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Two top women lose in Paris, complain about rain

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PARIS — Yes, they actually managed to complete a match on this wettest of weeks at the French Open. Two, even. And both involved surprises: Two of the top half-dozen seeded women lost within minutes of each other, No. 2 Agnieszka Radwanska and No. 6 Simona Halep.

After their fourth-round exits Tuesday, both Radwanska and Halep complained firmly about tournament organizers’ decision to make them play through drizzles – or worse – that made courts slippery and clay-caked tennis balls heavy.

“I mean, it’s not a (low-tier) tournament. It’s a Grand Slam. How can you allow players to play in the rain?” said Radwanska, the 2012 Wimbledon runner-up.

“I don’t think they really care what we think. I think they care about other things,” Radwanska added, saying her racket-wielding right hand gave her problems because she had surgery on it years ago.

Halep sounded a similar tone, noting it was “impossible to play,” and saying: “No one cares about the players, in my opinion. I don’t care that I lost the match today, but I was close to (getting) injured.”

Radwanska dropped 10 consecutive games while being beaten 2-6, 6-3, 6-3 by 102nd-ranked Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria. Shortly before that, Halep lost 7-6 (0), 6-3 to No. 21 Sam Stosur in a contest between two past finalists at Roland Garros.

Alas, of the 12 singles matches on Tuesday’s schedule, those were the only two that finished. Four men’s fourth-rounders – including No. 1 Novak Djokovic against No. 14 Roberto Bautista Agut – were suspended in progress. Four women’s fourth-rounders – including two involving the Williams sisters – never started at all, nor did two men’s quarterfinals.

Halep wondered aloud whether those in charge of the French Open insisted on going forward with matches in the rain because they “are scared” about completing the tournament on time. All play was washed out Monday, the first full day lost at the event in 16 years.

“Not their fault,” she said. “But the decisions were not, I think, the best.”

Radwanska vs. Pironkova originally began Sunday, and Radwanska was three games from victory at 3-0 in the second set when play was suspended. They didn’t make it back on court until Tuesday, began more than an hour late because of more rain, played for about a half-hour, then were halted by a 2 1/2-hour delay.

There were stretches when action proceeded despite drops falling, and – perhaps not surprisingly, given that she won – Pironkova was OK with that.

“Well, it happened before, of course. We have played in all sorts of conditions. Usually if the court is not fit for play, like if it’s slippery, they would cancel the match right away,” said Pironkova, who reached her first French Open quarterfinal. “But today the court was still hanging in. It was OK. We could have played, and so we did.”

The Stosur-Halep match was suspended Sunday during the first set. And 2011 U.S. Open champion Stosur – wearing a green long-sleeved shirt against the chill of temperatures in the 50s (about 15 degrees Celsius) – was better throughout Tuesday.

“It’s not good out there,” Stosur said, “but it was fine for us.”

She is into the quarterfinals in Paris for the fourth time.

“It was really tough, obviously, with the start-stop and having a day off and everything,” Stosur said. “Once you’re out there and it’s raining, it’s not so nice, but that’s the way it is.”

Four of the top 11 players remain in the women’s tournament: No. 1 Serena Williams, No. 4 Garbine Muguruza, No. 8 Timea Bacsinszky and No. 9 Venus Williams. Only Muguruza is already into the quarterfinals; the other three will wait until Wednesday to try to join her.

Djokovic split the first two sets with Bautista Agut as they went on and off court, able to get a total of only 2 hours of playing time.

Djokovic was leading 4-1 in the third when they were interrupted for good Tuesday, along with the other men’s fourth-round matches: Tomas Berdych vs. David Ferrer, David Goffin vs. Ernests Gulbis, and Dominic Thiem vs. Marcel Granollers.

During one break, Djokovic, seeking to win a fourth consecutive major title and complete a career Grand Slam, wandered around Court Philippe Chatrier to check the weather, borrowing a green-and-orange Roland Garros umbrella from a fan.

Follow Howard Fendrich on Twitter at http://twitter.com/HowardFendrich

Azarenka aims to come back in time for Wimbledon

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MOSCOW — Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka says she is planning to return to competition before Wimbledon.

Azarenka, who was ranked No. 1 for seven months in 2012 and 2013, went on a break last July to have her first child. She had previously been targeting a return at the July 31-Aug. 6 Bank of the West Classic in California.

In a statement on Twitter, the Belarusian says “my training has been progressing well and I feel ready to start competing,” adding that she plans “to play one of the grass court events prior to Wimbledon.”

Wimbledon starts July 3.

Azarenka won the Australian Open in 2012 and 2013, and has twice reached the Wimbledon semifinals.

Djokovic announces Agassi will coach him at French Open

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ROME — Novak Djokovic is joining forces with Andre Agassi in an effort to return to No. 1.

Djokovic announced Sunday that Agassi will coach him at the French Open, which starts next Sunday.

“I spoke to Andre the last couple weeks on the phone, and we decided to get together in Paris,” Djokovic said. “So he’s going to be there. We’ll see what (the) future brings.

“We are both excited to work together and see where it takes us. We don’t have any long-term commitment. It’s just us trying to get to know each other in Paris a little bit,” Djokovic added. “He will not stay the whole tournament. He’s going to stay only to a certain time, and then we’ll see after that what’s going to happen.”

The second-ranked Djokovic split with longtime coach Marian Vajda and two other team members – fitness coach Gebhard Phil Gritsch, and physiotherapist Miljan Amanovic – at the start of the month.

Agassi, who retired in 2006, won eight Grand Slam titles.

Djokovic has won 12 Grand Slams.

“Andre is someone that I have tremendous respect for as a person and as a player,” Djokovic said. “He has been through everything that I’m going through. On the court he understands the game amazingly well. I am enjoying every conversation that I have with him.

“But also, on the other hand, he’s someone that nurtures the family values, philanthropy work. He’s a very humble man, is very educated. He’s a person that can contribute to my life on and off the court a lot. I’m very excited to see what is ahead of us.”

The pairing is the latest in a series of top players working with former standouts, from Andy Murray and Ivan Lendl, Rafael Nadal and Carlos Moya, and Kei Nishikori and Michael Chang.

Djokovic was coached by Boris Becker the last three seasons, but they split last year.

Vajda started working with Djokovic in 2006.

Djokovic lost his No. 1 ranking to Andy Murray last year after a slump in form following his French Open triumph.

He lost in the third round at Wimbledon, his earliest defeat in a Grand Slam in seven years, lost in the first round at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, reached the final of the U.S. Open, and lost early again at the Australian Open.

Djokovic finished 2016 at No. 2, his current ranking. He’s won only one of his last 11 tournaments.

While Agassi has not coached a top player before, Djokovic said his record as a player and spokesman of the game was enough to convince him.

“He’s a legend of our sport,” Djokovic said. “He’s made a mark in this sport forever. He’s won everything there is to win in tennis.

“He was a revolutionary player because he had this charisma, he had this approach to tennis and to life that was quite different from others. That’s why he was so interesting.”

Agassi has already been offering advice on the phone.

“He’s been definitely following up closely all the matches, the big matches, especially on the TV,” Djokovic said. “So he knows players, he knows everyone that I was playing against in (the) last couple of weeks, so we talked before every match.

Djokovic added, “I already feel like we are very kind of close to each other and creating this nice vibe.”