A highly anticipated opening match between Emma Raducanu and Iga Swiatek at the Sydney Tennis Classic next week is no longer on the cards as the World No 9 from Poland has pulled out of the tournament with a rib injury, leaving the 19-year old Briton to face Elena Rybakina, the 9th seed from Kazakstan, who reached the final in Adelaide last week.
I’m just very happy I proved to myself once again I can be the best, I can be the `maestra,’ like how we say in Spanish. That puts me in a very good position for next year, a good ranking. Garbiñe Muguruza
20-year-old Swiatek, who won the French Open title in 2020, went down to top-ranked Ash Barty 6-2 6-4 in the semi-final of the Adelaide International on Saturday, tweeted: “After intense pre season and last week’s tournament in Adelaide I feel like my body needs more time to recover before Australian Open.
“I’ve been feeling some pain in my lower rib area, which is why, unfortunately, I’ve decided to withdraw from the tournament in Sydney.”
The Sydney field is packed with of top names and will be led by Barty, the World No 1, but other withdrawals, just a week ahead of the Australian Open, include Canada’s 2021 US Open runner-up Leylah Fernandez and World No 6 Maria Sakkari from Greece.
Both Fernandez and Sakkari played in Adelaide last week, and both lost in the round-of-16.
“Growing up, I was taught that pressure and stress will be my best friend, and I’m just going to take this tournament as that, just seeing where my game is at in the first tournament of the year,” Fernandez said in Adelaide.
“We’re going to see how I’m able to transition from what I did last year to this year, and get ready for the Australian Open.
Unfortunately for Fernandez, she suffered an early exit after losing to Swiatek, while Sakkari suffered a shock loss to Shelby Rogers, who said: “It’s a great way to start the year.
“That’s what we want to do, is play the best players every week. It helps me to elevate my game to play someone like that, but I want to keep going. I want to see what else I can do.”
There are plenty of big names left in the Sydney draw, however, with WTA Finals champion Garbiñe Muguruza making her return to match play as the second seed who, along with top-seeded Barty, receives a bye into the second round.
2021 Roland Garros champion Barbora Krejcikova and WTA Finals runner-up Anett Kontaveit are also set to kick off their seasons at Sydney Olympic Park in the WTA 500 event, which starts on Monday.
Also playing their first tournaments of the new season are US Open champion Raducanu, World No 10 Ons Jabeur, and Olympic gold medalist Belinda Bencic.
Barty, plus 4th seed Kontaveit, 7th Jabeur and 9th-seeded Rybakina are all in the top half of the draw, with Petra Kvitova, Raducanu and Jessica Pegula floating as dangerous floaters.
Kontaveit, who finished the 2021 season on an incredible run, opens her 2022 campaign against China’s Zhang Shuai, while Jabeur takes on Australia wild-card Astra Sharma.
Four months ago Raducanu shocked the tennis world by winning the US Open at the age of 18 and ranked 150 in the world, defeating Fernandez, 6-4 6-3, to complete a 10-match in New York.
She was the first qualifier to win a Grand Slam singles title and the first British woman in more than 40 years to take a major title.
Since then, Raducanu has won the BBC’s Sports Personality of the Year and been made a Member of the Order of the British Empire by The Queen.
Now ranked 19, there are great expectations of Raducanu, especially as her post-Open on-court record was not spectacular, finishing 2-3 at the end of 2021, but a case of COVID-19 forced her to withdraw from an exhibition in Abu Dhabi and last week’s Adelaide International.
Sydney is only 9th WTA event of Raducanu’s career, and she is a work in progress with a new coach, Torben Beltz.
The bottom half of the draw features a trio of marquee opening matches, with No 3 seed Krejcikova trying to earn her first singles win over Bencic, after the Swiss went 2-0 against her last season at the Olympics and Bille Jean King Cup, while 5th seed and Indian Wells champion Paula Badosa takes on Jelena Ostapenko in the first round, with the winner facing either Ajla Tomljanovic or a qualifier in the round two.
No 8 seed Sofia Kenin continues to make her way back with a first-round match against Daria Kasatkina.
Whether Muguruza can start the 2022 season as well as she finished 2021 remains to be seen in Sydney.
In twice defeating Anett Kontaveit, as well as Barbora Krejcikova and Paula Badosa at the WTA Finals in Guadalajara, Muguruza exhibited the fearless, predatory look we saw when she won the 2016 French Open and Wimbledon in 2017.
The victory in Mexico marks her as one of the favourites to challenge Barty’s World No 1 ranking this year.
“I’m just very happy I proved to myself once again I can be the best, I can be the `maestra,’ like how we say in Spanish,” Muguruza said in Mexico. “That puts me in a very good position for next year, a good ranking.
“The last couple of years, I didn’t play the same way I played before. But I didn’t play bad tennis, either.
“I was just here, there, not going into the deep rounds at Grand Slams that made the difference.”
Muguruza likes Australia and she reached the final only two years ago, just before the global pandemic hit.
Last year, she got to the Melbourne 500 final, losing a close one to Barty, and the fourth round at the Australian Open, falling to eventual champion Naomi Osaka 5-7 in the third.
The No 2 seed in Sydney, receives a bye and then the winner of Ekaterina Alexandrova and a qualifier.
A WTA 250 tournament will also be held in Adelaide, where the top seed is Aryna Sabalenka, who took a wild-card into the draw after an early exit at the same venue last week
The World No 2 faces a qualifier in her opener, while No 2 seed Elina Svitolina meets Madison Keys, 3rd seed Coco Gauff takes on World Doubles No 1 Katerina Siniakova and Tamara Zidansek, the 4th seed awaits a qualifier.
Britain’s Heather Watson is the only Brit taking part in qualifying and the 4th seed eked out a 6-4 4-6 6-3 win over Thailand’s Peangtam Plipuech on Sunday.
Watson must now get past Danka Kovinic, the 8th seed from Montenegro, on Monday for a place in the main Adelaide 2 draw.