Maria Sharapova says she was sick last week and fell ill again on Thursday night. (Clive Mason/Getty Images)
ROME -- Maria Sharapova withdrew from the Italian Open on Friday because of a viral illness, giving Sara Errani a walkover into the semifinals.
The two-time defending champion says she was sick at the Madrid Open last week and began to run a temperature Thursday night after beating Sloane Stephens 6-2, 6-1 in the third round. This is the first time Sharapova has withdrawn between matches at a tournament since the 2008 Rogers Cup in Montreal.
"I'm not the one to withdraw from tournaments," Sharapova said on a conference call with reporters from her hotel. "I don't have a lot of tournaments on my schedule and the ones that I'm playing mean a lot to me and I want to do the best I can in each one of them. With the French Open coming up, it's quite important to make the smart decisions and I feel this is just one of them."
Sharapova's doctor has advised her to rest ahead of her title defense at the French Open, which begins May 26.
"I just don't think it's smart to go out on court and compete, to play another three rounds to win the tournament," Sharapova said. "Recovery is extremely important right now."
After winning the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany, and reaching the finals in Madrid, Sharapova will go into the French Open with the same number of matches on clay (12) as last year.
"You're fortunate to be playing a lot of matches and competing from week to week, but sometimes your body might not be ready for it," she said. "I'm quite fortunate that I have a lot of matches on clay already, and that's not something that I'll be lacking going into the French."
Precautionary withdrawals tend to plague the Italian Open, the last major warm-up before Roland Garros. Last year, Victoria Azarenka and Serena Williams pulled out mid-tournament. This year, there have already been five retirements and five withdrawals between the ATP and WTA.
"Especially before Roland Garros, which is probably the most difficult Slam to win, you may feel you want to give yourself the best chances no matter what," said Williams, who withdrew from the 2012 Italian Open with a back injury before her semifinal match. "If that means pulling out or if it means being extra cautious, sometimes that's what you have to do."