Melbourne - A catalogue of injuries
threatens to play havoc with the Australian Open and put more pressure on
women's tour organisers to reform the playing schedule.
Injuries or illness have felled most of the
women's top 10 in recent weeks, in what is either a hefty dose of bad luck or
something more avoidable.
World number one Serena Williams is chief
among the injury concerns after she pulled out of the Hopman Cup exhibition
tournament with a sore knee.
But the 21-time Grand Slam-winner is not
alone, with only her sister Venus and Flavia Pennetta - who has retired -
unscathed among the women's top 10.
Simona Halep, Garbine Muguruza, Agnieszka
Radwanska and Maria Sharapova have all pulled out of build-up tournaments
because of injury concerns.
Meanwhile Petra Kvitova and Angelique
Kerber have been hit by gastroenteritis, while Lucie Safarova is skipping
Melbourne because of a problems linked to a bacterial infection.
While illness is largely uncontrollable,
Williams, Halep and Sharapova are all still hampered by injuries which affected
them last season, whose tail-end was unusually busy.
Problems on the men's side are also
comparatively light, suggesting a link between the injuries and the women's
tour - whose schedule has repeatedly been criticised by players.
Incoming Women's Tennis Association Steve
Simon has already promised "fundamental changes" to the demanding
calendar after a rash of injuries and withdrawals towards the end of last
"Clearly one of the big issues that we
have right now is dealing with... getting our athletes through the season
healthy," he said at the WTA Finals in Singapore.
The women's season is particularly busy
during its final months, when an "Asian swing" kicks in after the
year's last Grand Slam, the US Open.
Last year, places were up for grabs until
the last minute at the lucrative, eight-woman WTA Finals, prompting players to
push themselves to the limits in a late dash for qualifying points.
Whether injuries have a major impact on the
Australian Open remains to be seen, but there are certainly concerns over
Williams, who has not played a competitive match since September.
The American great retired during her only
match at the Hopman Cup in Perth, and Australian Open organisers will hope she
meant what she said when she insisted she was "feeling great now".
Sharapova, injured for much of last season,
has also expressed confidence about her recovery from a forearm problem which
first surfaced in September and forced her to drop out of Brisbane.
Second-ranked Halep is having trouble
shaking off an Achilles injury which also affected her last year, but after
withdrawing from Brisbane she played this week in Sydney.
World number three Muguruza retired from
her first match in Brisbane with a foot problem, and fourth-ranked Radwanska
withdrew from Sydney with a leg injury.
For women's legend Martina Navratilova,
whose playing career lasted into her late 40s, "the number of injuries
withdrawals is still too high".
"You got to think long-term. Maybe
it's great to have all these tournaments but at the end of the day, if you
don't have enough players playing, you got a problem," she said at the WTA