Tue, Jan 05, 2016 - Page 20 News List

Serena skips US’ Hopman Cup opener

AP and Reuters, PERTH

Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov returns to Giles Simon of France in their Brisbane International men’s singles match in Australia yesterday.

Photo: AFP

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

World No. 1 Williams practiced ahead of her scheduled season-opener against Elina Svitolina of Ukraine in the international mixed-team competition at the Perth Arena, but withdrew from the match and was replaced by Vicky Duval.

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

Williams said she expected to be able to join Sock in the US team to play the Australia Gold team today.

Hopman Cup tournament director Paul Kilderry said Williams reported feeling pain in her knee on Sunday.

“She wanted to give herself every chance to play, she warmed up this morning, but common sense prevailed and she just thought today she can’t do it,” Kilderry said.

After winning the Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon titles last year, Williams narrowly missed completing a season Grand Slam when she lost to Roberta Vinci in the semi-finals of the US Open.

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 today,” Duval said. “I have a whole new outlook on life. I’m just really grateful to be back and do what I love.”

In the night match, Andy Murray had a 6-2, 6-2 win over Kenny de Schepper to give Britain a 1-0 lead over France.

At the Brisbane International, Australian Sam Stosur narrowly avoided another disappointment on home turf as she battled through a wrist injury and three tough sets to claim a season-opening victory yesterday.

The former US Open champion recovered from 0-3 down in the final set to record a 6-4, 3-6, 6-4 victory over Slovakian qualifier Jana Cepelova to begin her always intense Australian summer in positive style.

The 31-year-old has frequently failed to hit the heights on home turf, having never won a tournament or progressed past the fourth round at the Australian Open, and she bemoaned on Sunday the unfair emphasis she received for her domestic form.

The world No. 27 looked set to give the critics another stick to beat her with before a spirited effort did for the world No. 147 and set up a second-round clash with Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro today.

Stosur needed treatment for a wrist problem midway through the second set, but was not overly concerned about the injury.

“I’m not freaking out about it,” the right-handed winner of eight WTA Tour titles said. “I need to go see my physio and do whatever we need to do tonight.”

In the men’s singles, last year’s finalist Grigor Dimitrov needed six match points before beating fifth-seeded Gilles Simon 6-3, 7-6 (12/10) to move into the second round.

Two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka returned from a layoff with foot and leg injuries with a 6-2, 6-0 win over Russian qualifier Elena Vesnina in her first competitive match since September, setting up a second-round match against world No. 2 Simona Halep.

Also advancing in Brisbane were seventh seed Belinda Bencic, who beat Sara Errani 6-1, 6-2, and Vinci, who overcame former world No. 1 Jelena Jankovic 3-6, 6-2, 6-4.

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