Roland Garros: Rybakina stuns Serena, Federer withdraws

  • Matt Trollope

Roland Garros lost two of the sport’s biggest superstars on Sunday when Serena Williams lost her fourth-round match and Roger Federer announced his withdrawal.

Williams fell in straight sets to 21st seed Elena Rybakina after Federer revealed he was taking the precautionary measure following his gruelling four-set win over Dominik Koepfer in the third round, which finished in the early hours of Saturday morning.

“After two knee surgeries and over a year of rehabilitation it’s important that I listen to my body and make sure I don’t push myself too quickly on my road to recovery,” Federer said in a statement.

In other results, top-10 stars Daniil Medvedev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Alexander Zverev all advanced to the quarterfinals with straight-sets wins, while Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova continued her giant-killing run with victory over Victoria Azarenka. 

Serena, Azarenka dismissed

The bottom half of the women’s draw was already wide open as the fourth round commenced, and with Sunday’s results, it has blown completely apart.

All four matches on the schedule were won by the lower-ranked player, and one of Pavlyuchenkova, Rybakina, Paula Badosa and Tamara Zidansek will become a first-time Grand Slam finalist.

Rybakina arrived in Paris having lost eight of her previous 13 matches but is yet to drop a set at Roland Garros so far; she struck 21 winners and kept her unforced errors to 13 to dismiss Williams 6-3 7-5 in just one hour and 17 minutes. 

Into her first major quarterfinal, Rybakina will next face Pavlyuchenkova, who backed up her upset win over third seed Aryna Sabalenka with a 5-7 6-3 6-2 defeat of Azarenka.

Badosa and Zidansek are also through to their first major quarterfinals, and will clash for a spot in the last four.

Badosa improved her 2021 clay-court record to 17-2, and her winning streak to nine, with a 6-4 3-6 6-2 win over 2019 finalist Marketa Vondrousova, after 85th-ranked Zidansek beat recent Istanbul champion Sorana Cirstea in straight sets.

Tsitsipas, Medvedev to clash in quarters

Aside from Federer’s withdrawal – which sends fourth-round opponent Matteo Berrettini into the quarterfinals – there was considerably less drama unfolding in the men’s draw on Sunday.

And that was because the favoured players progressed largely untroubled.

No.5 seed Tsitsipas, enjoying a brilliant clay-court season, advanced with a 6-3 6-2 7-5 victory over 12th seed Pablo Carreno Busta and will next meet second seed Medvedev, who dismissed No.22 Cristian Garin for the loss of just eight games.

Medvedev’s form reversal has been impressive, considering the Russian had never before won a match at Roland Garros and entered the 2021 tournament with a lean 1-2 record on clay – which included a loss to Garin at the Madrid Open.

Zverev, who trailed two sets to love in his first-round match against Oscar Otte, has since won 12 consecutive sets to reach his third Roland Garros quarterfinal.

His commanding 6-4 6-1 6-1 win over Nishikori on Sunday night – his third victory over the former world No.4 in the past month – sets up a bout with 22-year-old breakout star Alejandro Davidovich Fokina, a four-set winner over Federico Delbonis. 

Tweet of the day

De Groot among wheelchair champs crowned

Dutchwoman Diede De Groot claimed her 10th Grand Slam singles title with victory in the women's wheelchair final over Yui Kamiji.

In a battle between the top two seeds, No.1 seed De Groot beat Kamiji 6-4 6-3 to win her second trophy in Paris, and she also advanced to the women's doubles final on the same day, partnering countrywoman Aniek Van Koot.

The men's doubles final was won by top-seeded British duo Alfie Hewett and Gordon Reid, who thumped Stephane Houdet and Nicolas Peifer 6-3 6-0.

And while Australian world No.1 Dylan Alcott, partnering Sam Schroder, fell in the quad doubles final in a match tiebreak against Andy Lapthorne and David Wagner, Alcott will play for the quad singles title against Schroder on Monday in Paris.

That final precedes the men's singles final between Hewett and No.1 seed Shingo Kunieda.

Stat of the day

Despite entering her fourth-round battle with Azarenka trailing the head-to-head series 1-5, Pavlyuchenkova played with belief and positivity when it mattered most.

Facing a break point at 1-2, 30-40 in the third set, Pavlyuchenkova responded by reeling off five games in a row, winning 20 of the last 26 points of the match.

She finished the match with 45 winners to advance to the quarterfinals in Paris for the first time in a decade. 

Victoria Azarenka cut a frustrated figure on Court Philippe Chatrier as she sprayed 14 unforced errors in the final set of her fourth-round loss to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. (Getty Images)

The Russian has now appeared in seven Grand Slam quarterfinals – but has lost all of them.

A golden opportunity for a semifinal breakthrough she lines up against quarterfinal debutant Rybakina.

Quotes of the day

“Having (Nadal and Djokovic) on the other part of the draw, I think me, Tsitsipas, Zverev, we are all happy in a way because we know we can make final without seeing them, then get the chance to beat them in the final, which is the best chance possible. Especially talking about Rafa … He barely loses a set. The further (into the draw) you meet him, the better. Maybe somebody can try to beat him before, it's always good for you, I think.”
- Daniil Medvedev

“We tried to make her play from the backhand side more, just because she has open stance. With open stance and, like, two hands, it's difficult to move the ball, so I tried to attack this side. I knew that the serve was going to be difficult for me to return. She's powerful, but I was ready. Then after few points I felt it comfortable.”
- Elena Rybakina, who was playing Williams for the first time on Sunday.

“It was definitely close. I'm so close. There is literally a point here, a point there, that could change the whole course of the match. I'm not winning those points. That like literally could just change everything.”
- Serena Williams, who has not advanced beyond the fourth round at Roland Garros since 2016.

“I have Davidovich Fokina for a reason. He won four matches, right? Let's give him some credit where they deserve credit. You cannot be a bad player and be in the quarterfinals of a Grand Slam.”
- Alexander Zverev, in response to a reporter commenting that his quarterfinal draw “could have been worse”.

“(It’s) funny because when I was a set down … the beginning of the second I was looking at my shoes, at the clay. I was thinking, I hate clay so much. What I'm even doing here in Paris? I was saying this to myself (laughter). But now I won and I really love this tournament and I love clay. It's always like this.”
- Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova

Day 9: Ones to watch

It’s the game’s present versus its future when Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal take on Italian teenagers Lorenzo Musetti and Jannik Sinner respectively on Monday.

Sinner gave Nadal arguably his toughest test of the 2020 French Open when the pair met in the quarterfinals.

ORDER OF PLAY: Roland Garros Day 9

Those matches, scheduled back-to-back at Court Philippe Chatrier, follow the intriguing clash between Coco Gauff and Ons Jabeur; Gauff leads that head-to-head series 2-1, although Jabeur won their most recent clash on Charleston's clay courts in April.

Defending women’s champion Iga Swiatek takes on Ukrainian teenager Marta Kostyuk at night on the same court, while major champions Sloane Stephens and Sofia Kenin, plus No.10 seed Diego Schwartzman, are all in action at Court Suzanne Lenglen.