Injury setback for Serena Williams ahead of Australian Open title defence

World No 1 withdraws from opening Hopman Cup match with knee problem; Andy Murray shows sparkling form for Britain

PUBLISHED : Tuesday, 05 January, 2016, 12:14am
UPDATED : Tuesday, 05 January, 2016, 12:19am

Serena Williams withdrew from her opening match at the Hopman Cup because of inflammation in her left knee, an early setback in preparations for her Australian Open title defence.

Number one-ranked Williams practised ahead of her scheduled season-opener against Elina Svitolina of Ukraine in the international mixed-team competition at Perth Arena, but withdrew from the match and was replaced by Vicky Duval.

I had every intention to play. Unfortunately due to inflammation in my knee I need to rest
Serena Williams

Andy Murray blew away his training court cobwebs with a season-opening demolition of Frenchman Kenny de Schepper at the mixed teams Hopman Cup on Monday.

The dual grand slam winner looked in sparkling touch as he dismantled the 148th-ranked de Schepper in straight sets, 6-2, 6-2, in under an hour.

That gave Great Britain the early advantage in its tie with France, but the ledger was squared when Caroline Garcia overcame a gritty Heath Watson to win in three sets, 6-3, 5-7, 6-3, in the women’s singles.

The Brits then clinched the tie in a match tiebreak in a closely-fought doubles decider, 6-2, 5-7, 10-6.

“I played well and everything was working pretty good,” said Murray. “I hadn’t been playing well in practice at all, I had been really struggling.”

Duval lost 6-4, 6-1 to Svitolina and Alexandr Dolgopolov beat Jack Sock 6-4, 6-2 to clinch the best-of-three group A match for Ukraine before the US pair won the mixed doubles 6-2, 6-3.

Williams said she was confident she’d be able to join Sock in the US team to play the Australia Gold team on Tuesday.

“I’m disappointed to not take the court in Perth [on Monday],” Williams said. “I had every intention to play.

“Unfortunately due to inflammation in my knee I need to rest and am confident to be out there against Aussie Gold [Tuesday] evening.”

For the 20-year-old Duval, who returned to tennis in August after overcoming Hodgkin’s lymphoma, filling in for Williams was a great opportunity.

“I was kind of nervous because I was filling in big shoes. But I had a really fun time,” Duval said. “I have a whole new outlook on life. I’m just really grateful to be back and do what I love.”

At the Brisbane International, 2015 finalist Grigor Dimitrov needed six match points before beating fifth-seeded Gilles Simon 6-3, 7-6 (10) to move into the second round.

In women’s singles, No 6-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro set up a second-round match with local favourite Sam Stosur, the former US Open champion who recovered from early service breaks in each set to beat Slovakian qualifier Jana Cepelova 6-4, 3-6, 6-4.

Also advancing in Brisbane were No 7 Belinda Bencic, who beat Sara Errani 6-1, 6-2, and Roberta Vinci, who overcame former No 1-ranked Jelena Jankovic 3-6, 6-2, 6-4. Victoria Azarenka easily beat Elena Vesnina 6-2, 6-0.

At the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand, fourth-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova progressed to the second round, leading 6-2, 1-1 when Mona Barthel of Germany retired due to a stomach ailment.

Fifth-seeded Sloane Stephens of the US beat Polona Hercog of Slovakia 6-3, 6-3 and Latvian wild card entry Jelena Ostapenko beat No 56 Johanna Larsson of Sweden 6-1, 7-5.

The drawcards for the Auckland tournament, Venus Williams, Ana Ivanovic and Caroline Wozniacki, play on Tuesday.

Associated Press, Agence France-Presse