World number one Garbine Muguruza retired ill with a virus in the first round of the China Open on Monday and US Open winner Sloane Stephens went out in a shock defeat.
Spain’s Muguruza suggested in the build-up that she was not fully fit after a leg injury and she lost the first set 6-1 to unseeded Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic.
Muguruza, 23, the reigning Wimbledon champion, called a medical timeout at 2-0 down in the second set and then called it quits after having her pulse taken on the side of the court.
Muguruza said afterwards she had been too unwell even to practise for her opener but had been determined to play, having lost in the quarter-finals last week in Wuhan.
“Since I’m in Beijing, I didn’t play at all. I don’t know, I got a virus in Wuhan,” she said.
“I want to feel like giving the last chance, going on the court, just hit a few balls, see how I’m going to feel, try to turn things around.
“I don’t want to retire before the tournament starts for me.”
Muguruza, yet to win a tournament since reaching the top ranking in mid-September, added: “It’s good that I could play on Monday, I had more days to rest.
“But in fact, I couldn’t perform today.”
— WTA (@WTA) October 2, 2017
Stephens meanwhile tumbled out in the first round for the second week running, this time at the hands of qualifier Christina McHale.
The 15th seed Stephens, wearing all pink, saw her match delayed by rain falling on Beijing’s outdoor hardcourts.
When it finally got started she failed to fire, going out to her fellow American with a whimper, 6-3, 6-0 in just 62 minutes.
The loss extends Stephens’ poor run after sealing her first Grand Slam last month.
Last week the 24-year-old similarly fell at the first hurdle, losing to China’s Wang Qiang in the opening round of the Wuhan Open.
Stephens, ranked 17 in the world to McHale’s 79, refused to make any excuses during a post-match press conference lasting less than 90 seconds.
“Tough day, not really much to say,” she said.
“Obviously not a great match so just forget about it and move on, try to have a better level for the next tournament (Hong Kong).”
Asked if the delayed start for rain disrupted her, she said: “Yes, but it affects both players, so… I mean, she obviously just handled it a little bit better.”
— WTA (@WTA) October 2, 2017
Chinese great Li Na backed Serena Williams to pull off a quickfire return to tennis after the birth of her first child — but said there was no way she could have rushed back to the sport.
Williams, 36, has spoken of her “outrageous” plans to defend her title at the Australian Open in January, less than five months after giving birth to her baby daughter on September 1.
Li, who announced she was pregnant two months after retiring in 2014, said she wouldn’t have been able to leave her own young daughter, adding that she had probably only hit a tennis ball 10 times since quitting the sport and becoming a mother.
“Serena can fix everything,” Li said, referring to the challenge of being a tennis-playing parent. “But if I think about myself, I couldn’t do that. With a baby so young, I couldn’t leave them.”
Asked if she missed tennis, the two-time Grand Slam-winner told reporters at the Wuhan Open that she hankered after the “fight and competition” but that she had left that side of herself behind.
“Now I just follow,” said Li, whose daughter is now two and who also has a baby son.
Other former stars have wondered whether Williams, a 23-time major-winner, would be able to regain top form so soon after having her daughter, Alexis Olympia Ohanian.
Kim Clijsters, who retired for two years and became a mother before returning to win the 2009 US Open, said it depends on “how your body reacts — everybody reacts different in those situations”.
American Mary Joe Fernandez also said she could not have played as a mother to young kids but that “Serena is an exception to a lot of rules”.
But Williams’s good friend Caroline Wozniacki said the new mother remained “focused” on her comeback.
“I think she’s going to do a strong comeback but I think at the same time she’s enjoying being a mum as well and getting that whole experience. I think it’s very special,” Wozniacki said in Wuhan.
Li, a native of Wuhan and a global ambassador for her hometown tournament, appeared uncertain as to whether she would be happy if her children grew up to become tennis players.
“I would be happy of course, the sport can change you a lot, it can make a child stronger,” she said, adding that the constant travelling is “very tough”.
“It’s not easy to continue for so many years, to do the same thing and no time with family,” she said.
A Laver Cup-style tournament would be “awesome” for women’s tennis, world number one Garbine Muguruza said, but warned it would be difficult to schedule in an already packed calendar.
Muguruza said she had seen clips of Team Europe’s Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal battling Team World for the maiden title last weekend in a packed stadium in Prague.
“I just love that people go and watch tennis and the stadium was full,” she said. “It would be awesome to also have it on the women’s side.”
But the 23-year-old Spaniard, speaking at the Wuhan Open in China, warned it would be tough to find a date.
“It could be a mess to figure out when we could do it. No matter what you want to do with our schedule, it’s very hard,” she told AFP.
The Laver Cup format, similar to golf’s Ryder Cup, saw Rafael Nadal, Roger Federer, Alexander Zverev, Marin Cilic, Dominic Thiem and Tomas Berdych representing Europe against the Team World’s Sam Querrey, John Isner, Nick Kyrgios, Jack Sock, Denis Shapovalov and Frances Tiafoe.
World number two Roger Federer clinched the first ever title for Team Europe by beating Nick Kyrgios in a super tiebreak thriller.
The Swiss and his management company, Team8, are the people behind the event, and they got the backing of the USTA and Tennis Australia.
Federer was asked in Prague last weekend during the Laver Cup if he would be interested in being involved in launching a similar competition for the women.
The 19-time major champion said: “About a women’s Laver Cup, I don’t know, I have to speak to Tony (Godsick from Team8) and the group, but we would be open. Of course we would be. I love my women in my life, and they have been wonderful. And I follow the women’s game as much as I possibly can. A big fan. Sure, I’m happy to look into it.”
Caroline Wozniacki, the world number six, also warned a women’s Laver Cup would be tough to arrange.
“If it did happen on the women’s side everyone would have to stick together in wanting to play that week and not go for another tournament,” she said. “So I’m not sure if it would work. “
Early autumn is a particularly hectic period for the top female tennis players as they launch themselves into the Asian swing in Tokyo before zooming off to Wuhan and then Beijing in a bid to qualify for the WTA Finals in Singapore.
Agnieszka Radwanska said Wednesday that players are exhausted after a long season after most of the seeds suffered early exits in Wuhan.
The Pole was speaking after she joined the exodus of tournament favourites including Wozniacki, Simona Halep, Johanna Konta, Sloane Stephens and Maidson Keys.
US Open winner Stephens said her travel schedule had stopped her from watching the Laver Cup and that she didn’t know the format.
“But if it’s good for guys, it’s good for girls,” she added.