Sydney - World
number one Simona Halep's preparations for next week's Australian Open
suffered a huge setback on Wednesday when she was bundled out of the Sydney
International, along with fourth seed Sloane Stephens.
The Romanian hadn't played since withdrawing from the WTA Finals in
October with a herniated disc, and was no match for fast-rising
Australian Ashleigh Barty, who scored the biggest win of her career 6-4,
Halep, the reigning French Open champion and 2018 Australian Open
runner-up, had a bye through to the second round, meaning she heads to
Melbourne Park for the opening Grand Slam of the year with just one game
under her belt.
"It was a great match after almost four months (since the last one). I
think I played a good level of tennis but I had no inspiration in some
important points," she said.
"She played really well and deserved to win. But I was also very close to winning.
"No pain at all, that is a great sign," she added of her back. "The tennis is good, I just have to believe in myself more."
Barty, who ended a breakthrough 2018 with a WTA title in Zhuhai and
is now ranked 15, brought the momentum into the new year and is now in
the quarter-finals, where she will meet either Belgian 10th seed Elise
Mertens or Estonian Anett Kontaveit.
She had already accounted for another French Open winner, Jelena
Ostapenko, in the opening round and had an extra gear against Halep,
breaking serve twice to win the first set.
Halep, without a coach
after splitting with Darren Cahill who wanted to spend more time with
his family, was first to break in the second set and had a chance to
hold for 5-3.
But Barty was undaunted, using her signature court craft to break straight back and secure victory two games later.
"It was extremely difficult conditions, very swirly down at court
level. So I figured if I'm going to play Sim anytime, and it's her first
match, it was now. I was very happy to make the most if it," said
"I had nothing to lose out here so I just came out and played with freedom. I believed I could win."
Earlier in the week, Halep admitted the back injury that ended her 2018 season early was "very scary".
The early finish to 2018 was a disappointing end to a spectacular
season, which saw the 27-year-old secure the year-end number one ranking
for the second year running.
American world number five Stephens was another casualty.
She narrowly escaped defeat in the first round, and slumped out to
Kazak qualifier Yulia Putintseva 3-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-0, meekly
surrendering in the final set.
In other matches Wednesday, Switzerland's Timea Bacsinszky beat
Australia's Sam Stosur 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 and will meet Aliaksandra Sasnovich
of Belarus in the last eight.
In the men's draw, third seeded Argentine Diego Schwartzman booked
his place in the quarters by beating Spain's Guillermo Garcia-Lopez in
two sets. He will next face Japanese qualifier Yoshihito Nishioka.
Veteran Italian Andreas Seppi is also through to meet top seed
Stefanos Tsitsipas of Greece, while fifth seeded Alex De Minaur set up
an all-Australian last eight tie with Jordan Thompson. France's Gilles
Simon will take on another Australian, John Millman.
Results of matches played at the ATP/WTA Sydney International tennis tournament at Olympic Park on Wednesday (x denotes seed):
Diego Schwartzman (ARG x3) bt Guillermo Garcia-Lopez (ESP) 6-2, 6-3
Yoshihito Nishioka (JPN) bt Andrey Rublev (RUS) 6-3, 6-1
Alex De Minaur (AUS x5) bt Reilly Opelka (USA) 6-4, 7-6 (7/5)
Andreas Seppi (ITA x8) bt Martin Klizan (SVK) 7-6 (7/2), 6-2
Stefanos Tsitsipas (GRE x1) bt Guido Andreozzi (ARG) 6-3, 6-4
John Millman (AUS) bt Marton Fucsovics (HUN x7) 6-3, 6-4
Gilles Simon (FRA x4) bt Sam Querrey (USA) 7-6 (7/5), 6-7 (6/8), 6-4
Ashleigh Barty (AUS) bt Simona Halep (ROU x1) 6-4, 6-4
Timea Bacsinszky (SUI) bt Samantha Stosur (AUS) 5-7, 6-4, 6-3
Elise Mertens (BEL x10) bt Anett Kontaveit (EST) 6-3, 6-1
Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR) bt Priscilla Hon (AUS) 0-6, 6-3, 6-3
Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) bt Sloane Stephens (USA x4) 3-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-0
Elise Mertens (BEL x10) bt Katerina Siniakova (CZE) 7-6 (7/4), 2-6, 6-2
Anett Kontaveit (EST) bt Monica Puig (PUR) 2-6, 7-5, 6-1