Serena Williams shockingly withdraws from Australian Open tuneup with Ash Barty

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MELBOURNE, Australia — Serena Williams withdrew from an Australian Open tuneup tournament citing a right shoulder injury on Friday within hours of setting up a semifinal match against top-ranked Ash Barty.

The 23-time Grand Slam champion usually doesn’t play in a tournament in the week before a Grand Slam event, but made an exception before last year’s U.S. Open and for this Australian Open because of all the disruptions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 39-year-old American was playing her first tournament since withdrawing from the French Open before her second-round match because of an Achilles tendon injury in October. She, like all players traveling to Australia for the tournament, had to quarantine for 14 days and had limited practice during that time.

With the year’s first major starting Monday, Williams may be better resting.

She had three wins at the Yarra Valley Classic — one of six tournaments at Melbourne Park this week — culminating with a 6-2, 4-6, 10-6 win in a match tiebreaker over Danielle Collins on Friday.

The withdrawal came after her post-match news conference — when she made no reference to any issues — so no full explanation was offered.

It means Barty gets a walkover into the final and will also get some rest Saturday.

There were 70 matches on the order of play Friday, an expanded program a day after all matches in six tournaments were postponed so that 160 players and 507 people overall could isolate and undergo testing because a worker at a quarantine hotel returned a positive test. Tennis Australia said all tests were negative.

To speed things up a little at the back end of the tournament, 17 courts were being used and women’s matches were reduced to two regular sets with a 10-point match tiebreaker if required.

Williams and Barty both had to play the match tiebreaker — Barty beat Shelby Rogers 7-5, 2-6, 10-4.

Before withdrawing, Williams said she was looking forward to the semifinals.

“It’s definitely a good opportunity to see where I’m going against the current No. 1, that’s really important for me,” Williams said. “Obviously I think for her, as well, to see where she’s going against my game.

“It’s been a long 12 months. Tennis has been played but not really, so … hopefully this is like a new year where things will be different.”

Garbine Muguruza beat defending Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin 6-2, 6-2 to advance to the semifinals, reversing their result of their 2020 final at Melbourne Park. She will next play No. 8 Marketa Vondrousova.

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