Marcos Baghdatis yesterday retired in agony from the final of the Chengdu Open after suffering severe back spasms, handing the title to Uzbekistan’s Denis Istomin.
Istomin was leading 3-2 in the first set when the Cypriot collapsed on the court and was unable to continue.
Baghdatis had to be helped carefully back to his seat, where he buried his head in his towel.
“I was feeling a bit of pain in my back during the week, but late after my match last night I felt some spasms,” the 32-year-old said. “This morning I woke up a bit the same. After my warm-up, it got worse.”
Baghdatis said the spasms held off for the first few games of the final in Chengdu after intensive physiotherapy, before striking again.
“I’ve had back issues before, but not like this,” he said.
Despite the retirement, Baghdatis is set to return to the top 100 in the world.
Istomin, for whom this was a second ATP crown, is projected to rise to 53 in the rankings from 78.
“Of course I want to win the title, but not this way. I hope he gets better and will be okay for the rest of the season,” Istomin said.
Caroline Wozniacki yesterday had a fright against a local favorite in the China Open first round before she composed herself to go through 6-1, 6-7 (4/7), 6-1.
The Dane, ranked sixth in the world, made an early exit from the Wuhan Open last week, stunned by Maria Sakkari of Greece.
She appeared determined to put that disappointment behind her in making a lightning-fast start in Beijing, punishing China’s Wang Qiang in the first set.
However, if the fifth seed thought she was going to have it easy, she was mistaken, as the 55th-ranked Wang harnessed the support of the crowd to fight back.
The 25-year-old Wang sprang a surprise in taking the second set on the tie break to level the match, but the former No. 1 and the 2010 China Open champion regained her poise to seal the deciding set with ease.
Also through is reigning China Open champion Agnieszka Radwanska, who defeated the German qualifier Carina Witthoeft 7-5, 6-3.
Maria Sharapova got her revenge over Latvian 16th seed Anastasija Sevastova with a gutsy 7-6 (7/3), 5-7, 7-6 (9/7) victory in the first round on Saturday.
It was the five-time Grand Slam winner’s first appearance since she was beaten by Sevastova at the US Open early last month and gets her stop-start return.
Sharapova, once No. 1, but now ranked a lowly 104 in the world, is a wildcard in Beijing as she works her way back slowly from a 15-month ban for taking the banned substance meldonium.
“When I saw the draw [Sevastova again], I was like: ‘Of course,’” Sharapova added with a grin.
In a strong field, top seed and world No. 1 Garbine Muguruza starts her China Open against the Czech Barbora Strycova.
No player has been able to claim a monopoly on world No. 1, and the latest incumbent comes into the tournament with major doubts about her fitness.
Wimbledon winner Muguruza hinted that she was not fully fit.
“I’m trying to recover as best I can from the Wuhan Open,” the 23-year-old told a downbeat news conference that lasted just two-and-a-half minutes.
Taiwan saw a disappointing start to the series, as WTA No. 23 Hsieh Su-wei on Saturday lost to Madison Brengle of the US 3-6, 2-6 in her second qualifying match. She was the only Taiwanese left after Cheng Kai-chen crashed out on the first day of the tournament on Friday with a 2-6, 2-6 loss to Magda Linette of Poland.
In the men’s draw, rising star Alexander Zverev yesterday said that he is blocking out the growing hype surrounding his fast emergence, as he makes his tilt at China Open glory this week.
The 20-year-old German is seeking his sixth title of a breakthrough season and with the old guard of Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray all missing, Zverev fancies his chances.
The second seed starts his assault on the open-air hard courts against Britain’s Kyle Edmund and could face seventh seed Tomas Berdych in the quarter-finals.
The Australian Nick Kyrgios, who on his day can compete with the best, is a potential semi-final opponent, with world No. 1 Rafael Nadal looming in the final if the Spaniard successfully navigates his tricky side of the draw.
Zverev, the world No. 4, said his aim for next season is to go further in the Grand Slams — his best showing is reaching the fourth round this year at Wimbledon — but he is prepared to bide his time.
“I’m still only 20 years old, you can’t have it all, unfortunately, but it’s not going bad,” he said.
Nadal, the 31-year-old Spaniard who is enjoying a late-career resurgence, is in action this week for the first time since winning his third US Open last month.
The top seed starts with a shot at revenge against Frenchman Lucas Pouille, who knocked him out of last year’s US Open the last time they met.
Additional reporting by staff writer
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