ROME, May 17: World number one Maria Sharapova pulled out of the WTA Rome International on Saturday complaining of a strained calf muscle, propelling titleholder Jelena Jankovic into the final.

“When I stepped on my left foot today I knew there was no chance I was going to be able to go on court,” she said.

“It was the best decision at this point, especially with a big tournament coming up,” the 21-year-old Russian star said as the French Open loomed on May 15.

Sharapova said she had between two and a half and three hours of treatment for the injury before going to bed at 3:24 am following her marathon match with Switzerland’s Patty Schnyder at the claycourt tournament.

“I looked at my watch because I knew you guys would ask me that question,” she said.

The second seed overcame a stiff challenge from the left-handed Schnyder, 29, before prevailing around 11:30 pm, 6-7 (3/7), 7-5, 6-2.

“In part it’s my fault for making some of the matches longer than they should be,” said Sharapova, who officially regains the world number one ranking next week following Justine Henin’s retirement.

But Sharapova also complained of tough playing conditions in Rome. “For some people, like me, I had two night matches, two late nights. ... It’s a pretty short turnaround to be able to compete.” Jankovic said Sharapova’s pullout was “disappointing for me. I wanted to play. I was ready for another challenge, another tough match”.

But she sympathised with Sharapova, saying: “We have very tough matches. Our bodies have to recover.” The tournament has been hit by several late-stage withdrawals.

World number six Serena Williams pulled out on Friday after hurting her back while training.

Williams said: “I don’t expect this to cause any problems in my preparations for the French (Open).” The men’s draw last week saw winner Novak Djokovic get an easy ride to the final as Nicolas Almagro of Spain and Radek Stepanek of the Czech Republic retired with injuries in the quarter-final and semi-final respectively.

American Andy Roddick withdrew ahead of the semi-finals, while Fernando Gonzalez of Chile, runner-up here last year to Spaniard Rafael Nadal, pulled out in the round of 16.—AFP

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