played well on – I guess I've never played well on clay – so I guess I'm happy," Osaka told reporters.

No Sabalenka handshake

Elina Svitolina again refused to shake hands with Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka after losing their first meeting since their row at the 2023 French Open.

Belarusian second seed Sabalenka came back from a set down to win 4-6, 6-1, 7-6 (9/7) to beat Ukrainian Svitolina, who following their quarterfinal at Roland Garros last year accused Sabalenka of inflaming tensions surrounding the Russia-Ukraine war by insisting on a handshake that was not going to come.

Ukrainian players have refused to shake hands with Russian and Belarusian rivals in protest at the ongoing war and Svitolina again walked straight to her chair after the match.

Sabalenka will face world number 10 Jelena Ostapenko in the quarterfinals after squeezing past two-time Rome winner Svitolina in a brilliant match for those who stayed late in the centre court stands.

The 26-year-old, who has never won in Rome but is a two-time champion on the Madrid clay, has a chance to match her 2022 run to the last four in front of a crowd who were on her side and roared with delight after she won a thrilling time break at the second timw of asking.