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Poland's Iga Swiatek in action against Belarus' Aryna Sabalenka during the 2024 WTA Tour Madrid Open tournament last week. Image Credit: AFP

Rome: After winning a gruelling final in Madrid three days ago world No 1 Iga Swiatek now has to quickly readjust to the clay in Rome for the Italian Open which began on Tuesday.

Swiatek said she had spent the first two days in Rome “eating” after coming through “the most intense and crazy final” to avenge her loss to Aryna Sabalenka in last year’s Madrid final with a three-hour 11-minute victory in the Spanish capital on Saturday.

The three-time French Open champion said that players were feeling rushed by the expanded format of Masters events which have ballooned to nearly two weeks long and which leave little or no time for physical and mental recovery.

“Overall, the Tour is getting more and more demanding because of the length of the tournaments and all these mandatory rules, both on ATP and WTA,” Swiatek said.

“Scheduling-wise, the planning is going to be more important, sometimes even (missing) some tournaments that are important for you, for you to be ready for the next one.”

Need rest

The top seed will make her Rome start in the second round after a bye, playing American Caroline Dolehide.

Swiatek, who won the 2021 and 2022 editions at the Foro Italico before exiting a year ago in the quarter-finals to eventual champion Elena Rybakina, said the calendar squeeze on players can be huge.

“Even if I win (a tournament), it doesn’t stick in my head. I celebrate for one day, then I’m off to another tournament ... in my head.

“We don’t have time to rest properly. You have to use these days (between long-running events) and treat them a little bit like days off.

“These tournaments are longer and it’s not possible to have days off (like) before, so sometimes you have to have them during.”

The former champion said she’s nevertheless glad to be in Rome, where opening day play was halted for around an hour due to light rain.

“I’m happy to be here because I love this place. I spent my first two days eating,” the 22-year-old joked.

“I’ve already practised today in the morning. For sure it’s a challenge to adapt. But it’s nice to have problems like that.”

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Coco Gauff of the US powers a backhand return during her round of 16 match against Madison Keys of the US at Madrid Open. Image Credit: Reuters

Gauff ready

Coco Gauff said on Tuesday she was dedicating training time prior to her second-round start at the ATP and WTA Italian Open to cleaning up her serve.

The American third seed was plagued by multiple double-faults in a fourth-round defeat last week to compatriot Madison Keys in Madrid.

And the reigning US Open winner said she plans to fix that delivery problem in Rome before heading to Roland Garros from May 26.

“I had like 14 double-faults — that’s four or five games,” she said. “(If I) just fix that detail, it will save me.

“Maybe those matches would turn into winning in straight sets instead of losing in three sets.”

She added: “For me it’s just serving better than I did last week. Honestly, I feel the other parts of my game are improving in the right direction.

“If I can work through, it will set me up for a very good Roland Garros.”

Both Gauff and defending champion Elena Rybakina expressed pleasure at returning to the Foro Italico and preparing for the last big event prior to Paris.

“It’s nice to be here. (I’ve seen) some improvements on-site,” the Kazakh said. “I’m looking forward to this event.

“I didn’t practice for three, four days (after a Madrid semi-final loss to Aryna Sabalenka). Today I managed to hit a bit.

“That’s the way to keep on going because it’s not easy with our schedule.”

Paying tribute

Gauff paid tribute to Rafael Nadal, who is likely playing his final Rome event as he nears retirement sometime this season.

“When I saw the little (goodbye) ceremony (in Madrid for Nadal), I was like ‘this is real life, this is for real.’

“I feel a little bit sad; he’s definitely one of my favourite players to watch. His mentality, his intensity is something I admire.”

“When I practise on the court next to him, I literally zone out of my practice to watch him,” the American continued.

“It’s something about him and his aura and the intensity. Also just the grace he shows. He’s a very nice person.

“His legacy is going to be something that is unmatched when it comes to just the intensity in which he approaches everything.

“That’s something that the players will miss and the fans will miss.”