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China's Qinwen Zheng returns to Japan's Naomi Osaka during the Women's WTA Rome Open tennis tournament at Foro Italico in Rome on Monday. Image Credit: AFP

Rome: Naomi Osaka’s return to the Rome Open ended at the last 16 to China’s Zheng Qinwen on Monday with men’s fourth seed Andrey Rublev also exiting as environmental activists stopped play in two matches.

China’s Zheng breezed past four-time Grand Slam winner Osaka 6-2, 6-4 in one hour and 24 minutes to set up a last-eight clash with either Paula Badosa or third seed Coco Gauff.

Fourth seed Rublev, winner of the Madrid Open, was shocked 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 in his third match by French qualifier Alexandre Muller.

Japan’s Osaka was playing at the Foro Italico for the first time in three years after taking a break from the tour to have her first child and is ranked at 173 in the world.

Positive tournament

The furthest she has gone in any tournament so far this season was her run to the quarter-finals in Doha, which she could not replicate in the Italian capital.

However it was a positive tournament for Osaka, who has never won a title on clay but beat a top-20 ranked player on the surface for the first time, against Marta Kostyuk in the second round on Thursday.

“I think I’m happy with my performance in Rome. It’s been a while since I played well on — I guess I’ve never played well on clay — so I guess I’m happy,” Osaka told reporters.

“I definitely feel a lot more confident leaving than when I came.”

Just before Osaka’s elimination, activists from climate group Ultima Generazione (Last Generation) burst onto the Pietrangeli court where American Madison Keys was beating Sorana Cirstea, and on court 12 where a men’s doubles match was taking place.

Wearing orange vests, they threw a liquid and confetti onto the courts before being removed by security staff. After a half-hour stoppage to clean the court, Keys completed her win over Romania’s Cirstea 6-2, 6-1.

There were also protesters in the stands with a tournament spokesman telling AFP that at least one person had tried to glue their feet to the floor in order to slow their removal.

‘Not the greatest feeling’

“Obviously it’s not the greatest feeling when you’re on court, your first reaction is kind of your own safety,” said Keys.

“I think maybe banning cementing glue from bags would be a start.

“It’s obviously something that’s becoming more of an occurrence and something that tournaments are going to have to figure out how to stop.”

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France's Alexandre Muller returns to Russia's Andrey Rublev at the Men's ATP Rome Open tennis tournament at Foro Italico in Rome on Sunday. Image Credit: AFP

Daniil Medvedev will continue his title defence against Serbian qualifier Hamad Medjedovic, with the men’s tournament wide open following Sunday’s exit of top seed and six-time Rome winner Novak Djokovic.

Rome is missing the world’s top three men following Djokovic’s early elimination, with Italian world number two Jannik Sinner and Carlos Alcaraz both withdrawing ahead of the event.

And one of Medvedev’s key rivals, Rublev was also heading home.

Rublev had come to Rome fresh from claiming the Madrid title but his winning streak was stopped at seven matches.

Third Rome title

Sixth seed and reigning Monte Carlo champion Stefanos Tsitsipas beat Briton Cameron Norrie in straight sets 6-2, 7-6 (7/1).

Iga Swiatek saw off Angelique Kerber 7-5, 6-3 to set up a quarter-final clash with Madison Keys.

World No 1 one Swiatek is yet to drop a set and is favourite for a third Foro Italico crown before she begins her French Open title defence later this month.

Three-time French Open champion Swiatek arrived in Rome off the back of a thrilling triumph in Madrid, her third WTA 1000 title of the season after also winning at Indian Wells and Doha.