MELBOURNE, Australia — Former Australian Open champions Naomi Osaka and Victoria Azarenka withdrawn from tuneup tournaments Saturday, two days before the year’s first tennis major begins at Melbourne Park.
No. 3-ranked Osaka pulled out of her Gippsland Trophy semifinal against Elise Mertens, citing a “niggling injury.”
Azarenka withdrew from the Grampians Trophy quarterfinal match against Anett Kontaveit with a lower back problem.
Serena Williams withdrew from the Yarra Valley Classic late Friday after qualifying for a semifinal against top-ranked Ash Barty.
All international players and staff have been through two weeks of quarantine. Organizers put on six tournaments this week at Melbourne Park to give players time to prepare for the Australian Open, which has been delayed three weeks because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
U.S. Open champion Osaka and Serena Williams, who is chasing a record 24th Grand Slam singles title, are on the same half of the draw at the Australian Open.
“Sorry to Tennis Australia and the fans to have to withdraw today,” Osaka said. “I have a niggling injury and in light of the (Australian Open) on the horizon, I need to be cautious. I look forward to competing next week.”
Her withdrawal gives Mertens a walkover into the final.
The withdrawals forced a reshuffle of the order of play on Margaret Court Arena. Former champion Angelique Kerber was moved up to meet fifth-seeded Maria Sakkari.
ASTANA, Kazakhstan — Carlos Alcaraz’s first match as the No. 1-ranked player ended with a straight-set loss to David Goffin at the Astana Open.
The 19-year-old Spaniard lost 7-5, 6-3 in his first tour match since winning the U.S. Open and capturing the No. 1 ranking.
“David was playing really, really well. To come back to competition is never easy,” Alcaraz said. “It’s really tough for me, for my confidence.”
Alcaraz came from 5-2 down to level the first set at 5-5, only to be broken again by his Belgian opponent.
“When you play against the World No. 1 on a big stage, big crowd, the fire inside gives you so much power to play your best tennis because you don’t have any choice,” Goffin said. “You have to fight and give your best and that was the case today.”
Second-seeded Daniil Medvedev and No. 3-seeded Stefanos Tsitsipas both avoided similar upsets. Medvedev beat Albert Ramos-Vinolas of Spain 6-3, 6-1 and Tsitsipas ousted Kazakhstan’s Mikhail Kukushkin 6-3. 6-4.
OSTRAVA, Czech Republic — Fifth-seeded Daria Kasatkina defeated 2021 U.S. Open champion Emma Raducanu 7-5, 6-4 to advance to the second round of the Agel Open.
Kasatkina was playing her first match since losing in the first round of the U.S. Open and will next face Ekaterina Alexandrova.
Sixth-seeded Belinda Bencic of Switzerland rallied to eliminate former top-five player Eugenie Bouchard of Canada 6-7 (7), 6-1, while Aliaksandra Sasnovich upset eighth-seeded Jelena Ostapenko 6-2, 6-2.
American qualifiers Alycia Parks and Catherine McNally both advanced. Parks upset Czech Karolina Pliskova 6-0, 7-6 (3) and McNally eased past Anna Blinkova 6-1, 6-2 at the indoor hardcourt event in the Czech eastern city of Ostrava.