Big names all advance to quarters in Rome

Victoria Azarenka has moved into the quarter-finals of the Italian Open in Rome after her opponent Daria Kasatkina injured her ankle and retired, but not before the Belarusian comforted her and offered words of encouragement.

With the match evenly poised at 6-6 in the opening set, Kasatkina rolled her right ankle while chasing a ball in the tiebreak, with Azarenka immediately rushing to her side to offer assistance.

Azarenka, 31, brought her an ice pack and a towel before helping the Russian qualifier, who burst into tears, to her chair where she received treatment.

“I’m really sad for Daria, because we were playing such great tennis. I felt that it was such a great fight,” Azarenka said.

“She’s such a talented player that I felt like is always on the verge of kind of that breakthrough where she’s going to pick it up. I felt like this was maybe closer to be her moment, so it’s very unfortunate that she has an injury.

“I offered her my help and my team’s help if she needs it. I really hope she recovers. She’s been playing so beautifully, so smart on the court, putting me in very uncomfortable situations where I had to really push myself.”

Azarenka even helped pack her opponent’s bag and kissed Kasatkina on her forehead after a long chat before the tearful 23-year-old held her hand and spoke to her at length.

“She was very gracious. She said that my comeback inspired her,” Azarenka added. “I told her that, ‘Just keep going.

“Never think it’s over. You can always try harder. Just do the best out of the situation’.

“And I think she will, she’s a strong girl. She has big personality, I think she’ll be fine.”

Azarenka will next face ninth seed Garbine Muguruza, who beat Briton Johanna Konta 6-4 6-1.

Top seeds Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova both advanced to the last eight after contrasting displays.

Second-seeded Czech Pliskova cruised to a 6-4 6-3 victory over Russian Anna Blinkova while Halep struggled at the start of her 7-5 6-4 triumph over Ukraine’s Dayana Yastremska.

Halep, the world No.2, had to fight back from 3-0 down in the first set after losing her opening service game but the Romanian broke back twice to take the lead.

“After I lost the first three games, I had just to focus a little bit better and to stop giving her the ball that she likes,” Halep explained.

“It gives me confidence that even in these conditions with a big hitter I could win in two sets.”

She will now face Kazakstan’s Yulia Puntintseva, who succeeded in an all-Kazakh affair with Elena Rybakina 4-6 7-6 (7-3) 6-2.

Meanehile, Pliskova is the defending Rome champion and continues her defence against Belgium’s Elise Mertens who progressed to the last eight by surpassing Montenegrin qualifier Danka Kovinic 6-4 6-4.

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