A shoulder injury has ruined a potential match-up between Serena Williams and Ash Barty at the Yarra Valley Classic.
Williams announced she was withdrawing from the Australian Open warm-up tournament on Friday evening, scuppering the chance for fans to see her take on world no.1 Ash Barty before the season opening grand slam begins on February 8.
Barty earned free passage to the grand final thanks to Williams’ exit, which was revealed just a few hours after she earned a 7-5 2-6 10-4 comeback win over American Shelby Rogers.
Williams had defeated fellow American Danielle Collins 6-2 4-6 10-6 in her all-US quarter-final.
The decision to withdraw from the tournament came just hours after Williams’ victory over Collins. announced by the WTA on Twitter.
“Serena Williams has withdrawn from the Yarra Valley Classic singles draw due to a right shoulder injury," their post read.
Serena Williams has withdrawn ahead of her semifinal at the Yarra Valley Classic due to a right shoulder injury.
Ashleigh Barty receives a walkover into the final.
— WTA Insider (@WTA_insider) February 5, 2021
Williams had earlier said she was looking forward to facing Barty in the lead-up to the Australian Open.
"It's going to be great for me and for her," Williams said.
"She's obviously the crowd favourite and whenever I'm not playing against her, I'm rooting for her.
"So it's going to be a good match. I feel great. I think I have nothing to lose going into that match."
Ash Barty earns strong Australian Open draw
Barty will launch her Australian Open assault against world No.77 Danka Kovinic while the draw hasn't been overly kind to Australia's leading men's hopes.
Women's top seed for the second year running, Barty could face compatriot Daria Gavrilova in the second round at Melbourne Park.
If she makes the second week, as she has done the past two years, world No.1 Barty's first big test is likely to come against 16th seed Petra Martic in the fourth round.
Former world No.1 Karolina Pliskova or 11th seed Belinda Bencic could be lurking in the quarter-finals, with defending champion Sofia Kenin looming as the projected semi-final opponent for Barty.
Kenin ended Barty's campaign at the same stage last year after the Queenslander became the first local woman since Wendy Turnbull in 1984 to reach the Open semi-finals.
Other heavyweights in Barty's half of the draw include two-time Open champion Victoria Azarenka and fifth seed Elina Svitolina.
All in all, it's an inviting draw for Barty - not that she's getting carried away.
"The depth in women's tennis is exceptionally strong. There are certainly no easy matches," she said.
"I think everyone is in a little bit of the same boat in the sense it's a start of a new season, not many matches under our belts, but I think that can bring out the best in you sometimes.
"You have to fight and scrap and find a way to get through those tough matches to get yourself a chance to continue to improve and get another opportunity to play."
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