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Serena Williams withdraws from the French Open with Achilles’ tendon injury

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Serena Williams’s latest bid to tie the all-time Grand Slam singles title record is over. The 39-year-old pulled out of the French Open ahead of her second-round match Wednesday in Paris, citing an Achilles’ tendon injury.

Williams, who also pulled out of a tuneup tournament in Rome ahead of the French Open, said in a news conference that she is struggling to walk and will need at least four to six weeks of rehab. She injured the tendon in the second set of her semifinal loss to Victoria Azarenka at the U.S. Open. After New York, the 23-time major champion flew straight to France to train at her coach’s academy and rehab.

After her first-round victory over Kristie Ahn on Monday, Williams said she was using ice, a laser and “a ton of prayer” to tend to the injury. She attempted a short warm-up ahead of her second-round match Wednesday before deciding to withdraw.

“I warmed up, It was a very short warm-up, and then afterwards I talked to my coach and I was like, ‘What do you think? What are your thoughts with this?’ We both thought about it, and we realized that it more than likely wasn’t the best for me to try to play today,” Williams said.

“I love playing in Paris, actually I adore the clay, it’s so fun for me. And I really wanted to give an effort here, so it’s my Achilles’ that didn’t have enough time to properly heal after the [U.S. Open]. I was able to get it somewhat better, but just looking long-term in this tournament, will I be able to get through enough matches? For me, I don’t think I could, struggling to walk, so that’s kind of a telltale sign that I should try to recover.”

The withdrawal is Williams’ earliest exit from any Grand Slam tournament since a second-round loss at the French Open in 2014.

As the delayed French Open is the final Grand Slam of this year, Williams will have to wait until at least 2021 to try again to tie Margaret Court’s record of 24 major singles titles.

Before the severity of her injury was known, sixth-seeded Williams was considered a strong contender to win her fourth French Open title and add to the trophies she claimed in Paris in 2002, 2013 and 2015. Her second-round opponent, Bulgarian wild-card entry Tsvetana Pironkova, advanced to the third round via walkover.

Top-seeded Simona Halep is now an even stronger favorite to win her second French Open title and third major tournament overall. All but two of the top-10 seeds in the women’s event are still competing — only Britain’s Johanna Konta, the ninth seed who was defeated by American teen Coco Gauff, lost in the first round.

None of the four U.S. Open women’s semifinalists remain in the French Open draw. Naomi Osaka, the champion at Flushing Meadows, opted not to play at Roland Garros; Jennifer Brady lost in the first round; and Azarenka lost in the second round Wednesday shortly after Williams’s announcement.

Williams showed no visible sign of injury in her opening victory, 7-6 (7-2), 6-0 over Ahn, though she said her Achilles’ was bothering her even then.

“In the second set I felt like I needed to walk with a limp, and that was no good. I had to focus on walking straight so I wasn’t limping,” Williams said Wednesday. “I tried. I always give 100 percent, everyone knows that, maybe even more than 100 if that’s possible, and I take solace in that. So yeah, I think Achilles’ is a real injury that you don’t want to play with because that is not good if it gets worse. I think it’s one of the worst. So I don’t want it to get to that point.”

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Djokovic Earns Tricky Opening Win In Vienna

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In his first appearance at the Erste Bank Open since his 2007 title run, Novak Djokovic passed an early test to defeat countryman Filip Krajinovic 7-6(6), 6-3 on Tuesday.

Djokovic dropped serve twice in the first set and was forced to save set point at 5/6, before coming back to earn his place in the second round. The World No. 1, who struck 39 winners against Krajinovic, has now won 38 of his 40 matches this year.

“I was lucky in the first set… We are good friends, we train a lot [together] and it is never easy to play someone that you are very close to,” said Djokovic in an on-court interview. “He is a very nice guy and I have known him since he was very young. I followed him, I tried to be there as a friend, as a mentor. We go back a long way.

”We practised a few times [together] before coming to Vienna. The draw was tough for us to face each other, but there is always extra pressure and importance to a match when you play someone that you know very well.”

Djokovic added 45 FedEx ATP Rankings points to his tally with his second ATP Head2Head victory in three matches against Krajinovic. The Serbian is attempting to tie Pete Sampras’ record of six year-end World No. 1 finishes this year.

Djokovic was competing for the first time since his runner-up finish at Roland Garros (l. to Nadal). The 33-year-old will next face Borna Coric for a place in the quarter-finals.

The 17-time Grand Slam champion owns a 3-0 ATP Head2Head record against Coric. The pair most recently met in the 2018 Rolex Shanghai Masters final, which Djokovic won 6-3, 6-4. Coric earned his place in the second round with a 6-4, 6-4 win against Taylor Fritz on Monday.

In a first set that featured four service breaks, Djokovic and Krajinovic entertained the crowd in Vienna with their all-court skills and attacking tennis. Krajinovic took the initiative and hit his targets to earn set point at 6/5 in the tie-break, but Djokovic held firm with consistency from the baseline to extract crucial errors and earn a one-set lead.

Djokovic raised his game in the second set and earned an early break to take control of the match. The 2007 champion returned with depth and attacked with his forehand to close the match in just under two hours.

“[In the] first set, I think he was the better player. He was serving for the first set and I was lucky. He missed a smash at 6/6 in the tie-break,” said Djokovic. “A few points here and there can change the momentum of the match. In the second set, I stepped it up, I played better and I am just pleased with the way I finished the match.”

Grigor Dimitrov advanced to the second round in Vienna for the second straight year with a 7-6(6), 6-3 victory against Karen Khachanov. The Bulgarian converted three of four break points against the two-time Vienna quarter-finalist to improve to 17-10 in 2020.

“Karen is such an excellent player, such a heavy hitter,” said Dimitrov in an on-court interview. “In conditions like that, the court favours him quite a bit but I was able to just play a very solid game and take the right decisions at the right time.”

Hubert Hurkacz broke serve on four occasions to beat Attila Balazs of Hungary 6-3, 7-5. The 23-year-old will face Dusan Lajovic or Lorenzo Sonego for a place in the quarter-finals.

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