The Australian Open is less than two weeks away but the leading stars of women’s tennis are struggling to be fit for the first grand slam of the year.
Organisers of the Brisbane International were dealt a double blow on Tuesday when main drawcard Maria Sharapova and top seed Simona Halep pulled out due to injury within an hour of each other.
Defending champion Sharapova, a five-time grand slam winner, announced she was withdrawing from the tournament just hours before her opening round match against compatriot Ekaterina Makarova 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.
World No.2 Halep pulled out after the left achilles which hampered her late last year flared up on Tuesday morning.
The Romanian remains hopeful of taking to the court at the Sydney International next week.
“I did an MRI and it’s nothing dangerous, but it’s still an inflammation,” Halep said.
“I have just to take a few days’ rest.”
The pair’s withdrawals comes a day after world No.1 Serena Williams skipped her opening match of the Hopman Cup in Perth due to a knee complaint.
Williams hasn’t played since October and there are questions over the 34-year-old’s durability heading into her 2016 campaign.
If Williams cannot fulfil her commitments in Perth, it means Garbine Muguruza in Brisbane and Agnieszka Radwanska in Shenzhen will be the only players in the WTA top five in action this week.
Sharapova’s withdrawal from Brisbane also means Radwanska has the chance to replace her as one of the top four seeds for the Open if she can avoid an early exit in China.
The absence of Sharapova and Halep opens up the Brisbane draw.
World No.3 Muguruza is now the tournament’s top seed while two-time Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka will now face Belgian lucky loser Ysaline Bonaventure instead of Halep in her second round clash.
Italian Roberta Vinci awaits the winner of that clash in the quarter-finals after she cruised past Slovakia’s Dominika Cibulkova 6-1 6-1 earlier on Tuesday.
Russian Margarita Gasparyan has replaced Sharapova in the draw.