Serena Williams’ latest quest for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title ended with a 6-3, 7-5 defeat by Kazakh 21st seed Elena Rybakina in the French Open last 16 on Sunday.

The 39-year-old American, still one short of Margaret Court’s all-time record of most Grand Slam singles titles, has not gone beyond the fourth round at Roland Garros since losing the 2016 final.

Russian-born Rybakina, 21, extended her best run at a major as she advanced to her first quarter-final, where she will face Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova for a spot in the last four.

“I am so happy with my match, it was amazing,” said Rybakina, who at 22 is the highest-ranked player left in her half of the draw.

“Of course I was nervous, I was not serving that well in the game before, but I am happy that I managed to control them in the end.”

The exit of Williams leaves just two of the women’s top 10 seeds in the competition, reigning champion Iga Swiatek and last year’s runner-up Sofia Kenin.

It is another missed opportunity for Williams, who despite arriving in Paris with just one win on clay this season, had seen her hopes of a fourth French Open crown boosted by the absence of Simona Halep, and early exits of Ashleigh Barty and Naomi Osaka.

Serena Williams’ latest quest for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title ended with a 6-3, 7-5 defeat by Kazakh 21st seed Elena Rybakina in the French Open last 16 on Sunday.

Stefanos Tsitsipas beat the Spaniard Pablo Carreno Busta on June 6, 2021, to go on to the quarter-finals at Roland Garros in Paris. © Pierre René-Worms

Medvedev, Tsitsipas to quarter-finals

In the men’s games, second seed Daniil Medvedev of Russia on Sunday made the French Open quarter-finals for the first time and will tackle Greek fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas for a place in the last four.

Medvedev, who had never won a match at Roland Garros before this year, defeated Cristian Garin of Chile 6-2, 6-1, 7-5 in his last 16 tie.

Tsitsipas, a semi-finalist in 2020, held off a late challenge from Spanish 12th seed Pablo Carreno Busta to advance into the quarter-finals with a 6-3 6-2 7-5 victory.

The Greek, who won two titles on clay in the lead-up to Roland Garros, was barely troubled in the first two sets, often charging to the net and easily reading his opponent’s serve.

But a lack of precision in key moments allowed Carreno Busta to threaten a comeback in the third, only for the fifth seed to tighten his grip again and make sure he wasted little time on court Philippe Chatrier.

“The fans love it, I love it, I love playing with people, I love attention,” Tsitsipas, who played his previous match in an empty stadium because of the local 9pm Covid-19-induced curfew, said in a courtside interview.

“It’s a privilege and a great sensation for me. Today it was working good for me, I felt like my tactics were working even if I missed some of my drop shots.”

Federer pulls out

Roger Federer, a 20-time Grand Slam title winner, pulled out of what was possibly his last French Open on Sunday as a precautionary measure to rest up before Wimbledon, unwilling to risk his troublesome knee after an injury-plagued past 18 months.

Federer, who will be 40 in two months’ time, had battled over three and a half hours until 12.45am Sunday morning to reach the last 16 in Paris.

“After discussions with my team, I’ve decided I will need to pull out of Roland Garros today,” Federer said.

“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.

“I am thrilled to have gotten three matches under my belt. There is no greater feeling than being back on court.”

The Swiss star was due to play Italy’s Matteo Berrettini on Monday for a place in the quarter-finals, but Federer had cast doubt over whether he would continue following his win over Dominik Koepfer.

Federer was playing only his third tournament since last year’s Australian Open and has always said Wimbledon is his main goal.

He is chasing a ninth title at Wimbledon which starts on June 28.

He is also scheduled to play the warm-up grass court tournament in Halle beginning on June 14, the day after the French Open ends.

“The Roland Garros tournament is sorry about the withdrawal of Roger Federer, who put up an incredible fight last night,” said tournament director Guy Forget.

“We were all delighted to see Roger back in Paris, where he played three high-level matches. We wish him all the best for the rest of the season,”

If his knife-edge 7-6 (7/5), 6-7 (3/7), 7-6 (7/4), 7-5 win over 59th-ranked Koepfer was his last match in Paris, it will be remembered as a gripping affair on the court, but soulless off it.

Due to a government-imposed Covid-19 curfew, Court Philippe Chatrier was devoid of fans and atmosphere.

Federer, who made his Roland Garros debut in 1999 and was champion in 2009, was playing a night session for the first time.

However, the almost empty 15,000-capacity court was eerily silent.

Federer’s return this year was only his second French Open participation since 2015.

Also on Sunday, Tamara Zidansek became the first Slovenian woman to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final when she defeated Romania’s Sorana Cirstea 7-6 (7/4), 6-1.

The world number 85, who knocked out former US Open champion Andreescu in round one, will meet Paula Badosa for a place in the semi-finals after the Spaniard beat 2019 Roland Garros runner-up Marketa Vondrousova 6-4, 3-6, 6-2.

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova returned to the Roland Garros quarter-finals for the first time since 2011, defeating former world number one Victoria Azarenka 5-7, 6-3, 6-2.

(FRANCE 24 with AFP and REUTERS)

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