Open season for women’s tennis stars

Throw the form guide out the window as women’s tennis’s biggest names race the clock to be fit for the Australian Open following a dramatic start to the summer.

Top-ranked titleholder Serena Williams, world No.2 Simona Halep and world No.3 Maria Sharapova are all under injury clouds less than a fortnight out from the season’s first major at Melbourne Park.

Williams’ bid for a seventh Open crown is in serious doubt after her troublesome left knee flared for a second day straight at the Hopman Cup in Perth.

The American superstar was forced to retire from her clash with Australian Jarmila Wolfe on Tuesday night after hobbling through a set-and-a-half.

Williams, who hadn’t played since October, was trailing 7-5 2-1 when she decided to call it quits after receiving a short medical assessment.

Her setback came a day after not playing at all during the USA’s 2-1 tie loss to Ukraine because of inflammation in her left knee.

In a worrying sign for Williams, her coach Patrick Mouratoglou revealed in November the knee problem was similar to the one that has hampered Rafael Nadal in recent years.

But the 34-year-old was putting on a brave face in the countdown to the Open.

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

“It’s going away, but just needs a little more time.”

Sharapova, runner-up to Williams in last year’s Australian Open final, withdrew from the Brisbane International earlier on Tuesday just hours before her scheduled first-round match due to a forearm injury.

“I hurt my forearm in practice a couple days ago and need to precautionary withdraw with the Australian Open starting in just a matter of time,” the Russian said.

The 28-year-old missed last year’s US Open due to injury and will now head to Melbourne to prepare for the Open with no match practice in the build-up.

Halep also pulled out in Brisbane after the left Achilles tendon that hampered her late last year flared up on Tuesday morning.

“I did an MRI and it’s nothing dangerous, but it’s still an inflammation,” said Halep, who remains hopeful of contesting next week’s Sydney International ahead of the Open starting on January 18.

“I have just to take a few days’ rest.”

The women’s heavyweights aren’t just dropping like flies in Australia, with former world No.1s Venus Williams and Ana Ivanovic adding to the carnage with first-round defeats at the Auckland Classic.

Top-seeded Williams, who has surged back to No.7 in the world after a stellar 2015 season, had her title defence shattered in a 6-7 (4-7) 6-3 6-3 loss to Russian teenager Darya Kasatkina, while second seed Ivanovic went down 7-5 6-4 to Brit Naomi Broady.

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