Four of top-six WTA players battling to be fit in time for Australian Open

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  • Tough times: Serena Williams was in pain during her Hopman Cup match in Perth.

    Serena Williams led a series of high-profile retirements and withdrawals from tennis events on Tuesday as four of the WTA’s top-six revealed injury or illness problems in the tour’s opening week, with the Australian Open less than two weeks away.

    The top-ranked Williams, Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep and Petra Kvitova were all forced to pull out of their matches yesterday, citing struggles that could dent their grand slam hopes in Melbourne later this month.

    Williams, who missed her opening match on Monday in the USA’s first tie against Ukraine in the Hopman Cup in Perth, retired from her clash with Australia’s Jarmila Wolfe (formerly Gajdosova) while trailing 5-7, 1-2, due to a left knee injury.

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    The 34-year-old appeared extremely restricted in her movement during the match, particularly on her left side.

    The world No1 though insists the issue will not hamper her title defence at the Australian Open, which kicks off on January 18.

    Williams even refused to rule herself out of tomorrow’s Hopman Cup tie against the Czech Republic.

    “I just have some inflammation that’s been going away very slowly,” she explained.

    “It’s still there, it’s going away, but just needs a little more time. (It needs) a little rest, a little treatment. I’ve been training really hard during the off-season and pushing myself beyond the limits, I just think a day off or two will make a world of difference.”

    Williams said her 2015 campaign, which saw the 34-year-old on target for a calendar Grand Slam until she was beaten by Italian Roberta Vinci in the US Open final in early September, had taken a heavy physical toll.

    She barely played after the US Open, although she returned in the IPTL in Manila last month.

    Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, conceded her knees were troubling her in November saying the problem was similar to the knee injury that hampered Rafael Nadal in the past.

    “The cartilage is not gone, not all of it, but a big part,” Mouratoglou said two months ago.

    “She has bone bruises and if you keep on playing with this for too long, the next step is a stress fracture. At her age, her career could really be in danger if she went too far and got more injured like Rafa did in the past. He kept on playing with the same problem and then it got worse and he had to stop for almost a year.”

    However, Williams says she remains confident of a successful Australian Open campaign.

    “Speed is my strength so I definitely think I will be able to get it right for Australia,” she said.

    “I only think positive and I know I’ll be okay. It’s not even a bump, just a minor thing in the road and I’m gonna fly over it.”

    Meanwhile, the Brisbane International draw was thrown wide open after defending champion Sharapova and top seed Halep both withdrew with injuries before their opening matches. 

    The fourth-ranked Sharapova pulled out with an arm injury before an Achilles problem forced world No2 Halep to announce her withdrawal.

    “I hurt my forearm in practice a couple days ago and need to withdraw as a precaution with the Australian Open starting soon,” Sharapova said.

    Organisers were left scrambling to replace the injured pair, with two qualifying lucky losers getting main draw places.

    Sharapova’s first round opponent, Ekaterina Makarova, took full advantage of the third seed’s absence, beating fellow Russian Margarita Gasparyan 6-4, 2-6, 6-3.

    Halep had a first round bye and was due to play former world No1 Victoria Azarenka, from Belarus, in the second round. Azarenka will now play Belgian Ysaline Bonaventure.

    Over in Shenzhen, second-seeded Kvitova retired with a stomach virus while trailing her Chinese opponent Zheng Saisai 2-6. 

    The world No6 had struggled last season with glandular fever. 

    “I’m so disappointed to retire in Shenzhen with a stomach virus. I came back to this great tournament with high hopes but unfortunately I got sick and couldn’t continue.

    “I apologise to the fans and organisers of this fantastic event and I hope to make it up to you next year,” tweeted the Czech yesterday.