Osaka, Azarenka, Williams exits clear tournament logjam

The Australian Open women’s lead-in tournaments have been rocked by the withdrawal of three high-profile players.

After Serena Williams pulled the pin on Friday night, ahead of her Yarra Valley Classic semi-final against Ashleigh Barty, two-time Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka and three-time major winner Naomi Osaka withdrew from their Grampians Trophy and Gippsland Trophy finals, respectively.

Naomi Osaka won the US Open last year. Credit:AP

Osaka’s decision not to play her semi-final against Elise Mertens has allowed the Belgian a smooth progression to the final in her event.

Similarly, veteran Ararenka’s move to pull out after a quarter-final win in the Grampians Trophy – organised specifically to assist those players who were forced into hard hotel lockdown – means Anett Kontaveit is through to the final four.

Not having to play those three women’s matches has helped alleviate a logjam of matches as tennis officials push to complete six different lead-in events at Melbourne Park before the Australian Open starts on Monday.

Tennis great Williams’ decision not to take on world No.1 Barty has robbed the Yarra Valley Classic of a blockbuster finals match-up. The 23-times major champion withdrew with a shoulder complaint.

Barty, set to to play the Australian Open, her first grand slam event in 12 months, receives a walkover to the final, where she will play either Garbine Muguruza or Marketa Vondrousova, of the Czech Republic.

Williams, with another chance in Melbourne to equal Australian great Margaret Court’s mark of 24 majors, had been keenly awaiting the clash against Barty.

“I think it’s definitely a good opportunity to see where I’m going against the current No. 1,” Williams said on Friday before her withdrawal “I think that’s really important for me.

“But, yeah, I think it’s just a new version of players. A lot of them have such a dynamic game, a lot of variety. Like Ash, she has such a good variety in her game. I think it brings a new level of tennis.”

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