HONG KONG (AFP) - Defending champion Caroline Wozniacki and world No. 4 Elina Svitolina both withdrew from the Hong Kong Open with injuries on Thursday, leaving the WTA event devastated after a spate of pre-tournament pullouts and early big name exits.
A tearful third seed Wozniacki appeared on centre court just after her second-round match against Lizette Cabrera had been due to start to announce she had injured her elbow in practice.
"I want to apologise to everyone who came out today to watch this match," said an emotional Wozniacki, who won the title on the same court 12 months ago.
"I did everything I could possibly to get ready for today," she told the crowd.
"But unfortunately I hurt my elbow during practice and there's just no way I could perform my best out here today.
"Unfortunately I have to withdraw from the tournament," she added choking back tears.
Top seed Svitolina earlier withdrew from her last-16 match against Nicole Gibbs, citing a right groin strain sustained during a mammoth, 3hr 21min quarter-final defeat in Beijing last week to the eventual champion there, Caroline Garcia.
"I picked up the injury a little bit in Beijing," she said. "It's the groin. All the time when I go for wide shots or stretch I feel it."
Ukraine's Svitolina and Denmark's Wozniacki both have one eye on this month's lucrative WTA Finals in Singapore, where the top eight will battle it out for a massive US$7 million (S$9.5 million) prize fund.
"I will probably do some scans now to see how it is, because you know I have Singapore," admitted Svitolina. "It's a tough decision because I really wanted to play here."
The top seed's withdrawal means her second-round opponent, American world No. 114 Nicole Gibbs, receives a walkover into the quarter-finals.
Th Ukrainian has been enjoying the best season of her career, winning five times on the WTA Tour in Taipei, Dubai, Istanbul, Rome and Toronto while breaking into the top 10 for the first time and hitting a career-high ranking of No. 3.
She now has just 10 days to recover her fitness before the top eight singles players of the season battle it out in the WTA Finals in Singapore.
Her exit is just the latest to affect the tournament, which was rocked before it started by the pullouts of three big names.
US Open champion Sloane Stephens cried off with an injury after losing in the first round in both Wuhan and Beijing, her only appearances since her Flushing Meadows triumph.
British world No. 10 Johanna Konta also cancelled her trip because of a foot problem, while France's 13th-ranked Kristina Mladenovic opted out with a knee injury.
Of the star players that did show up at Victoria Park, second seed Venus Williams was sent packing in her second-round match in straight sets on Wednesday by Japanese starlet Naomi Osaka, 19.
And she was swiftly followed by fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, beaten in three sets by the resurgent former US Open champion Sam Stosur.