PERTH • Serena Williams' preparation for the Australian Open has hit an injury hurdle, with the women's world No. 1 pulling out of yesterday's Hopman Cup matches because of a knee problem.
She was due to face Ukraine's Elina Svitolina in the United States' opening round-robin tie of the mixed-team tennis tournament as she began her 2016 campaign.
The 34-year-old practised on the Hopman Cup courts at Perth Arena yesterday morning, before withdrawing from her scheduled match citing knee inflammation. "I'm disappointed to not take the court in Perth today," she said. "I had every intention to play this morning. Unfortunately due to inflammation in my knee, I need to rest ."
She was replaced by world No. 87 Vicky Duval, who is on the comeback trail after being diagnosed with cancer in 2014.
Her withdrawal helped the Ukraine pairing of Svitolina and Alexandr Dolgopolov record a 2-1 opening win over the US.
Williams was confident that she would be able to play the next tie with Jack Sock against the Australia Gold team of Lleyton Hewitt and Jarmila Wolfe today.
The organisers dismissed suggestions that the presence of Duval in Perth as an emergency player indicated they were aware of concerns over the fitness of Williams.
Williams, who has won 21 Grand Slam singles titles, sat out the tail-end of last season, saying she needed "time to heal" after narrowly missing out on a rare calendar-year Grand Slam.
She won her sixth Australian Open last January and was on target for the coveted calendar-year Grand Slam until she suffered a shock loss to Italian Roberta Vinci in the semi-finals of the US Open in September.
Her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, conceded that Williams' knees were troubling her in November and revealed that she was dealing with similar knee problems to those that have hampered Rafael Nadal's career in recent years.
"It's just playing for so many years, the cartilage is (almost) gone," he said at the time.
"Not all of it, but a big part, so the bones just hit themselves. She has bone bruises, and if you keep on playing with this for too long, too much, the next step is a stress fracture."
Nadal has spent long stints on the sidelines with his knee issues.
Williams had almost two months off after the US Open before returning to the practice courts in November. She arrived in Perth on Saturday, and there were no hints of an injury concern before she pulled out yesterday morning.
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