Maria Sharapova, Simona Halep withdraw from Brisbane, clouding Australian Open preparations


Phil Lutton

World No. 2 Simona Halep will try to reboot her summer in Sydney after joining Maria Sharapova in rocking the Brisbane International with a pair of high-profile withdrawals that could have repercussions at the Australian Open.

Halep, the tournament top seed, withdrew with an Achilles complaint just an hour after world No. 4 Sharapova, who pulled out of her first-round assignment against Elena Makarova after injuring a forearm during practice.

Romania’s Halep was due to meet former Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka in the second round and both spots went to lucky losers Margarita Gasparyan and Ysaline Bonaventure.

More importantly, the injuries cast a cloud over the fitness of some of the biggest names heading into Melbourne, with Serena Williams already struggling with a knee injury during the Hopman Cup in Perth.

Sharapova insisted her withdrawal was only precautionary, although she won’t play in Sydney and will take the court in Melbourne without any competitive tennis under her belt in the new year.

Halep wasn’t quite so bullish, saying she had aggravated the ankle injury that troubled her in  2015 and hoped to be active at the Sydney International, although she was still unable to properly run given the pain.

She said scans confirmed there was no major tear in the tendon but it was the same one that had flared up and troubled her for stretches of last year.

“I had problems with my Achilles in August/September and then I didn’t feel it anymore. But now I have a couple of weeks already again with the pain,” Halep said.

“I thought that I’m ready to play. I came here like I want to play, to start the year here. But I’m not fully fit. “I cannot have a full match and I thought that it’s more important to be ready and to take a break.”

When asked if she had any concerns about being fit for Melbourne, Halep said: “I hope, yes. Normally I should be healthy because it’s nothing dangerous.

“But still we have to see, I have to see. I don’t want force it because it’s a tough injury. But, yeah, I hope to be OK to play.”

Sharapova, meanwhile, said she injured her arm a few days ago and made the late call to withdraw just hours before her opening assignment.

“I hurt my forearm in practice a couple days ago and need to precautionary withdraw with the Australian Open starting,” Sharapova told the tournament website.

It leaves the world Nos. 1, 2 and 4 all less than 100 per cent healthy just weeks out from the first serve at Melbourne Park, with Williams missing the US’ opening fixture in Perth with knee swelling.

The absence of Halep and Sharapova has opened the draw right up in Brisbane and should they and Williams fail to fully recover, could do the same at the Australian Open.

Makarova now faces lucky loser Margarita Gasparyan on Tuesday afternoon. Azarenka meets another lucky loser, Ysaline Bonaventure.



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