Tennis: Sabalenka reaches Rome last 16, Djokovic returns after bottle drama

AFP , Sunday 12 May 2024

Australian Open champion Aryna Sabalenka cruised into the last 16 of the Rome Open on Sunday with a straight-sets victory over Dayana Yastremska, 6-4, 6-2.

Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus returns the ball to Dayana Yastremska, of Ukraine, during their match at the Italian Open tennis tournament in Rome, Sunday, May 12, 2024. (AP Photo/Alessandra Tarantino)


Second seed Sabalenka claimed her first win in four matches against Ukrainian Yastremska to set up a clash in the next round with either Elina Svitolina, a two-time winner at the Foro Italico, or Anna Kalinskaya.

The 26-year-old Belarusian made short work of Yastremska, dispatching her opponent in one hour and 28 minutes without dropping a service game and never looking in trouble.

Sabalenka, who has never won in Rome but is a two-time champion on the Madrid clay, looks in good shape to at least match her 2022 run to the semi-finals.

Earlier Maria Sakkari lined up a probable last-16 clash with Victoria Azarenka who faces 80th-ranked Egyptian Mayar Sherif later on Sunday.

Novak Djokovic returns to centre court later as he takes on Chile's Alejandro Tabilo on the hunt for a sixth Rome title and a record-extending 41st Masters 1000 crown.

There had been fears that the world number one might join the list of players to withdraw from the tournament on Friday night after he was accidentally struck on the head with a bottle while signing autographs for fans following his opening win over Corentin Moutet.

But Djokovic confirmed on Saturday morning that he would face Chile's Tabilo in the men's third round, later laughing off the incident by showing up for practice wearing a bicycle crash helmet.

An early withdrawal for the 24-time Grand Slam winner would have been a blow for the last major tournament before Roland Garros later this month, which started without Italian world number two Jannik Sinner and third-ranked Carlos Alcaraz.

Home fans have also been deprived of cheering on former Wimbledon finalist Matteo Berrettini and Lorenzo Musetti, while Djokovic's great clay-court rival Nadal, a big crowd favourite, was dumped out in the second round on Saturday by seventh seed Hubert Hurkacz.

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