Ash Barty has had to retire during her Italian Open quarter-final clash in Rome with Coco Gauff because of an arm injury that has cast a cloud over her bid to regain her French Open crown.
The Australian world No.1 said she absolutely hated having to withdraw on Friday while leading the US teenage star 6-4 2-1 but she had to listen to her body as the pain in her right arm from a recurring injury grew worse on a miserable, rainy afternoon at the Foro Italico.
But Barty, insisting that pulling out was a precaution, said she was confident that she’d be “good to go” in a fortnight when she sets out to win at Roland Garros as she did in 2019.
“It’s disappointing no doubt but it was important that I listened to my body and gave it time to rest and recover and make sure that in a couple of weeks time I’m 100% fit for Roland Garros,” said Barty.
“It became worse while we were playing. The challenging thing is to make the decision to stop. It’s the thing that I hate the most, not being able to finish a tennis match. It’s not in my makeup, not what I like to do.
“But the pain was becoming too severe, so it was important to try and do the right thing.”
The muscular problem, she said, was a pre-existing injury which began when she was 15 or 16 and was something she’d had to manage over her career.
She added that “it just pops up every now and again” and that hitting tennis balls made heavier on a damp day had certainly not helped.
“But we’re confident we know how to manage it. So we move on and know that the right decision was made today, as hard as it is, but we also know that in a couple weeks we’ll be good,” she added.
It had been a trying, stop-start afternoon for Barty as her match against the teenage ‘phenom’ started in steady drizzle which forced the players off after 20 minutes.
When they returned after an hour and three-quarters break, Barty, who’d begun the match with the heavy strapping on her left thigh that she’s been sporting all week, was also wearing a compression bandage over her right arm.
The pair again had to come off after just one game as more rain arrived and, following another 15-minute interval, they returned with Barty not at her best but still having enough nous to take the first set in 50 minutes.
When she eventually called for the trainer, it was initially unclear whether Barty had been bothered by the arm or her strapped thigh.
Both were perhaps inevitable signs of Barty’s wear and tear on clay after her recent hectic programme which has seen her play 17 matches in 24 days in three countries.
“It’s not a good feeling to win this way,” said Gauff, who’d been shocked when Barty told her she was pulling out. “I send the best well wishes, and hopefully she can get well before the French Open.”
Gauff will next face either Iga Swiatek or Elina Svitolina, whose quarter-final fell foul of the rain, in the semis.
2019 Rome champion Karolina Pliskova had the win of the week, saving three match points before rallying past Jelena Ostapenko 4-6 7-5 7-6 (7-1), and she’ll tackle Petra Martic, victor over Jessica Pegula 7-5 6-4, in the other semi.