Tennis: Quick switch to clay leaves French Open contenders struggling to adapt

Shrivathsa Sridhar, Reuters

Posted at Sep 24 2020 09:04 AM

Tennis: Quick switch to clay leaves French Open contenders struggling to adapt 1
General view of Czech Republic's Karolina Pliskova in action during the final against Romania's Simona Halep. Riccardo Antimiani, Reuters.

Karolina Pliskova's early exit from the U.S. Open gave her more time than her rivals to prepare for the fast-tracked claycourt swing but instead of fine-tuning her game, the Czech finds herself in a race to be fighting fit for the French Open.

The former world number one, who is still chasing a maiden Grand Slam title, was dumped out of the second round at Flushing Meadows before turning her attention to Rome - where she lifted the Italian Open title last year.

But a series of tough matches at the claycourt warmup took their toll on Pliskova's body and she injured her left thigh in Monday's title clash against Simona Halep before throwing in the towel.

Pliskova, whose raw power and precision make her a dangerous opponent on clay, knows she must recover quickly if she is to improve on her semi-final finish in Paris three years ago.

"I hope to be ready for Roland Garros," the world number four told reporters. "I could possibly play on Sunday... I have to see a doctor and make sure it's not too severe of an injury.

"I think it's from playing so many tough matches in a row. Even if they weren't all three-set matches, they were still on clay, which is quite a fast switch from hard courts.

"The sliding and running in the last two matches, I began to feel it... and it grew with every day."

Garbine Muguruza showed glimpses of the form that fuelled her charge to the French Open title in 2016, but the Spaniard was also beset by injury in Rome, where she struggled with a back strain during her semi-final defeat by Halep.

Ukraine's Elina Svitolina has been focused on Roland Garros ever since the tennis season was suspended due to the COVID-19 crisis after skipping the U.S. Open due to health concerns.

However, she found out in Rome that her extended preparation was no guarantee of success.

The world number five had won the Monterrey Open in Mexico before tennis shut down in March but was stunned by Marketa Vondrousova in the Rome quarter-finals, bowing out meekly after being bageled in the second set.

Vondrousova fell short of Grand Slam glory when she lost to Ash Barty in last year's Roland Garros final and the left-hander will renew her quest to become the first Czech woman to win the title since Hana Mandlikova in 1981.

Holder Barty is skipping the French Open because of health concerns and a lack of preparation while U.S. Open winner Naomi Osaka is out through injury, but as the women's field has shown in recent years, there is no shortage of serious contenders. 

(Reporting by Shrivathsa Sridhar in Bengaluru Editing by Christian Radnedge)