Tennis-Barty and Osaka exits open door for dark horses at French Open

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PARIS (Reuters) - The women's draw at the French Open was blown wide open on Thursday after world number one and top seed Ash Barty followed second seed Naomi Osaka in bowing out of the claycourt Grand Slam despite neither player actually losing a match.

While an injury ended 2019 champion Barty's campaign in the second round, four-time Grand Slam winner Osaka pulled out after a first round win following a row over her decision to boycott post-match media duties.

Their exits make third seed Aryna Sabalenka one of the women to beat after she won her first claycourt title in Madrid last month with a shock victory over Barty in the final which included a bagel in the opening set.

"I definitely feel better this year, kind of believe that I can do well here on the claycourt," Sabalenka, who is seeking her first Grand Slam title, said ahead of her third round match against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova.

"It's a tough opponent. She's aggressive, she's playing really well right now, moving well and hitting quite strong balls."

Sabalenka's fellow Belarusian and two-times Grand Slam winner Victoria Azarenka kicks things off on Friday with a third round match on Court Philippe Chatrier against American Madison Keys.

Azarenka reached last year's U.S. Open final and Keys is wary of the aggressive baseliner.

"She's obviously playing some really impressive tennis the past 18 months," Keys said. "I know it's going to be a really difficult match, super high intensity."

Serena Williams resumes her quest for a record-equalling yet so far elusive 24th Grand Slam singles title in an all-American battle with Danielle Collins.

"Ideally it would be great if we didn't have to play each other, because I always want her to do super well," Williams said of her compatriot who is 12 years her junior.

In the men's draw, Monte Carlo Masters and Lyon champion Stefanos Tsitsipas takes on the big-serving American John Isner, who has already fired 45 aces in two straight-sets wins.

Daniil Medvedev, who had a 0-4 record at Roland Garros before he was named the second seed this year, will look to extend his winning run against another powerful American server in Reilly Opelka.

Meanwhile, Madrid Masters winner and sixth seed Alexander Zverev is up against Serbia's Laslo Djere, whose favourite surface is clay.

(Reporting by Rohith Nair in Bengaluru; editing by Pritha Sarkar)