Serena Williams and Naomi Osaka in 'shameful' Australian Open furore

Sam Goodwin
·Sports Editor
·5-min read
Naomi Osak and Serena Williams, pictured here after their exhibition match in Adelaide.
Naomi Osak and Serena Williams after their exhibition match in Adelaide. (Photo by MICHAEL ERREY/AFP via Getty Images)

Three of the biggest names in women’s tennis sparked a heated debate over the weekend when they withdrew from their warmup events to rest for the Australian Open.

Serena Williams, Naomi Osaka and Victoria Azarenka all pulled the pin on the warmup events they were playing at Melbourne Park, citing various injuries.

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Williams was scheduled to play Ash Barty in the semi-finals of the Yarra Valley Classic on Saturday, but announced her withdrawal on Friday night because of a shoulder problem.

“I’ve gotten a lot of treatment already on my shoulder but I’m super confident it’s going to be great,” Williams said.

“It’s definitely something that I’m going to have to deal with, and knowing that going into the tournament definitely helped.”

World No.3 Osaka pulled out of her Gippsland Trophy semi-final against Elise Mertens, also because of shoulder soreness, while former Australian Open champion Azarenka withdrew from the Grampians Trophy because of a lower back problem.

“It kind of flared up again because I played, like, a lot of matches back-to-back," Osaka said.

“For me, my main focus is hoping I can rest enough before the Open.”

While injuries are part-and-parcel of professional sport, many tennis fans were left fuming over the withdrawals.

Victoria Azarenka, pictured here in action at the Grampians Trophy event.
Victoria Azarenka in action at the Grampians Trophy event. (Photo by PATRICK HAMILTON/AFP via Getty Images)

As tennis commentator Chris Goldsmith pointed out on Twitter, past champions like Martina Navratilova and Steffi Graf hardly ever retired hurt or withdrew from tournaments midway through - a stark contrast to today’s stars.

“They often say success breeds success. In the case of tennis players it's retirements breed retirements,” Goldsmith wrote.

“If Serena doesn’t want to play then Vika doesn’t, then Osaka doesn’t, then lesser known players think it’s easy to follow the top players.

“Tennis Integrity failure again.”

While many pointed out that the Australian Open is the top priority and not the warmup events, many more said fans, organisers and sponsors had the right to feel let down by the withdrawals.

Organisers put on six tournaments last week to give all players who flew into Australia and had to quarantine for 14 days some high-level matches to prepare.

Big guns headline opening day’s action

Osaka, Williams and Simona Halep will all be out to make an early impression as they hit the court on Monday for the opening day of the Australian Open.

World No.1 Ash Barty will cool her heels on the opening day after setting out her stall with a straight-sets Yarra Valley Classic final triumph over Garbine Muguruza on Sunday.

But tournament favourite Osaka, a record-chasing Williams and world No.2 Halep will all look to put down early markers.

Williams has the lingering pressure of securing a record-equalling 24th grand slam victory, but the 39-year-old emphasised it was a burden she was happy to live with.

“It's definitely on my shoulders and on my mind and it's good to be on my mind,” Williams said.

“It's a different burden, I should say, on my shoulders because I'm used to it now and it's more relaxing.”

with AAP

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