Barty wins in Rome to secure ranking boost
With a bit of help from her doubles partner, Ashleigh Barty has secured an all-important top-eight French Open seeding.
Barty continued her fine 2019 form by reaching the third round of the Italian Open after fighting back to beat Viktoria Kuzmova in Rome.
Eighth-seeded Barty dropped the first set to her Slovakian opponent but, after banking the second, she held her nerve in the decider to earn a crucial late break to wrap up a gritty 4-6 6-3 6-4 victory in two hours and six minutes.
Barty's victory, coupled with Victoria Azarenka's 4-6 6-1 7-5 win over Elina Svitolina, guaranteed the Queenslander a new career-high ranking of at least No.8 in the world next week.
Svitolina's failure to defend the rankings points accrued from lifting the trophy last year in Rome will send the Ukrainian tumbling from sixth to ninth in the world.
A top-eight seeding in Paris ensures Barty won't face a higher-ranked rival at the clay-court grand slam until at least the quarter-finals.
A winner of this year's Miami Open, Barty has still to lose to a player ranked outside of the top 10 since last September.
She maintained her cracking run on clay by firing off 33 winners against the world No.43 Kuzmova, including 10 aces.
Barty will meet Switzerland's Belinda Bencic or qualifier Kristina Mladenovic of France in the round of 16.
Australian No.2 Ajla Tomljanovic had her Rome campaign ended in straight sets by fourth-seeded Karolina Pliskova.
The Czech won 6-3 6-3 to advance to a showdown with No.13 seed Madison Keys or Sofia Kenin.
Serena Williams withdrew from the tournament due to a persistent knee injury that casts some doubt on her participation at Roland Garros, which begins on May 26.
The 37-year-old American had been due to face sister Venus in an eagerly-awaited second-round clash in Rome.
Venus received a walkover into the third round.
Serena, a 23-times grand slam singles champion, has struggled throughout the year and completed only two matches since the Australian Open where she reached the quarter-finals.
"I must withdraw from the Italian Open due to pain in my left knee," Williams told the WTA website.
"I'll be concentrating on rehab and look forward to seeing you all at the French Open and next year in Rome."
Williams' fellow former No.1 Caroline Wozniacki retired due to a left leg injury after losing a first-set tiebreaker to American Danielle Collins.