Rome—Azarenka comforts injured Kasatkina; Djokovic, Halep & Nadal win

Rome—Azarenka comforts injured Kasatkina; Djokovic, Halep & Nadal win

On Friday, Daria Kasatkina was forced to stop playing her third-round match against Victoria Azarenka in Rome after injuring her right foot in a first set tiebreaker. Earlier, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova advanced to the quarterfinals.

On Friday at the Internazionali BNL d'Italia, WTA and ATP players stepped on court with the hope of advancing to the quarterfinals. We highlight a few storylines from the busy day of action in Rome.

Azarenka comforts injured Kasatkina

With four wins under her belt this week, including two in qualifying, Daria Kasatkina looked to recapture the form that propelled her to the Top 10 in October 2018. She was locked in a battle with the red-hot Victoria Azarenka, but took a nasty fall at 0-1 in their first set tiebreaker.

Rushing forward to retrieve a net cord, Kasatkina’s slide across the service line resulted in the Russian tripping and injuring her right ankle. Azarenka rushed to her aid, grabbing an ice bag for Kasatkina’s foot and began wiping clay off her opponent. The understandably shaken 23-year-old retired from the match, and Azarenka’s inner-mom continued with words of compassion and support.

"I'm really sad for Daria, because we were playing such great tennis. I felt it was such a great fight," Azarenka said in her virtual press conference afterwards. "She's such a talented player, that I felt like she was always on the verge of a breakthrough, where she's going to pick it up. I felt like this was closer to being her moment, so it's very unfortunate that she has an injury.

"I hope this moment will be turnaround for her. I know it's an adversity but I hope she takes the best out of this situation and pushes forward. I wish her that. I hope she's able to recover before the French Open. I offered her my help and my team's help if she needs it."

As a result, the Belarusian, now on a 14-1 run, will square off against Garbine Muguruza for a place in the semifinals.  

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Djokovic prevails in all-Serbian contest

In 2010, Novak Djokovic and Filip Krajinovic met for the first time on home soil in Belgrade. The match ended with Djokovic retiring down, 4-6, and the two would never cross paths again in a tour meeting—until Friday. The first set lasted 87 minutes, and required Djokovic to erase a mini-break deficit in the tie-break. The world No. 1 made just six unforced errors in the second set to ease past his countryman, 7-6 (7), 6-3. After claiming his fourth Rome crown in 2015, Djokovic has finished runner-up in three of his past four appearances.

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Halep marches into quarterfinals

Meeting Dayana Yastremska for the first time, top seed Simona Halep shrugged off going down an early break of serve to pick up her 11th straight victory after defeating the Ukrainian, 7-5, 6-4. Halep triumphed in Dubai ahead of the tours shutting down, and when the WTA reopened, won the title in Prague before opting out of the US Open. The Romanian is aiming to raise the Rome trophy for the first time, having contested the final in 2017 and 2018.

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Nadal yet to be tested

In his first match since winning the Acapulco title at the end of February, Rafael Nadal relinquished just two games to US Open semifinalist Pablo Carreno Busta. Two days later, Rafa once again sailed through, this time dispatching Dusan Lajovic, 6-1, 6-3, after 90 minutes of work. It was at this venue last year where Nadal caught fire during the traditional European clay-court swing, prevailing over Djokovic in the final, before raising his record-extending 12th Roland Garros trophy. The No. 2 seed next faces No. 8 seed Diego Schwartzman on Saturday.

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Pliskova takes another step towards title defense

World No. 4 Karolina Pliskova didn’t get what she hoped for out of her time in Flushing Meadows. But she’s regrouped in winning all four sets she’s played at the Foro Italico, with her latest win coming against qualifier Anna Blinkova, 6-4, 6-3. Her quarterfinal should be an intriguing showdown, as the second seed meets Elise Mertens. The Belgian has played every event since the women’s tour resumed in Palermo, racking up 15 singles victories.

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Mixed bag for Italian men

A home favorite was guaranteed to advance to the final eight, as Matteo Berrettini took on countryman Stefano Travaglia. The fourth seed stepped up in the moments that mattered to edge the wild card, 7-6 (5), 7-6 (1), in two hours. He’ll look to defeat Casper Ruud for the second time as many events after dismissing the Norwegian in the third round of the US Open. Jannik Sinner was unable to join Berrettini in the win column. Grigor Dimitrov turned the tide to topple the 19-year-old, 4-6, 6-4, 6-4.

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Shapovalov shining brightly

After reaching his first major quarterfinal in New York, the first Canadian man to do so, Denis Shapovalov endured a heartbreaking five-set defeat to Pablo Carreno Busta. Shapovalov has quickly put that disappointment behind him by adding three singles and two doubles wins this week in Rome. His latest victory required bouncing back from dropping a tough opening set, as he overcame Ugo Humbert, 6-7 (5), 6-1, 6-4.

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