Defending champion Simona Halep insists she is not concerned by a crowded field of contenders as she concentrates on herself at the French Open.

Former world number one Halep ended her wait for a first grand slam title at Roland Garros last year, but she has won only one WTA Tour event since.

Meanwhile, Naomi Osaka has won consecutive grand slams in New York and Melbourne, with Kiki Bertens and Karolina Pliskova excelling in recent clay-court tournaments.

But Halep's focus is on her own improvement as the third seed prepares for a maiden major defence.

"All of them are very tough opponents, but I don't see my opponents as rivals," the Romanian told Omnisport, speaking courtesy of Hublot.

"I just try to learn from every match I play against them. I lost to Kiki in the final of Madrid, so if I play next time, I just want to be better than that match.

"I see all of my opponents the same so, for me, it's important to focus on myself every time."

Osaka is the world number one coming into the tournament, yet Halep believes rankings count for little at a grand slam.

"It matters to have some good matches before, along the road," she said. "But you never know. Every day you can play good tennis, even if you didn't have good matches before.

"For me, the ranking doesn't matter. It doesn't matter if you are two, three, one, five. At this tournament, every match is difficult and every opponent is working hard.

"You just have to be focused, be prepared for everything, and try to give your best – that's the most important thing."

Halep is yet to win a Tour event this year and has suffered with hip and leg injuries, but the 27-year-old insists she is primed and ready for Roland Garros.

"I feel better, I feel ready to start the tournament," she said. "I had two finals this year, good finals, so I'm not disappointed about the start of the year.

"It's not always been the best year, so I'm trying more to enjoy my life, which I did, and I'm happier."

Halep had twice suffered defeat in the French Open final before last year's triumph over Sloane Stephens, and also lost the 2018 Australian Open final. 

Second seed Aryna Sabalenka set up an Internationaux de Strasbourg quarter-final against Monica Puig after cruising through the round of 16.

Sabalenka, the highest seed in the tournament following Ashleigh Barty's withdrawal, defeated Laura Siegemund 6-4 6-3 on Wednesday to advance in France. Puig saw off Astra Sharma and is up next.

Daria Gavrilova had enjoyed a relaxed day on Tuesday as compatriot Barty withdrew and rain intervened before a match with lucky loser Diana Marcinkevica.

But Gavrilova was required to make up for lost time as the action resumed, playing two matches in one day.

Marcinkevica was beaten in straight sets, before a trickier test against Amandine Hesse saw Gavrilova battle back to reach the last eight with a 4-6 6-2 7-5 win.

Meanwhile, fourth seed Caroline Garcia was required to finish her match with Shelby Rogers – winning the decider 6-3 - before facing Rebecca Peterson, a match she won in straight sets.

Dayana Yastremska raced through, thrashing two-time champion Sam Stosur, while Wang Qiang and Zheng Saisai crashed out.

At the Nuremberg Cup, defending champion Johanna Larsson let an early lead slip to go out to second seed Katerina Siniakova, as both also played twice in a day.

Yulia Putintseva won in straight sets, yet Ajla Tomljanovic was among four seeds to lose.

Ashleigh Barty has withdrawn from the Internationaux de Strasbourg through injury, with under a week to go before the French Open.

Barty, the highest ranked WTA player taking part in a Tour event this week, has a right arm problem and pulled out of her first-round match against fellow Australian Daria Gavrilova.

Lucky loser Diana Marcinkevica will move into her spot at the tournament.

"I felt that it was back - I tested myself, but this morning, I knew that I will not be able to play," said Barty.

"Next week there is Roland Garros. Then it's the grass season. I will have two very busy months.

"For now, the only thing to do is to spend two or three days without touching the racket. I hope that I will be 100 per cent next week."

All of Tuesday's play in Strasbourg was heavily impacted by inclement weather, meaning no matches were finished and a packed card is in store for Wednesday.

But there was more action at the Nuremberg Cup, where eighth seed Andrea Petkovic won 6-3 6-2 against Cagla Buyukakcay.

Anna-Lena Friedsam was another German player to win on home soil against Irina-Camelia Begu, while Laura Ioana Paar and Tamara Zidansek also progressed.

Internationaux de Strasbourg sixth seed Dayana Yastremska cruised past Pauline Parmentier to set up a second-round tie with Samantha Stosur.

Yastremska has struggled with illness and injury since winning the Thailand Open earlier in the season, but showed no signs of fatigue on Monday, 20 May 2019.

The 19-year-old made light work of Parmentier - a former Strasbourg semi-finalist - in the first set, though the Frenchwoman rallied in the second before Yastremska prevailed on her third match point.

Next up will be Stosur, who the Ukrainian defeated in straight sets at this year's Australian Open, after the 2011 US Open champion defeated Jessica Pegula 6-3 6-1.

Top seed Ashleigh Barty starts her tournament against Daria Gavrilova on Tuesday.

Elsewhere, there were surprise defeats for eighth seed Zhang Shuai, who lost 6-4 6-1 to Astra Sharma, and fifth seed Sofia Kenin, beaten in straight sets by Chloe Paquet.

Rain prevented play in all but one match at the Nuremberg Cup, with Mona Barthel overcoming Paula Ormaechea 6-3 3-6 6-2.

Justine Henin believes Simona Halep has a "little advantage" over her rivals on clay as the Romanian prepares to defend her French Open title in Paris.

Halep claimed her maiden grand slam in the 2018 edition but has not won a tournament so far this year, including losing in the final of the Madrid Open to Kiki Bertens.

But Henin, who lifted the trophy on four occasions at Roland Garros in her playing career, believes that Halep's knowledge of how to play on the surface may prove to be crucial, despite the high level of competition.

"In the women's draw, so many players have won tournaments in the last two years, it's pretty amazing," Henin told Omnisport.

"But I'm interested in seeing how Halep defends her title. I still think that with all of the players I know on the tour, on the clay she has a little advantage, she knows how to use the surface, she is physically strong, she has these qualities. But a lot of other players push, a lot of young players.

"It's going to be interesting because [Naomi] Osaka has won the last two [slams]."

Among the rivals looking to claim Halep's crown will be Serena Williams, who has returned to training after recovering from a knee problem that forced her out of the Internazionali d'Italia in Rome.

Williams is looking to win a slam for the first time since becoming a mother in September 2017, and Henin believes that is serving as extra motivation for the 37-year-old.

"I think it's to keep the passion and motivation. You need to keep sense to what you do, and to stay healthy also," Henin said of Williams.

"Because physically it [giving birth] is a big, big issue, you pushed your body a lot and you need to do a lot of rest and sometimes you need some breaks and Serena has done that already in the past.

"I admire her a lot that she still has the motivation, the passion. I think that now she has a daughter she wants to win grand slams being a mum.

"It's going to be hard because the time goes on and the young players are physically putting on a lot of pressure.

"In another way, when Serena wants something it is very hard to stop her, so we will see."

Aryna Sabalenka enjoyed a welcome confidence boost on clay ahead of the French Open, thrashing Zhu Lin 6-0 6-1 in round one of the Internationaux de Strasbourg.

Sabalenka came into Sunday's match having not won on the red dirt for more than a year, after respective first-round losses in Madrid and Rome to Svetlana Kuznetsova and Alize Cornet.

However, the Belarusian needed just 47 minutes to prevail against China's Zhu, who was totally outclassed and won only 17 points.

Next up for Sabalenka - the second seed in Strasbourg - is a meeting with Laura Siegemund or Renata Zarazua.

Wang Qiang, Rebecca Peterson, Fiona Ferro and Zheng Saisai also progressed to round two on Sunday, the latter needing two tie-breaks to beat French wildcard Harmony Tan.

There were two retirements on day one of the Nuremberg Cup, with Vera Lapko and Dalila Jakupovic unable to complete their respective matches against Sara Sorribes Tormo and top seed Yulia Putintseva.

Evgeniya Rodina was the other player to bow out, the seventh seed losing 7-6 (7-3) 6-3 to Madison Brengle.

Karolina Pliskova had no need to repeat her histrionics from a year ago as she defeated Maria Sakkari to set up an Internazionali d'Italia final against Johanna Konta, who defeated the in-form Kiki Bertens.

It was at the same tournament in Rome in 2018 that the usually placid Pliskova lost her cool in a round-two match with Sakkari over a disputed line call, leading to the Czech smashing her racket against the umpire's chair and ultimately receiving a fine.

But Pliskova was all smiles after Saturday's semi-final against her Greek opponent as the fourth seed ran out a 6-4 6-4 victor to reach Sunday's showpiece.

Sakkari claimed the first break to take a 2-1 lead that she consolidated, only for Pliskova to hit back after a short break for rain.

Pliskova made it four games in a row by breaking again to take the first set and both players had to save break points early in the second.

It looked as though the set may be headed for a breaker until Sakkari once again failed to hold at 5-4 down, with Pliskova clinically breaking to love.

Bertens was heavy favourite against Konta having won eight straight matches on clay, including winning the title in Madrid.

Konta scored a first top-five win in over two years, though, recording a 5-7 7-5 6-2 triumph in the Italian capital.

The Briton had the chance to serve out for the first set but lost three straight games to cede the advantage.

But a crucial break at 5-5 in the second set the tone for a final-set cruise and Konta is now into her biggest final since winning the Miami Open in 2017.

Naomi Osaka's withdrawal preceded a fine birthday present for Johanna Konta, while there were three-set quarter-final wins for Karolina Pliskova and Maria Sakkari at the Internazionali d'Italia.

Top seed Osaka was forced to pull out in Rome ahead of her last-eight clash with Kiki Bertens due to a hand injury, opening up the draw for the remaining players.

Konta celebrated turning 28 in style by winning a three-setter with Marketa Vondrousova, while Pliskova also lasted the distance against Victoria Azarenka to seal a landmark win.

And Sakkari roared back against Kristina Mladenovic to maintain her hopes of triumphing at the WTA Premier event.

 

HAPPY BIRTH-CLAY, JO…

Konta is enjoying a career resurgence. The Briton reached a first final in almost 12 months in Rabat a fortnight ago, while she is now in her biggest semi since Wimbledon in 2017.

It was a back-and-forth match against Vondrousova, but ultimately Konta ran out a 6-3 3-6 6-1 victor.

Before this year, Konta had never managed to win three main-draw matches on clay in a given season but she now faces Bertens for a place in the final.

500 NOT OUT FOR PLISKOVA

In a battle between two former world number ones, Pliskova ousted Azarenka 6-7 (5-7) 6-2 6-2 for her 500th career victory.

Pliskova, this season's leader in three-set wins, was beaten by the same opponent in Stuttgart last month but has now levelled their head-to-head meetings at 4-4.

"I think the last couple years I know I'm playing a lot of three-setters," said Pliskova. 

"I'm not panicking if I lose first set or even the second. I'm just there. I keep fighting. I feel quite confident coming to the third set, because I know I won quite a lot in last couple of years."

Mladenovic seemed destined for the semis after taking the first set against Sakkari, but the Greek roared back to triumph 5-7 6-3 6-0.

Naomi Osaka admitted her clay-court form ahead of the French Open has been "rocky" after she withdrew from the Internazionali d'Italia on Friday due to injury.

The defending US Open and Australian Open champion pulled out of her quarter-final clash with Kiki Bertens in Rome after waking up with pain and swelling at the base of her right thumb.

It was the second time in three tournaments that the 21-year-old had withdrawn due to injury, with an abdominal problem ending her run at the Stuttgart Open.

Osaka, who lost in the last eight of the Madrid Open this month, will be the top seed and world number one at the French Open, but she conceded her injury problems have been frustrating as she bids to make it three grand slam titles in a row.

"I would describe [the clay season] as rocky," she told reporters on Friday.

"I can't necessarily say it's been ups and downs because if I think about it, it's definitely been going up.

"Every match that I've played, I've learned a lot. I've tried to take what I've learned into the next match and I think I've done that well.

"But the injury part is very annoying. I feel like the ab thing could have been helped, but this one I don't think I could have helped because I don't know what caused it. I don't know why I have it.

"I feel there are preventable injuries and ones where you have to just take it how it is."

Osaka is not the only one to have suffered injury problems this week.

Serena Williams was unable to face sister Venus because of a recurrence of a knee injury, Caroline Wozniacki retired from her first-round match because of a calf complaint and Simona Halep, the defending French Open champion, needed treatment on a leg injury during her second-round loss to Marketa Vondrousova.

Osaka suffered her problem just nine days out from the French Open beginning and she expressed her disappointment at being unable to face the in-form Bertens, who beat Halep in the Madrid Open final last weekend.

"I woke up this morning and couldn't really move my thumb," Osaka explained.

"I tried to practice and grip my racquet, but I couldn't, and I kept feeling this pain when I tried to move my hand in different directions.

"Right now, I'm really not mad but in between sad and disappointed because I really wanted to play my match today. For me, it was sort of a test to play against Kiki because she's playing really well, and I wanted to see how well I could do today."

World number one Naomi Osaka has pulled out of her scheduled Internazionali d'Italia quarter-final with Kiki Bertens due to a hand injury, just nine days before the start of the French Open.

Shortly before her last-eight match against Bertens was due to begin on Friday, the WTA confirmed Osaka had been "forced to withdraw due to a right hand injury".

The 21-year-old, who was won the last two grand slams, confirmed her status as top seed at Roland Garros by virtue of Simona Halep's early exit in Rome on Thursday.

Osaka becomes the latest player to suffer an injury scare in the final major clay-court tournament before the French Open.

Serena Williams pulled out in Rome earlier in the week following a recurrence of a knee injury, with Caroline Wozniacki retiring from her first-round match on Tuesday because of a calf complaint.

Halep, the defending French Open champion, also required treatment on a leg injury in her second-round loss to Marketa Vondrousova.

Naomi Osaka won twice at the Internazionali d'Italia on a busy Thursday as Simona Halep played down fears over her fitness following a defeat to Marketa Vondrousova.

Halep had treatment on a leg injury during the third set of a 2-6 7-5 6-3 loss that confirmed Osaka will be the top seed at this year's French Open.

But the Romanian revealed there were no major issues ahead of attempting to defend her title at Roland Garros this month.

"Yesterday, I didn't do much. I had two days off, so it was a little bit tough to get back to this rhythm, very high rhythm," Halep told the WTA Tour.

"Nothing, like, tight or something broken. It's just a little bit of injury, which in a few days is going to be okay, I'm sure."

Vondrousova returned to the court later the same day, beating Daria Kasatkina 7-5 2-6 6-2 to reach the quarter-finals as the tournament caught up following Wednesday's washout.

 

OSAKA AT THE DOUBLE

There was some nice symmetry about Osaka's results, the Japanese beating Dominika Cibulkova and then Mihaela Buzarnescu 6-3 6-3.

She will next face the in-form Kiki Bertens, who extended her winning streak to eight matches with victories over Amanda Anisimova and Carla Suarez Navarro, though she needed three sets on each occasion.

In the same half of the draw, Vondrousova goes up against Johanna Konta for a place in the last four.

Konta made it through to the quarters of the event for the first time thanks to triumphs over American duo Sloane Stephens - the seventh seed going out in three sets - and Venus Williams, who had progressed to the last 16 after sister Serena pulled out due to a knee injury.

"I'm playing with a little more variety, a little more awareness and trust in my ability to do different things," Konta told the WTA Tour. [I'm] trying to use that in the right proportion during matches."

 

KVITOVA, MUGURUZA RETIRE IN ROME

Petra Kvitova was forced to cut short her clash with Maria Sakkari when trailing 4-0 in the deciding set, the second seed retiring following treatment on a left calf injury during a medical timeout.

Kvitova showed no concerns during her earlier clash with Yulia Putintseva, however, as she breezed to a 6-0 6-1 result in 54 minutes.

Sakkari will go up against Kristina Mladenovic following the latter's 6-2 6-3 triumph over eighth seed Ashleigh Barty.

Karolina Pliskova survived a scare against Sofia Kenin, though, the fourth seed rallying from a set and a break down to eventually oust the American.

Her opponent will be Victoria Azarenka, who was 6-4 3-1 up against Garbine Muguruza when her opponent retired due to a left thigh injury. 

Naomi Osaka will remain world number one and be top seed at the French Open after Marketa Vondrousova knocked Simona Halep out of the Internazionali d'Italia on Thursday.

Halep had to win the title in Rome to have any chance of returning to the top of the rankings, but teenager Vondrousova beat the French Open champion 2-6 7-5 6-3 in the second round.

Third seed Halep called for treatment on her hamstring before 19-year-old Vondrousova completed a fightback to move into the third round.

Vondrousova also defeated the Romanian in the last 16 at Indian Wells in March.

US and Australian Open champion Osaka defeated Dominika Cibulkova to set up an encounter with Mihaela Buzarnescu later in a hectic day at the Foro Italico after no play was possible on Wednesday due to rain.

Osaka was the 21st seed at Roland Garros last year and lost to Madison Keys in the third round.

All of Wednesday's play in the Internazionali d'Italia was postponed due to heavy rain in Rome, impacting the ATP and WTA Tour events.

The scheduled start was regularly pushed back throughout the day as organisers hoped for an improvement in conditions, before play was officially called off due to inclement weather shortly before 8.30pm local time.

Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer and Simona Halep were among the players who were scheduled to get their campaigns under way.

The postponement of a whole day's play is likely to lead to a crammed schedule for the remainder of the week, with the tournament only running until Sunday.

Maria Sharapova has withdrawn from the French Open as she continues to recover from a shoulder injury.

The Russian announced on Wednesday that she would not be participating in this year's tournament, which begins on May 26.

Sharapova, 32, has not played since pulling out of a match against compatriot Daria Kasatkina in the last 16 of the St Petersburg Open in January, undergoing surgery the following month.

"Withdrawing from the French Open today," she wrote in an Instagram story.

"Sometimes the right decisions aren't always the easiest ones. In better news, I have returned to the practice court and slowly building the strength back in my shoulder.

"I'll really miss you Paris, until next year."

Sharapova is a two-time French Open champion, making the tournament her most successful grand slam. A winner in 2012 and 2014, she made the quarter-finals last year.

The withdrawal of Serena Williams was accompanied by two high-profile retirements from the women's singles draw at the Internazionali d'Italia on Tuesday, before defending champion Elina Svitolina was eliminated in stunning fashion by Victoria Azarenka.

Either side of Williams pulling out of her scheduled second-round match with sister Venus due to an ongoing left knee problem, Caroline Wozniacki and Jelena Ostapenko were each forced to call an early halt to their respective contests in Rome.

Svitolina - seeking a third title in a row in Rome - then blew a 4-1 lead in the third set of a rain-hit duel with Azarenka, as the latter saved a match point and completed an unlikely comeback to triumph 4-6 6-1 7-5.

Wozniacki retired from her clash with Danielle Collins after losing the first set in a tie-break, a calf injury the issue on this occasion after back trouble prevented her from completing a match against Alize Cornet in Madrid last week.

Ostapenko, meanwhile, was a game away from defeat against Mihaela Buzarnescu when she stopped the tie, the Latvian later citing a fever as the reason.

Karolina Pliskova and Ashleigh Barty both progressed to the last 16, but fellow seeds Aryna Sabalenka and Anastasija Sevastova were beaten by Cornet and Belinda Bencic respectively.

 

AZARENKA COMES BACK FROM THE BRINK TO OUST REIGNING CHAMPION

Svitolina is still working her way back from a knee injury and a lack of match sharpness perhaps contributed to her painful defeat at the hands of Azarenka.

Despite being blown away in the second set - which was repeatedly interrupted by rain - after taking the first, the Ukrainian looked likely to progress when she claimed three successive breaks of serve at the start of the decider, either side of being broken once herself.

However, despite enjoying a fourth success on the Azarenka serve, Svitolina was sensationally beaten as her rival reeled off five games in a row from 5-2 down, saving a match point in the first of those.

 

WILLIAMS WOE CONTINUES

After reaching the quarter-finals of the Australian Open in January, Williams has now failed to finish three tournaments in succession.

A viral illness ended her participation in the Indian Wells Open, while an ongoing issue with her left knee has derailed her campaigns in Miami and Rome.

In a statement on Tuesday, the 23-time grand slam singles champion said she looked forward "to seeing you all at the French Open", but her preparation for Roland Garros has been anything but ideal.

 

OSTAPENKO EXPLAINS LATE RETIREMENT

It is never a great look to retire when you are trailing 6-2 5-4, but Ostapenko - the 2017 French Open champion - took to social media to defend her premature stoppage against Buzarnescu.

"It really sucks when you have to retire from a match at one of your favourite tournaments," she wrote in an Instagram story. 

"Unfortunately, I felt really bad today out there on court and had a fever [of] 38.1 [degrees], so I couldn't continue the match.

"I feel really sad about it, but I will do everything possible to recover as quick as I can."

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