Madrid Open 2016: Simona Halep is last top-10er standing as Azarenka pulls out injured

Victoria Azarenka pulls out of the Madrid Open due to injury to leave Simona Halep as the last top 10 seed standing

Victoria Azarenka, world No5 courtesy of a resurgent season that has claimed 26 wins to just one loss and an unbroken 16-match run through Indian Wells and Miami, was forced to withdraw from her third-round match in Madrid today with back injury.

For the prestigious Mutua Madrid Open Premier Mandatory, this is the latest in a catalogue of woes this week.

Before the tournament began, world No1 Serena Williams pulled out with illness, and Maria Sharapova is currently suspended for failing a doping test. Also out was another former champion Venus Williams, and then two of the tour’s favourites, Belinda Bencic and former finalist Caroline Wozniacki, also pulled out injured.

The way was clearing for the fourth active champion Petra Kvitova to defend her title, but an abdomen strain kept her below her best, and she lost in the third round to the young talent from Australia, Daria Gavrilova. But she was not the only seed to crash out: She was the 12th—and the tournament is only half way through.

The top two seeds Agnieszka Radwanska and Angelique Kerber were beaten in their first matches, while home favourite and No3 seed Garbine Muguruza lost in her second.

Lucie Safarova pulled out with illness as other seeds lost early, such that Simona Halep, ranked No7, who beat Timea Bacsinszky today, and the No11-ranked Carla Suarez Navarro, who will attempt to join Halep in the quarter-finals when she plays Sam Stosur this evening, are the only remaining seeds from the 16 who began the tournament.

Azarenka talked to the media about the reason for her withdrawal.

“Unfortunately in my first match I think I tweaked my back a little bit. It was really cold, and think it’s much easier to get a little bit hurt when it’s that cold.

“And the second match obviously I was in a lot of discomfort. Having a day off I thought it was going to get better. Today before my tennis warm-up it did feel better, but once I started hitting it came back. [So] I don’t feel that I’m able to compete today. Just trying to make smart decision for a big picture.”

She went on: “I don’t really have a particular answer why it happened. There could have been couple of things. I’d been really sick the week before that. I’m just trying to make the test, make sure there is nothing serious, and try to treat it as best as possible.
“My plan is to be ready for Rome: See how it goes. Really going to take it day by day and make sure my body is ready.”

Her withdrawal hands qualifier Louisa Chirico, the youngest player left in the tournament, to take up her first quarter-final place in a Premier event, where she will face Gavrilova. Chirico is one of three qualifiers left standing: Patricia Tig plays Madison Keys for a quarter-final place and Laura Siegemund, who came through qualifying to reach the final of Stuttgart a fortnight ago, plays Sorana Cirstea.

Halep’s win ensures that a Romanian woman will be in the semi-finals as she will next play Irina-Camelia Begu, who followed up her victory over Muguruza with another three-set win, this time over Christine McHale, 6-7(6), 6-4, 6-4.

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