Konta called for treatment to her right hip at the beginning of the third set but decided she could not continue and handed Svitolina the match 1-6, 7-6 (6), 3-2.
The retirement disappointed the crowd at Pat Rafter Arena, who had witnessed a fascinating match where Konta stormed through the first set before Svitolina regrouped and edged a high-quality second in a tiebreaker.
Konta joins top seed Garbine Muguruza (cramping) and fourth-ranked Caroline Garcia (lower back) as high-profile casualties at the season-opening tournament.
She is due to defend her Sydney International title next week ahead of the Australian Open but said she was unsure whether or not she would risk further damage before the year’s first Grand Slam.
“I need to wait until tomorrow morning (before deciding),” she said. “I don’t feel comfortable going on gut feeling, especially to do with stuff like this.
“The most important thing is to listen to my body, listen to how I’m feeling in the morning, and really taking it kind of step by step.”
Konta said she felt something give in her first service game of the third set.
“I’m not too sure actually what happened. I have never had issues kind of in this area,” she said. “More on the left side and not for a few years. And it was different.”
Konta’s withdrawal follows that of fellow Briton Andy Murray, who pulled out of the men’s draw before his opening match, also with a hip injury, and who confirmed Thursday that he would not be fit to play at the Australian Open.
World number one Rafael Nadal withdrew from Brisbane with knee problems at the weekend and is a doubt for Melbourne.
“Hips take a massive beating. Obviously, our game is becoming more and more physical and the demands of the tour as well, week in and week out, is becoming more demanding just because of the level of play match in and match out,” Konta said.
“So I think hips definitely take a beating, but so do knees, so do shoulders, so do ankles, wrists. Take your pick. Back, lower back. And everything in between.”
On her part, the third-seeded Svitolina was pleased with how she fought back in the second set and wished her opponent a speedy recovery.
“First set she was playing very good. You know, there’s not so many things that I could really change,” said Svitolina, who next faces either defending champion Karolina Pliskova or 2012 champion Kaia Kanepi.
“And I was expecting this because I know that, you know, she can play a really high level. You need to really be focused on every point and wait for your chances, you know, how I did in the second set. I was just trying to be rock solid and wait for the small chances that she can give you.
“And, yeah, in the second set I was just trying to serve well and be ready for this kind of moments. And I think, yeah, I did well in the tie-break. I was there 100 per cent. And, yeah, just was very happy. But, yeah, you know, it’s always tough to see when your opponent is injured. And, yeah, hopefully she can recover well and be ready to play 100 per cent for Australian Open.”
Earlier in the day, Belarusian qualifier Aliaksandra Sasnovich came back to defeat Frenchwoman Alize Cornet 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 and reach the semi-finals. The world No. 88 almost retired from her previous match with a leg injury but powered through to keep up her brilliant run this week. She plays Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova for a place in the final.
“In the beginning, I couldn’t even imagine that I pass the qualie and be in semis. So it’s incredible week for me. But I’m looking forward for tomorrow match, because the tournament is not finished for me,” said the 23-year-old.
“Physically I’m not in the best shape, in the best condition, but mentally I’m ready to play and I really want to win.
“I think everyone can beat everyone. It’s tennis. You know, the ball is round. And all day, it’s a new day. Like, each day is a new day and anything can happen.”
Andy Murray has withdrawn from the Australian Open, the tournament announced on Thursday.
“Sadly I won’t be playing in Melbourne this year, as I am not yet ready to compete,” said Murray, who is a five-time finalist at the Australian Open.
“I’ll be flying home shortly to assess all the options but I appreciate all the messages of support and I hope to be back playing soon.”
Murray had posted an emotional message on his Instagram account earlier this week, discussing his battle with a hip injury over the past six months. The ex-world No. 1 admits surgery is an option, but it is one he has been trying to avoid. He is yet to make a decision on his next move.
This is the first time since 2007 that Murray will have missed two consecutive Grand Slams, having also skipped the US Open last September.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley wished Murray the very best for his recovery.
“We are fully aware that Andy has been going through a difficult period with his hip and that he’s done everything possible to prepare for the Australian summer,” Tiley said.
“Personally, I also know that Andy loves tennis and would do anything to play. This is a very hard decision for Andy and we totally respect it.
“We wish him the absolute best on his road to recovery and look forward to having him back in Melbourne. He is a true champion and one of our favourites.”
The 12-time Grand Slam tournament winner, who hasn’t played since a right elbow problem forced him to quit Wimbledon in the quarter-finals in July, has already had to shelve his comeback plans, cancelling scheduled appearances at an exhibition in Abu Dhabi and the season-opening Qatar Open.
But a statement on his official website said that the 30-year-old will take part in two events in Melbourne before the start of the Australian Open on January 15.
“Novak is travelling to Australia where he will take part in two exhibition tournaments. After the two events, the decision will be made about his participation at the first Grand Slam of the season, the Australian Open, where ‘Nole’ has been crowned champion six times,” said the statement.
Djokovic, now ranked 12th in the world, will play in the Kooyong Classic in Melbourne and then at the Tie Break Tens tournament at Melbourne Park, the site of the season’s opening Grand Slam.
Fellow injured star and current world number one Rafael Nadal is also due to play at the Tie Break Tennis event.
Nadal, the winner of 16 Grand Slam titles, also postponed his scheduled season start at the Abu Dhabi event and this week’s ATP tournament at Brisbane due to ongoing struggles with a knee injury.