Naomi Osaka and Victoria Azarenka withdrew from their respective tournaments on Saturday due to injuries.

Osaka, a three-time grand slam champion, opted out of her Gippsland Trophy semi-final against Elise Mertens.

Azarenka, meanwhile, was due to face Anett Kontaveit in the Grampians Trophy quarter-finals.

Osaka said her move was a cautious one ahead of the Australian Open, which begins on Monday.

"Sorry to Tennis Australia and the fans to have to withdraw today," she said, via the WTA.

"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."

It continues what has been a difficult build-up to the first grand slam of the year.

On Friday, Serena Williams withdrew from her semi-final at the Yarra Valley Classic due to a right shoulder injury.

It comes amid a busy schedule for players after Thursday's action was called off due to a coronavirus scare.

Serena Williams has withdrawn from her semi-final at the Yarra Valley Classic due to an injury to her right shoulder.

As a result, home favourite Ash Barty will progress to the final of the Australian Open warm-up event at Melbourne Park.

Williams, who is chasing an eighth Australian Open crown and an historic 24th grand slam singles success, had been in impressive form this week, demolishing Tsvetana Pironkova in straight sets.

Friday's quarter-final against American Danielle Collins proved a harder slog, as she was forced into a match tiebreak to win 6-2 4-6 10-6.

An anticipated showdown against Barty will now not come to pass, with the world number one to pursue a ninth career title against either Garbine Muguruza or Marketa Vondrousova.

"I think the rust is always there for everyone the first few matches of the season. But without a doubt, I felt better and better each match," Barty told reporters after being taken the distance by Shelby Rodgers.

"Each match has been very different, different challenges, different things I've had to overcome, which is the best thing, to be able to work through those and give myself another chance to play a little bit better the next day, focus on some new challenges for the next day."

Williams is due to face Germany's Laura Siegemund in the first round of the Australian Open on Monday.

Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic could face Dominic Thiem in a mouth-watering semi-final after being handed a tough path to success at Melbourne Park, where Serena Williams will continue her quest for a 24th grand slam singles title.

The Australian Open draw took place on Friday, with world number one Djokovic set to play Frenchman Jeremy Chardy in the opening round of the year's first major tournament.

Amid coronavirus concerns in Melbourne, where Swiss great Roger Federer is absent, Djokovic has set his sights on a ninth crown and 18th major success, but the top seed's title defence is far from straightforward.

Djokovic could face Gael Monfils (fourth round) and sixth seed Alexander Zverev (quarter-final) en route to a possible semi-final against US Open champion and third seed Thiem.

The Serb overcame Thiem in a five-set thriller in last year's Australian Open final, before the latter broke through for his maiden major trophy at Flushing Meadows.

Djokovic could then meet second seed and 20-time major champion Rafael Nadal in a blockbuster final – he blitzed the Spanish superstar in the 2019 Australian Open decider but lost in three one-sided sets in their previous meeting in the French Open final.

Nadal will go head-to-head with another Serb in the first round – Laslo Djere – while Stefanos Tsitsipas could await in the quarters, with 2019 US Open final opponent Daniil Medvedev also on the same side of the draw.

Meanwhile, Williams' bid for a record-equalling 24th slam will begin against German Laura Siegemund.

The 39-year-old Williams has been stuck on 23 majors since winning the Australian Open in 2017 – losing finals at Wimbledon (2018 and 2019) and the US Open (2018 and 2019).

World number one and local hope Ashleigh Barty will meet Montenegro's Danka Kovinic in round one and defending champion Sofia Kenin faces Australian wildcard Maddison Inglis.

The last 16 could see Williams clash with Aryna Sabalenka, Barty meet Petra Martic, Kenin tackle Johanna Konta and three-time major champion Naomi Osaka do battle with last year's runner-up Garbine Muguruza.

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said there were no plans to change the schedule for the major amid coronavirus concerns.

More than 500 players and officials were forced into isolation after a worker at an Australian Open quarantine hotel tested positive for COVID-19.

It led to play at lead-up events in Melbourne on Thursday being called off and sparked fears around the year's first grand slam, which is scheduled to begin on Monday.

But Tiley is hoping play is back underway on Friday and said he expects the Australian Open to start as scheduled.

"The intention is to start the Australian Open on Monday so there's no intention of changing the time for the Australian Open," he told a news conference.

Tiley added: "We're absolutely confident the Australian Open is going to go ahead.

"We know that we've got a period now that we've got to work through with those 507 players and their staff, 160 players actually, that need a test and we fully expect the probability is very low that there's going to be any issue.

"We fully expect them all to test negative and then we continue with play tomorrow like we originally planned and if we have to go through this again we'll continue to go through this again and we've got another three and a half weeks of tennis, we've got a lot of tennis to play and fully expect to keep the original schedule once we get past today."

The draw for the Australian Open was pushed back to Friday, while crowds are still expected to be in attendance for the major.

Serena Williams roared into the quarter-finals of the Yarra Valley Classic with a 6-1 6-4 victory over Tsvetana Pironkova on a star-studded day of action in Australia.

The 23-time grand slam champion was in fine form at Melbourne Park, where the biggest names in women's tennis were competing across multiple tournaments, as she sealed a straight-sets triumph to continue her preparations for a shot at an eighth Australian Open title.

In doing so the 39-year-old extended her head-to-head record over the Bulgarian to 6-0 and was delighted to get the job done.

"It's definitely nice to get another win," the American said during her on-court interview.

"She's clearly a great player, so it wasn't easy, but it was good to come through."

Speaking at her media conference, Williams added: "Last time it was an incredible three-set match, so today I was like, 'All right, let's really try and focus and learn to do better than last time.'"

World number one Ash Barty had a less straightforward path to the last eight, requiring three sets to see off Marie Bouzkova.

The home hope ultimately prevailed 6-0 4-6 6-3, with second seed and reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin also taken the distance in a 5-7 7-5 6-2 win over Jessica Pegula, as Nadia Podoroska dug deep to down Petra Kvitova 5-7 6-1 7-6 (9-7).

With Barty now set to face Shelby Rogers, Danielle Collins awaits Williams having impressively defeated third seed Karolina Pliskova 7-6 (7-5) 7-6 (7-3), while Garbine Muguruza overcame Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-1 6-2 to set up a meeting with Kenin.

In the Gippsland Trophy, the top three seeds all dodged upsets, with two-time grand slam winner Simona Halep, 2019 Australian Open victor Naomi Osaka and 2018 Tour Finals champion Elina Svitolina safely navigating through the last 16.

Fifth-seeded Briton Johanna Konta failed to convert two match points as she succumbed to a 4-6 7-6 (12-10) 7-6 (7-4) defeat to Irina-Camelia Begu.

Meanwhile, at the Grampians Trophy there were wins for Anett Kontaveit, Jennifer Brady and Angelique Kerber.

World number one Ash Barty won her first WTA Tour match in almost a year at the Yarra Valley Classic, while Naomi Osaka got her Gippsland Trophy campaign going with a victory.

Barty sat out the vast majority of the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic but marked her comeback with a 6-3 6-3 success over Ana Bogdan at Melbourne Park.

The Australian will face Marie Bouzkova next after the Czech defeated Aliona Bolsova on Tuesday.

Garbine Muguruza raced past Alison Van Uytvanck 6-2 6-0 and she was joined in the third round by Petra Kvitova, who battled to beat Venus Williams 7-6 (8-6) 7-5.

Reigning Australian Open champion Sofia Kenin, who was 7-5 up when Camila Giorgi retired from their match, is also through.

In her first match since winning the US Open in September, Osaka cruised to a 6-2 6-2 success against Alize Cornet and will meet Katie Boulter after the Briton came from a set down to beat Coco Gauff 3-6 7-5 6-2.

Iga Swiatek was also making her first appearance since winning a major title – the French Open last October – and after a slow start won 10 of the final 11 games to beat Kaja Juvan 2-6 6-2 6-1.

Aryna Sabalenka ended 2020 with back-to-back titles in Ostrava and Linz, before kicking off the new year with another trophy in Abu Dhabi. However, her run of 15 straight victories ended with a 1-6 6-2 1-6 loss to Kaia Kanepi.

Bianca Andreescu was due to gear up for the Australian Open by contesting the Grampians Trophy this week but withdrew from the competition to focus on training instead.

Serena Williams and Simona Halep started the season with straight-sets victories in Melbourne a week before the Australian Open gets under way.

Williams and Halep played in an exhibition event with a crowd of 4,000 watching on in Adelaide last Friday and they were back in competitive action three days later.

Legendary American Williams beat Daria Gavrilova 6-1 6-4 to move into the third round of the Yarra Valley Classic.

The fifth seed struck 27 winners to 15 unforced errors on Margaret Court Arena as she set up a meeting with Tsvetana Pironkova, who ousted Donna Vekic 1-6 6-4 6-2.

Williams said: "It was a good match for me. It wasn't easy at all. It was lots of rallies and lots of movement, and she's from here, so she obviously always plays hard. So it was really good and it felt good to clinch that in the end."

Third seed Karolina Pliskova, Petra Martic, Danielle Collins and Marketa Vondrousova also advanced to the last 16 on Monday.

Elsewhere, top seed Halep is through to the third round of the Gippsland Trophy following a 6-4 6-4 win over Anastasia Potapova.

Halep hit 23 winners and broke twice in each set in what was her first official match since October.

Elina Svitolina, the third seed, beat Andrea Petkovic 6-1 6-4, while Coco Gauff, Ekaterina Alexandrova and Jelena Ostapenko were among the other winners seven days prior to the start of the first grand slam of 2021.

Naomi Osaka would be prepared to spend another two weeks in quarantine to be able to play at a "very special" Olympics in Tokyo.

Postponed due to the coronavirus pandemic, the Games are scheduled to begin on July 23 this year.

This year's Australian Open will begin on February 8 after players quarantined ahead of the first grand slam of the year.

Osaka said she would be prepared to do it all again if it meant she got the chance to play at the Olympics.

"Honestly, my concern isn't the athletes. The way that I feel is I will stay in my room for two weeks to play the Olympics. I missed out on the last one," the Japanese star told a news conference on Sunday.

"Playing in Tokyo would be very special to me. My concern would be the general safety of everyone else because you're opening the country.  Everyone is flying in from different places. I would just want the public to feel safe.

"I feel like the athletes definitely would want to play, but I would want the public to feel safe."

Doubts have also been cast over the Olympics going ahead this year due to COVID-19.

Osaka, a three-time major champion, said while people she had spoken to were excited, some were worried.

"For me the people that I've spoken to, they're really excited about it, but they're concerned because, I don't know, there's just like so many different people entering. I don't know," she said.

"For the people I've talked to, they said as long as everyone is safe, as long as Japan is getting better and not worse, then it should be okay.

"But for me, hmm, don't quote me on that."

Ahead of the Australian Open, Osaka is playing the Gippsland Trophy, where she will face either Alize Cornet or Ajla Tomljanovic in the second round.

The Australian Open is set to welcome up to 30,000 spectators each day when the tournament begins on February 8 in Melbourne.

Local officials have given the go-ahead for fans to head to Melbourne Park, predicting a near-normal atmosphere when action begins at the year's first grand slam.

Last year's US Open was contested behind closed doors in New York, while only 1,000 paying fans were allowed at Roland Garros on each day of the 2020 French Open.

However, the COVID-19 crisis has been tightly managed in Australia, to the point where it was reported on Saturday that there had been no new local cases in the state of Victoria for 24 days.

The crowds will be split between day and evening sessions, and the number of fans allowed will drop to 25,000 for the final six days of the tournament, when fewer courts will be in operation.

Saturday's announcement means the event will be capped at around 50 per cent of capacity.

Tournament director and Tennis Australia chief executive officer Craig Tiley said it had taken "a massive team effort" to accommodate the arrival of around 1,000 players and officials into the country, with all required to spend two weeks in quarantine.

Victoria sports minister Martin Pakula said on Sky News Australia: "On Rod Laver Arena, as we get towards the end of the tournament, we'll have an incredible atmosphere – not that different to the atmosphere we've seen in all the Opens in the years past.

"That's really a testament to the work Victorians have done to get our numbers to zero but also the extraordinary work that Craig and the team at Tennis Australia has done."

 

Serena Williams and Rafael Nadal agreed it was great to be playing in front of busy grandstands again as tennis stars emerged from lockdown in Australia.

The women's and men's tennis tours have been contested largely behind closed doors over the past year, and a number of tournaments, most notably Wimbledon, have been cancelled due to the COVID-19 crisis.

The Australia public has given a cautious welcome to the arrival of the world's leading players, who have been quarantining in hotel rooms for much of the past fortnight, only allowed to briefly leave in order to train.

Ahead of the Australian Open, which begins on February 8 in Melbourne, Williams and Nadal are among a star-studded set of players who travelled to Adelaide to feature in the 'A Day at the Drive' exhibition event.

They both scored victories on Friday, with Williams defeating US Open champion Naomi Osaka 6-2 2-6 10-7 and Nadal snatching a 7-5 6-4 win over Dominic Thiem.

The delight in both at seeing crowds at a tournament was plain, with Williams saying in an on-court interview: "Thanks everyone for having us. We haven't played in front of a crowd in over a year. It's been a really long time."

In fact, it has not quite been a full year since the tours locked down initially, as it was early March when most tournaments began to be called off, with crowds frozen out.

Williams said the reception made the difficult past fortnight, being hidden away from the world, worth the strain for the players.

"This is really cool and then for having us and trusting us with your laws was great," said the 23-time grand slam winner. "We were so excited to be here and it's worth it."

Nadal said he was "super happy" to still be playing at the highest level and back in front of Australian crowds.

The pandemic has been carefully managed to the point where very few have the virus and it is considered safe to allow crowds into sporting events in the country.

Nadal said: "Hopefully this situation will go away quick and we will be able to enjoy fans on court [around the world].

"We're super excited to have fans at the Australian Open and today."

That optimism and excitement was shared by men's world number one Novak Djokovic, who played just one set against Jannik Sinner due to a problem with blisters on his right hand.

Eight-time Australian Open champion Djokovic told fans: "Thank you so much for coming out and making our day and making our year.

"We didn't play in front of this much crowd for 12 months. This is definitely something very special.

"It wasn't easy, obviously, with 14 days being constrained in the room and a few hours to train, but at the end of the day it was worth it because you guys made it very special today for us."

Novak Djokovic has denied he was being "selfish, difficult and ungrateful" in making suggestions for easing quarantine restrictions ahead of the Australian Open.

Djokovic came in for criticism after it emerged he had sent Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley a list of potential ways for lockdown conditions to be improved for players who are under a strict lockdown in Melbourne.

Less than three weeks before the first major of the year gets under way, 72 players are consigned to their hotel rooms due to positive coronavirus tests on their flights to Melbourne.

World number one Djokovic does not have to adhere to such stringent rules in Adelaide, as he arrived on a virus-free flight.

The 17-time grand slam champion was labelled a "tool" by Nick Kyrgios after he was said to have asked for less time in isolation for players, requested they are given private housing with access to training courts, and better food.

Djokovic responded on Wednesday by stating that he was only trying to look out for his fellow players and expressed his gratitude to tournament organisers, the Australian government and the people of Melbourne.

He posted on social media: "My good intentions for my fellow competitors in Melbourne have been misconstrued as being selfish, difficult and ungrateful. This couldn't be farther from the truth

"I genuinely care about my fellow players and I also understand very well how the world is run and who gets bigger and better and why.

"I've earned my privileges the hard way and for that reason it is very difficult for me to be a mere onlooker knowing how much every help, gesture and good word mattered to me when I was small and insignificant in the world pecking order.

"Hence I use my position of privilege to be of service as much as I can where and when needed."

The Serb added of his correspondence with Tiley: "In our email exchange I used an opportunity to brainstorm about potential improvements that could be made to the quarantine of players in Melbourne that were in full lockdown.

"There were a few suggestions and ideas that I gathered from other players from our chat group and there was no harm intended to try and help.

"I was aware that the chances were low that any of our suggestions would be accepted, just like my request to quarantine with my team in Melbourne instead of Adelaide was denied prior to our travel because of the strict government regulations.

"I understand that organising international sporting events during a pandemic poses health risks to the local community and to the players themselves.

"Therefore, I would like to express my full gratitude to Tennis Australia, the Australian Government and local citizens for being willing to take this risk with us for the love of the game and the multiple opportunities it brings to the economy of the country and its people.

"We are honoured and we will all do our best to follow the guidelines and protocols put in place. We do hope that we will be able to nurture our bodies and be ready for the mental and physical endurance and strength tests that are ahead of us once the competition starts.

"Things in the media escalated and there was a general impression that the players [including myself] are ungrateful, weak and selfish because of their unpleasant feelings in quarantine. I am very sorry that it has come that because I do know how grateful many are.

"We all came to Australia to compete. Not being able to train and prepare before the tournament starts is really not easy. None of us ever questioned 14 days of quarantine despite what is being said by media outlets."

Victoria Azarenka called for greater understanding from players stuck in hotel quarantine ahead of the Australian Open.

After being exposed to coronavirus on flights, 72 players – including Azarenka – have been forced into a two-week quarantine ahead of the tournament beginning on February 8.

Novak Djokovic reportedly made several requests, which were rejected, of officials for players in quarantine, while Roberto Bautista Agut compared the conditions to prison.

But amid complaints on social media, two-time Australian Open champion Azarenka pleaded for players to be more understanding in a measured statement.

"Dear players, coaches, entourage and Australian community. I would like to take a moment and address some of my colleagues as well as the media around the world," the Belarusian wrote on Twitter.

"This has been a very difficult time for a lot of us that did not expect to end up in the situation we are in today, myself included. To be in a 14-day hard quarantine is very tough to accept in terms of all the work that everyone has been putting in during their off-season – to be prepared for playing our first grand slam of the year. I understand all the frustration and feeling of unfairness that has been coming and it is overwhelming.

"We have a global pandemic, nobody has a clear playbook of how to operate at full capacity and without a glitch, we all have seen it last year. Sometimes things happen and we need to accept, adapt and keep moving.

"I would like to ask all my colleagues for cooperation, understanding and empathy for the local community that has been going through a lot of very demanding restrictions that they did not choose, but were forced to follow.

"I would like to ask to be sensitive as well to the people who have lost their jobs and loved ones during this horrible time for all of us around the world. I would like to ask all of us to have respect for people who work tirelessly to try to make our lives easier.

"I would like to ask the media to please have consciousness on the impact and influence you bring to this situation and to the community. I would like for the people in the community to know and understand that we have it as our top priority to ensure the health [and] safety of all the people.

"Lastly, I would like for us to please try to support each other as much as someone can or is willing to. Things are always easier when you have a compassionate environment and work together."

Victoria endured tough restrictions after a second coronavirus wave last year.

On Tuesday, the state recorded its 13th consecutive day of no locally acquired cases of COVID-19.

Roberto Bautista Agut labelled the quarantining of players ahead of the Australian Open a "complete disaster", comparing it to prison.

After being exposed to coronavirus on flights to Australia, 72 players are in hotel quarantine for two weeks ahead of the tournament starting on February 8.

Players have hit out at the conditions, although tournament director Craig Tiley insisted on Tuesday most were happy to be in Australia.

But world number 13 Bautista Agut slammed the position players had been put in.

Told he looked like he was in prison, the Spaniard told Sport5: "It's the same, it's the same, with Wi-Fi.

"These people have no idea about tennis, about practice courts, has no idea about anything, so it's a complete disaster because of that, because the control of everything.

"It's not Tennis Australia, it's the people from the government."

Victoria on Tuesday recorded its 13th consecutive day of no locally acquired coronavirus cases, with three of the four in hotel quarantine linked to the Australian Open.

Bautista Agut, a 2019 quarter-finalist at Melbourne Park, said two weeks in quarantine would be difficult.

"I did work in the room but it's not the same," he said.

"I was feeling very, very tight and I cannot imagine staying two weeks like this. It's really, really tough."

Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley defended Novak Djokovic, saying the world number one had provided "suggestions", not demands.

With 72 players forced into quarantine for two weeks after being exposed to coronavirus on flights, Djokovic reportedly made demands regarding their conditions.

Among them, the eight-time Australian Open champion reportedly asked for players to be moved to private houses with tennis courts, with his requests rejected.

But Tiley played down the reports, saying Djokovic had simply made suggestions.

"Novak wrote a note, these weren't demands, these were suggestions," he told Channel 9 on Tuesday.

"But he too is understanding what two weeks of lockdown means."

Tiley also backed the players despite reports and social media posts suggesting they were unhappy about being forced into quarantine.

"Last night we spent quite a bit of time with the playing group going through a number of different items because they've just been here for a few days getting used to this quarantine environment," he said.

"I have to say on that call there were about 500 players and the vast majority are happy to be here, pleased to be here and really getting ready in the next two weeks to be able to get out and play in the lead-in events and then play the Australian Open on February 8.

"I think the reports we're reading and the things we're seeing doesn't represent the entire playing group. For the most part, they've been pretty good."

With the preparations of 72 players so far impacted by quarantine, there have been suggestions the Australian Open be changed to a best-of-three sets format in the men's draw.

But Tiley said he had no plans to make such a drastic change.

"We're a grand slam at the end of the day and right now three out of five sets for the men and two out of three sets for the women is the position we plan on sticking to, starting February 8," he said.

© 2023 SportsMaxTV All Rights Reserved.