Top-ranked Caroline Wozniacki and Vera Zvonareva crashed out of the Sydney International on Tuesday, leaving them short of vital match practice ahead of next week’s Australian Open.
Danish world number one Wozniacki was knocked out by Slovakia’s 32nd-ranked Dominika Cibulkova 6-3, 6-3 in one hour 40 minutes and was followed out of the tournament by Russian Zvonareva on a rain-interrupted day.
Second-ranked Zvonareva fell to Italian Flavia Pennetta 7-5 7-5, leaving US Open champion third-seeded Kim Clijsters as the highest-ranking seed left in the tournament.
Clijsters cruised into the quarter-finals with a 6-1, 6-4 victory over Czech Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.
While Clijsters was contemplating a match against seventh seed Victoria Azarenka, Wozniacki and Zvonareva were hastily arranging extra practice to make up for their lack of match play heading into Monday’s season-opening Grand Slam.
“At the start of the new season you always need to get into the match play,” Wozniacki said.
“I didn’t feel that I was playing great tennis out there. So I definitely now just need to get some sets going and some training matches, head to Melbourne and get ready.
“Last year I had the same start, so hopefully slow start, good finish.”
Zvonareva said she struggled to adapt to the windy wet conditions after arriving late Sunday from Hong Kong.
“I think I will get the chance to play some more points and practice sets against other girls before I start in Melbourne,” she said.
“That should be enough. I’m pretty confident about that.”
While Wozniacki and Zvonareva have their problems, it was a much smoother start to the season for Belgium’s Clijsters.
“I’m starting my matches well, and I feel that I’m really getting into a groove from the beginning of the match,” she said.
“It’s an important feeling to have, knowing that you can start off well and really kind of build from there.”
Clijsters said she feels confident heading into Melbourne after playing two matches in Sydney following her exhibition win over Wozniacki in Thailand.
“I feel good, I feel fit,” she declared.
“I think that’s obviously something that adds a lot to your confidence if you feel good out there, when you have no small problems or you don’t feel that physically you’re struggling with any injury, you feel fine.”
Azarenka eased into the last eight with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Israel’s Shahar Peer.
China’s Li Na won her second match of the tournament, accounting for French qualifier Virginie Razzano, 6-4, 1-6, 6-4 and will next play former French and US Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova.
The Russian came back from dropping the opening set to beat home favourite and fourth seed Samantha Stosur, 3-6, 6-3, 6-4.
Russian Alisa Kleybanova will take on Cibulkova in the quarters after overcoming Spaniard Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez 6-2, 6-4.