Morgues Overwhelmed As Italy’s COVID-19 Death Toll Tops 8,000

A general view shows coffins of the deceased stored in the church of San Giuseppe in Seriate, near Bergamo, Lombardy, on March 26, 2020, during the country's lockdown following the COVID-19 new coronavirus pandemic. Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP
A general view shows coffins of the deceased stored in the church of San Giuseppe in Seriate, near Bergamo, Lombardy, on March 26, 2020, during the country’s lockdown following the COVID-19 new coronavirus pandemic.
Piero CRUCIATTI / AFP

 

An overwhelmed Italian city at the heart of the coronavirus pandemic on Thursday sent more of its dead to nearby towns for cremation as the country’s world-leading toll topped 8,000.

Officials in Rome reported 662 new deaths and 6,153 infections — largely in line with the figures reported throughout the week.

The rise in daily deaths edged down to the lowest point in the crisis — 8.8 percent — while the infection rate stood at around eight percent for the fourth day running.

But the numbers are not dropping much further and Italians appear to be coming to terms with the realisation that two weeks of life under lockdown have not made the disease go away.

“Until we see this damn rate drop, we will have to continue making very hard sacrifices,” deputy civil protection service chief Agostino Miozzo said in reference to the ever-tightening containment measures.

Italy’s coronavirus death toll now stands at 8,165 — more than that of second-placed Spain and China, where the virus emerged in December, combined.

‘Crematoriums could not cope’

The endless flood of victims forced the city of Bergamo at Italy’s northern epicentre of the pandemic to send still more bodies to less burdened crematoriums in neighbouring towns.

An AFP photographer saw six camouflage green army trucks transporting coffins out of a Bergamo cemetery on Thursday.

“The large number of victims has meant that Bergamo’s crematorium could not cope on its own,” mayor Giorgio Gori said in a statement released to AFP.

The mayor said the city had also received 113 urns with the ashes of bodies that had been sent out for cremation earlier this week.

The bodies in the city of about 120,000 people are literally piling up.

A warehouse in the commune of Ponte San Pietro on Bergamo’s western outskirts held 35 freshly-made wooden coffins Thursday that were destined for cremation at a later date.

Still more coffins filled a barren church hall in the Seriate commune to Bergamo’s east.

A priest said a quiet prayer over the rows of coffins and a single red rose rested atop one in the otherwise empty room.

Anxious south

Yet the Italian government is just as anxious about the northern crisis spilling over into the far less developed south.

The head of the Campania region that includes Naples warned of a “dramatic explosion” of infections based on this week’s trends.

“The next 10 days will be hell for us,” governor Vincenzo De Luca said in an open letter to Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte.

The number of officially registered deaths in Campania — Italy’s third-most-populous with nearly six million people — rose from 29 on Sunday to 83 on Thursday.

But no southern region has recorded more than 100 coronavirus fatalities to date.

Italy’s latest figures confirm that COVID-19 overwhelmingly kills the elderly and the sick.

Data from Italy’s first 5,542 fatalities show that 98.6 percent of the victims already suffered from at least one ailment or pre-existing condition.

Slightly over half had three or more other health problems when they died.

Only 29.1 percent of the victims were women. The disparity has been observed elsewhere and still puzzles doctors around the world.

The average age of victims was 78 — a fraction lower than the 78.8 reported last week based on the first 3,200 deaths.

But Italian virologist Roberto Burioni said the figures were “not particularly reliable” because the country was primarily testing people who already exhibited flu-like symptoms.

Italy’s death rate among the confirmed COVID-19 cases — 10.1 percent — was thus much higher than in countries with broad-based testing such as South Korea.

New Coronavirus Infections In Italy Drop To Lowest Point

 

Italy on Tuesday received more reassuring evidence that its coronavirus infection rate was slowing thanks to a painful lockdown that other nations are starting to apply at great economic cost.

Health officials across the ravaged Mediterranean country are poring over every new piece of data to see whether two weeks of bans and closures have made a dent in the crisis.

The harshest restrictions are theoretically due to expire on Wednesday evening — although the government is all but certain to extend them in some form for weeks or even months.

Italy’s 743 new deaths broke two days of successive declines that had taken the number down to 601 on Monday.

It set a world record of 793 fatalities on Saturday.

But officially registered new infections rose just eight percent — the same as Monday and the lowest level since Italy registered its first death on February 21.

It had been running at as high as 50 percent at the start of March.

“The measures we took two weeks ago are starting to have an effect,” civil protection service chief Angelo Borrelli told the daily La Repubblica before Tuesday’s toll came out.

He said more data over the next few days will help show “if the growth curve is really flattening.”

Few scientists expect Italy’s numbers — if they really are dropping — to follow a steady downward line.

The slowing contagion rate is at least offering a ray of hope in the midst of a global health emergency that is only deepening in other parts of Europe and the United States.

Scientists believe that countries such as Spain and France are following in Italy’s footsteps with a lag of a few weeks.

The numbers from the US are also similar to the track of those of Italy about 20 days ago.

Most other European nations and some US states have followed Italy’s example and imposed their own containment and social distancing measures designed to stop the spread.

Eyes On Italy

The data that Borrelli has gathered from Italy’s 22 regions are of crucial interest to global policy makers and medical experts.

Government are weighing the potential benefits of Italy’s measures against their damage to the economy and families’ livelihoods.

Big global banks think the business closures have plunged Italy into a deep recession that could be more severe than anything seen in decades.

But the country’s world-class health system is also straining and the government appears intent on helping it cope at any price.

The country’s daily deaths are also still higher than those officially recorded in China at the peak of its crisis in Wuhan’s Hubei province.

Both Italy’s and Hubei’s populations are around 60 million.

Italian officials are using the downward trend in new infections to double down on their insistence that people stay home at all times.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Tuesday cranked up fines for those out on the streets without a legitimate reason from the current 206 euros to 400-3,000 euros ($430-$3,225).

“Everyone must do their part,” Conte said in a televised address.

Conte added that he was “very confident” that Italians could resume their normal lives before the current general state of emergency expires on July 31.

Italy is perplexed over how it managed to become the global epicentre of a pandemic that began on the other side of the world.

Various Italian officials publically scoffed at early reports of a new killer disease rapidly spreading across northern stretches of the country.

Borrelli pointed to a Champions League match between Italy’s Atalanta and Spain’s Valencia football clubs in Milan on February 19 as a particularly egregious mistake.

It was attended by 40,000 fans who celebrated the local team’s win deep into the night.

“We can now say, with hindsight, that it was potentially a detonator,” Borrelli said of the match.

Virus Deaths Surge Past 13,000 As One Billion Confined To Homes

 

 

Nearly one billion people around the world were confined to their homes on Sunday, as the coronavirus death toll crossed 13,000 and factories were shut in worst-hit Italy after another single-day fatalities record.

The raging pandemic has forced lockdowns in 35 countries, disrupting lives, travel and businesses as governments scramble to shut borders and unleash hundreds of billions in emergency measures to avoid a widespread virus-fuelled economic meltdown.

More than 300,000 infections have been confirmed worldwide, with the situation increasingly grim in Italy where the death toll spiked to more than 4,800 — over a third of the global total.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced a closure of all non-essential factories in a late-night TV address on Saturday.

The Mediterranean nation of 60 million is now the epicentre of the disease, which first emerged in central China late last year before marching out to the rest of the world.

Italy has now reported more deaths than mainland China and third-placed Iran combined, and it has a death rate of 8.6 percent among confirmed COVID-19 infections — significantly higher than in most other countries.

Across the Atlantic, more than a third of Americans were adjusting to life in various phases of lockdown, including in New York, Chicago and Los Angeles. Other parts of the United States are expected to ramp up restrictions as well.

“This is a time of shared national sacrifice, but also a time to treasure our loved ones,” US President Donald Trump said. “We’re going to have a great victory.”

As world leaders have vowed to fight the pandemic, the number of deaths and infections has continued to rise, especially in Europe — now the main coronavirus hotspot.

Spain reported a 32 percent spike in new deaths on Saturday, with Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez warning that the nation needs to prepare for “very hard days ahead”.

Fatalities in France jumped to 562 as police officials said helicopters and drones were being deployed to boost the government’s attempts to keep people in their homes.

The unprecedented measures to counter the spread of COVID-19 have shredded the international sports calendar, and pressure is mounting on Olympic organisers to postpone the 2020 Tokyo Games.

‘Months, not weeks’

The pandemic has bludgeoned global stock markets, and the United States — the world’s biggest economy — is preparing a huge emergency stimulus package that could top $1 trillion.

Millions have been ordered to stay home in the United States.

New Jersey on Saturday followed several states in telling residents to stay indoors.

And in neighbouring New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo warned that the disruption is likely to last for months, not weeks.

“I don’t think it’s possible in a city of this size for people to maintain it for much longer than three weeks before they start losing it,” Yona Corn, a 35-year-old singer, told AFP.

“I think there’s going to be a big mental health crisis. I worry about what’s going to happen to people.”

The US Food and Drug Administration also approved the first coronavirus test that can be conducted entirely at the point of care for a patient — and deliver results in 45 minutes.

Vice President Mike Pence and his wife tested negative for the coronavirus, his press secretary tweeted Saturday. The couple had taken the test after one of Pence’s staffers contracted the illness.

India curfew

The drastic confinement measures follow the example of China, where the lockdown of Hubei province appears to have paid off. Wuhan, Hubei’s capital, is where the virus was first detected.

France, Italy, Spain and other European countries have ordered people to stay at home, threatening fines in some cases, while Australia on Sunday told citizens to cancel domestic travel plans.

Britain has told pubs, restaurants and theatres to close and warned citizens to stop panic-buying.

China reported its first local infection in four days on Sunday. While the number of cases in the mainland has slumped dramatically since the crisis began, there are fears in Asia of “imported” cases from other hotspots like Europe.

Thailand on Sunday reported its highest daily rise in cases, taking its total to nearly 600, while India went into lockdown with a one-day nationwide “self-imposed curfew”.

While the elderly and those with pre-existing medical conditions are the hardest hit by the virus, the WHO has warned that young people are also vulnerable.

Accurate COVID-19 figures are difficult to reach because many of the victims suffered from other illnesses, and infection rates are uncertain because of a lack of testing in many countries.

The coronavirus has infected more than 1,000 across Africa too, where healthcare systems are limited and social distancing measures are difficult in crowded cities.

The Middle East also remains on high alert, where Iran — which suffered a major outbreak — reported 123 deaths on Saturday. But the Islamic Republic has refused to join the rest of the world in imposing heavy restrictions.

El Salvador joined several central and South American countries in imposing quarantine measures on Saturday, as Colombia announced its first coronavirus death.

Vatican To Hold Easter Celebrations Without Congregation Due To Virus

Pope Francis waves to the faithfuls as he delivers the Sunday Angelus prayer from his studio window overlooking Saint Peter’s Square, at the Vatican on March 01, 2020.
Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

 

The Vatican said Sunday that its traditional Easter week celebrations would be held this year without worshippers due to the coronavirus.

“Because of the current global public health emergency, all the liturgical celebrations of Holy Week will take place without the physical presence of the faithful,” the Prefecture of the Pontifical Household said in a statement.

The office is in charge of coordinating most of Pope Francis’s public schedule and his audiences with heads of state and other dignitaries.

The Vatican also said: “Until April 12, the general audiences and the Angelus presided over by the Holy Father will be available only in live streaming on the official Vatican News website.”

According to the latest tally late Saturday, there have been 1,441 deaths in Italy due to COVID-19, and more than 21,000 Italians have tested positive.

Italy is the hardest-hit European country so far in the pandemic.

Italy Orders 22mn Masks To Combat Coronavirus Spread

This photo taken on January 22, 2020 shows workers producing facemasks at a factory in Handan in China’s northern Hebei province.  STR / AFP

 

Italy is ordering 22 million surgical masks to help stop the spread of the new coronavirus, the civil protection agency said Sunday, as it announced the country’s death toll jumped to 366.

Over 15 million people were meanwhile adjusting to life in lockdown after the government shut whole swathes of the north, beginning with the worst-hit Lombardy region, home to the majority of Sunday’s 133 deaths.

READ ALSO: Italy Coronavirus Death Toll Shoots Up By 133 To 366

On Sunday the nation had the second-highest coronavirus toll in the world, after reporting a sharp jump in both deaths and the number of infected people, according to an AFP count.

The number of fatalities shot up by 133 to 366 Sunday, while the number of infections rose by a single-day record of 1,492 to hit 7,375, its civil protection agency said.

Italy Coronavirus Death Toll Shoots Up By 133 To 366

Italy’s Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte (L) and Italy’s Public Education Minister Lucia Azzolina speak during a press conference held at Rome’s Chigi Palace, following the Ministers cabinet meeting dedicated to the coronavirus crisis, on March 4, 2020.   Tiziana FABI / AFP.

 

Italy’s death toll from the new coronavirus shot up by 133 to 366 Sunday while the number of infections rose by a single-day record of 1,492 to hit 7,375.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus Kills 233 In Italy, Sports Minister Demands Serie A Suspension

Italy has recorded the most deaths of any country outside China and the second-most COVID-19 infections in the world. The majority of the deaths were in the Lombardy region in northern Italy, the civil protection agency said.

Adekouroye, Oborududu To Compete At Ranking Series Tournament

 

Current world bronze medalist Odunayo Adekuoroye (57kg) and Commonwealth champion Blessing Oborududu (68kg), will be joined by three other elite female wrestlers to compete at the 2020 Matteo Pellicone Ranking Series tournament in the Italian city of Rome.

The others are multiple African and Commonwealth champion Aminat Adeniyi (62kg), as well as Blessing Onyebuchi (76kg) and Mercy Genesis (50kg), who both won gold and silver medals respectively at the inaugural World Beach Games in Doha, Qatar last year.

The wrestlers, under the guidance head coach of the female national team Purity Akuh, will depart Lagos on Tuesday, 14th January for the event scheduled for 15th to 18th January 2020.

In Rome, the five wrestlers, all gold medalists at the 12th African Games in Morocco, will be contesting for crucial ranking points which will enhance their seeding at the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan.

The tournament is also expected to put the wrestlers in good shape prior to the 2020 African Championships in Algeria early next month and the Africa/Oceania Olympic qualifier in El Jadida, Morocco, which will take place in March.

Former world number one, Adekuoroye is the only Nigerian wrestler that has qualified Tokyo Games. Oborududu was unfortunate not to seal her place at the 2019 World Championships in Nur Sultan, Kazakhstan.

However, the Nigeria Wrestling Federation is hopeful that more seven athletes will join her to Tokyo when the Olympic qualifier gets underway in Morocco.

After the tournament, the wrestlers will commence intensive camping ahead of the 2020 African Championships in Algiers slated for 4th to 9th February.

Italy Militant Guilty Of 1980 Bombing That Killed 85

 

 

A court in Italy has sentenced a former far-right extremist to life in prison for his part in a bombing at a railway station 40 years ago that killed 85 people.

Gilberto Cavallini, 67, a former member of the far-fight Armed Revolutionary Nucleus (NAR), was convicted for providing logistical support to those who carried out the attack in the northeastern city of Bologna.

On August 2 1980, a bomb exploded in the railway station’s waiting room, killing 85 people and injuring more than 200.

From the 1960s to the start of the 1980s, Italy was hit by more than 12,000 attacks in which 362 people died.

The most notorious act was the kidnapping and assassination of former prime minister Aldo Moro in 1978.

The attacks, aimed at destabilising the government in Rome within the context of the Cold War, were blamed on far-left groups and in other cases, such as in Bologna, on far-right militants.

Cavallini, who has confessed to a number of crimes including robberies and murder, has already spent 37 years in prison and was on day release, Italian media reported.

But he has said he is innocent of involvement in the Bologna attack.

“I’m in prison since September 1983, that’s more than 37 years. These are years in prison that I deserve… I deserve the convictions, but I don’t accept having to pay for what I have not done,” he told the court.

Two NAR members were sentenced to life in prison for the Bologna attack, and a third, who was a minor at the time, to 30 years.

Several others, including members of the security services, received lighter sentences of between seven and 10 years for obstruction of justice.

But some families of the victims believe that the real masterminds behind the attack remain unknown and unpunished.

Protesters Ask Roman Mayor Raggi To Resign

People take part in a peaceful protest march of members of Roman citizens committees, groups and associations that say care about the future of Rome and want to take charge themselves of the Italian capital, on October 26, 2019. ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP

 

Hundreds of people marched along the Tiber River on Saturday to demand Rome mayor Virginia Raggi resign over the state of the Italian capital.

“Raggi is turning the city into somewhere to run away from, instead of a city where people can live with dignity, work and build their future,” the Tutti per Rome (Everyone for Rome) organisation said ahead of the rally.

“The whole world pities us,” it said.

The march came a day after trade unions in Rome staged a general strike, with workers including bus drivers and garbage collectors taking a stand against the mayor and her ruling Five Star Movement administration.

The Eternal City’s streets are riddled with potholes, buses regularly catch fire and officials have warned the perennial garbage crisis constitutes a health risk, with rat control services working overtime as bins overflow near tourist sites, homes and schools.

Raggi became the capital’s first female mayor in 2016 by tapping into anger over corruption scandals — in particular the infiltration of crime families in the city’s waste management system.

In April this year she defended herself against accusations she had failed to turn the situation around, saying Rome was “under attack” from mobsters determined not to release their grip on a lucrative sector.

AFP

Five Suspended In Vatican Finance Probe

This photo taken from Via Della Conciliazione in Rome on October 2, 2019, shows the Vatican’s St. Peter’s Basilica reflected in a puddle following heavy rainfalls. Tiziana FABI / AFP

 

Five Vatican employees, including the number two at its anti-money laundering authority, have been suspended following police raids linked to a financial wrongdoing probe, Italian media said Wednesday.

There was no immediate comment from Vatican authorities to the report which came the day after prosecutors seized documents and electronic devices from he offices of two key Vatican departments, the Secretariat of State and the FIA financial authority.

The L’Espresso magazine published a police circular dated Wednesday showing photographs and the positions of the five “suspended as a precaution”.

The circular said Vatican guards should no longer grant access to the five, except for healthcare purposes.

One of those suspended, secretariat head of information and documentation Mgr Mauro Carlino, will continue to be granted residence in the same hotel complex which is home to Pope Francis.

Also named was FIA director Tommaso Di Ruzza. The FIA is an independent anti-money laundering authority designed to lend transparency to operations by the Institute for the Works of Religion (IOR) — which acts as the Vatican Bank.

The three others suspended hold administrative posts in the secretariat.

The Vatican had said Tuesday’s raids, authorised by prosecutor Gian Piero Milano and his deputy Alessandro Diddi, were “linked to the complaints presented at the beginning of last summer by the Institute for Works of Religion and the Office of the General Auditor, regarding financial transactions carried out over time.”

The Secretariat of State, the Catholic Church’s governing body, works closely with Pope Francis.

L’Espresso reported that the investigation was looking into “real estate operations abroad,” notably in London with the alleged participation of British companies.

The magazine said investigators were analysing transactions on bank accounts which receive sums of money donated to the Catholic Church.

Rome’s Embattled Mayor Cleared In City Hall Job Trial

Rome's Embattled Mayor Cleared In City Hall Job Trial
Mayor of Rome and member of the Five Star Movement (M5S), Virginia Raggi leaves a courthouse in Rome on November 10, 2018, after being discharged of accusations of corrupt hiring practices. Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

 

An Italian court on Saturday cleared Rome’s mayor Virginia Raggi in a trial that could have cost her her job.

Raggi, a member of the anti-establishment Five Star Movement (M5S) who became the city’s first female mayor two years ago, was acquitted of corrupt practices over a senior appointment at city hall.

“This verdict has swept away two years of mud,” said Raggi, who burst into tears when her acquittal was announced.

In a Facebook post, Raggi thanked the court for “putting an end to two years during which I was attacked in the media and politically with unprecedented violence and unjustified ferocity”.

Prosecutors had sought a 10-month jail term against the 40-year-old and if convicted she would have been forced to resign. Media reports said they were considering an appeal.

She had been accused of making false statements over the appointment of Renato Marra as her tourism director.

Prosecutors claimed it was Renato’s brother Raffaele — Raggi’s former right-hand man — who got his sibling the job.

Raggi became mayor in 2016 after both the traditional left and right-wing parties were seen to have failed to get to grips with a city drowning in debt and rocked by corruption scandals.

Earlier this year, the M5S struck a deal with the far right League to form a national coalition government despite glaring differences on issues such as immigration.

But in the capital, Raggi has struggled to build a team or fix the problems she inherited.

Her popularity has plummeted and thousands gathered outside city hall late last month to demand she quit amid loud complaints about poor transport, inadequate refuse collection and general dereliction.

– No time to fix –

Raggi says her centre-left predecessor Ignazio Marino left the capital in disarray, leaving her insufficient time to fix matters as residents bemoan cases of buses that burst into flames, parks left to run wild and abandoned buildings taken over by drug pushers.

She says her job has not been made easier by no fewer than eight deputies coming and going through city hall’s revolving door during her tumultuous time at the helm.

Marino was forced to resign in 2015 two years after taking office over allegations he fiddled his expenses. He was later cleared of wrongdoing.

Although Italian sentences of under two years are usually suspended, Raggi could have been forced to step down had she been found guilty as her party rulebook stipulates any member must resign even in the case of a shorter jail term, including a first offence.

She had vowed to do so had the judgement gone against her.

Marra was arrested in December 2016 and faces separate corruption allegations which predate Raggi’s arrival at city hall.

Raggi’s woes have seen political rivals target her with Deputy Prime Minister Matteo Salvini, who is head of the League, particularly critical.

Had she been forced out that would potentially have opened up the mayoralty to the far-right in the capital.

AFP

Nadal, Djokovic To Meet For 51st Time In Rome

Serbia’s Novak Djokovic celebrates after winning the quarter-final match against Japan’s Kei Nishikori at Rome’s ATP Tennis Open tournament at the Foro Italico, on May 18, 2018, in Rome.
Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

 

Novak Djokovic set up an Italian Open semi-final blockbuster against old rival Rafael Nadal after both former world number one players battled back in thrilling last-eight clashes on Friday.

The Serb fought back against Kei Nishikori to earn a 2-6, 6-1, 6-3 win while top seed Nadal continued his clay court domination with a 4-6, 6-1, 6-2 defeat of Italy’s Fabio Fognini.

On a dramatic and exhausting day in the Italian capital, there were also quarter-final wins for three-time winner Maria Sharapova and defending men’s champion Alexander Zverev.

Djokovic, seeded 11th after his elbow injury problems beat Japan’s top player for the 12th time in succession.

“It was a fantastic match, we went toe-to-toe all the way to last shot. He started, he was flawless from both ends,” said Djokovic who will face Nadal for the 51st time, holding a narrow 26-24 advantage.

Nadal beat Djokovic in their last meeting in May in 2017 in a Madrid semi-final and the Serb will be out for revenge after winning seven in a row prior to that.

“We will see tomorrow. I’ve not played so many matches in the last six months,” said Djokovic whose last semi-final spot was in Eastbourne on the eve of Wimbledon in 2017.

“Physically, I’m OK. I just need some rest now and then go out and give it everything I’ve got.”

Second-ranked Nadal needs to lift an eighth career title at the Foro Italico on Sunday to return to the top of the rankings after losing that position to Roger Federer last week.

Nadal dropped the opening set to Fognini in an hour but regrouped effortlessly as he swept past the Italian in the one-sided second and third sets.

“I’m not used to playing so early,” Nadal said of his midday start. “But I’m very happy to be in the semi-finals.

“This was a very important win for me today.”

Nadal also beat Fognini in Rome in 2013 in their first-ever meeting. This was his 11th victory in 14 meetings with the 21st-ranked Italian, and sixth in a row.

Nadal is working towards Roland Garros, where he will aim for an unprecedented 11th title.

“My clay court season has been, I think, fantastic. It will be much better if I finish here with another title,” added the 16-time Grand Slam winner.

Marin Cilic beat Pablo Carreno Busta 6-3, 6-3 to reach the Rome semi-finals for the first time where he will face second seed Zverev.

Defending champion Zverev battled past Belgium’s David Goffin 6-4, 3-6, 6-3 in a quarter-final which finished just before 1 a.m.

Sharapova fired a French Open warning with an epic three-hour win over Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko to reach the women’s semi-finals.

Former world number one and five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova found herself in a dogfight with her Latvian opponent.

Playing her fourth match in as many days, Sharapova needed three hours, 10 minutes to win a gruelling struggle, eventually triumphing 6-7 (6/8), 6-4, 7-5.

For Sharapova, now the world number 40, it was arguably her best victory since her return from a 15-month doping ban last year.

“It was nice to close things down in that way after a long match,” three-time Rome champion Sharapova said. “I didn’t have a great first set, I kept going. I like to smile about it.

“It’s always nice to have a battle with a few ups and downs and finish strong to get through a match like this against a really high-quality opponent.

She added: “I appreciate this new chapter of my career, I still have lots of passion for the sport and for this life. I realise I’m towards the end of my career so I appreciate it.”

Sharapova rode a roller-coaster in her marathon win, working her way from 4-1 down in the first set only to drop it in a tiebreaker after 80 minutes.

She regained her momentum to win the second set but it was tough in the third when she let a 5-2 lead get away.

With Sharapova serving for victory, Ostapenko secured a break for 4-5 thanks to a ninth Sharapova double-fault which yielded a breakpoint.

The sixth seed then saved two Sharapova match points to level 5-5 before the Russian claimed victory two games later with a final break in a match marred by 21 cumulative double-faults and a dozen breaks of serve.

Sharapova will next face world number one Simona Halep who made sure of the top seeding at Roland Garros with a 6-2, 6-3 win over France’s Caroline Garcia.

Fourth seed Elina Svitolina recovered from a slow start to defeat former number one Angelique Kerber of Germany 6-4, 6-4.

Defending champion Svitolina will next face Estonia’s Anett Kontaveit who earned an upset over second seed Caroline Wozniacki, 6-3, 6-1.

AFP