Tennis bits: Simona Halep wins on return in Sydney; Eugenie Bouchard battles into quarters at Hobart

Jiri Vesely’s hopes of defending his Auckland Classic title disappeared in the first round on Tuesday when he was bundled out in straight sets by eighth-seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain.

Simona Halep of Romania plays a forehand in her match against Caroline Garcia of France during day three of the 2016 Sydney International at Sydney Olympic Park Tennis Centre on January 12, 2016 in Sydney, Australia. (Photo by Matt King/Getty Images)
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World No 2 Simona Halep overcame a nagging Achilles problem to beat Caroline Garcia of France at the Sydney International on Tuesday ahead of next week’s Australian Open.

The Romanian withdrew from the Brisbane International last week because of the injury, which also affected her 2015 campaign, and she called the trainer during her second-round match.

Halep, who was given a first-round bye, said the pain was coming and going but she produced some of her best tennis in the deciding set on the way to a 6-4 2-6 6-1 victory that set up a quarter-final against Czech fifth seed Karolina Pliskova.

The 24-year-old is one of four leading women players heading to the Australian Open, which begins in Melbourne on Monday, under an injury cloud.

World No 1 Serena Williams (knee), fifth-ranked Maria Sharapova (arm) and number three Garbine Muguruza (foot) all withdrew from matches in the last week.

Halep said before the clash with the 34th-ranked Garcia she was fit but she looked anything but during her medical time out after the Frenchwoman stepped up the aggression to take the second set.

Halep, though, shrugged off the complaint to storm through the third set, reeling off five straight games and recording her first win of the year when Garcia netted a straightforward mid-court forehand.

World No 7 Angelique Kerber has pulled out of the Sydney International with a gastro-intestinal illness, the latest in a string of withdrawals to hit the Australian Open warm-up.

Organisers announced the German’s withdrawal on the tournament’s Twitter account.

The 27-year-old won her opening match of the tournament on Monday, defeating Ukraine’s Elona Svitolina 4-6 6-0 6-3, after coming off a runner-up finish at the Brisbane International on Saturday.

Defending champion Petra Kvitova also pulled out of the tournament with a stomach bug and world number five Agnieszka Radwanska withdrew with a left leg injury.

Eugenie Bouchard battles into quarters at Hobart

Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard struggled for form but managed to win through to the quarter-finals of the Hobart International on Tuesday.

The former world number five, whose ranking has dipped to 47 after a fall at the US Open scuppered the end of her 2015 season, fought through to down Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck 6-4, 7-5.

While Bouchard took under an hour to breeze past American Bethanie Mattek-Sands in Monday’s first round, she was taken to 12 games in the second set against the 44th-ranked Van Uytvanck.

“(I’m) happy I fought and pulled through, she’s a tough player and can hit some big shots,” Bouchard said.

“I just felt my timing was a bit off and my serve was definitely not there so at least I pulled through.

“I definitely want to be able to play better than that.

“I really had to fight and stay calm and not get too negative.

“So many things go into a match like this that they’re good to pull out of victorious.”

Bouchard, 21, who reached the semi-finals of the 2014 Australian and French Opens before playing in the final at Wimbledon in the same year, suffered a big setback at the US Open last September.

Defending champ Jiri Vesely makes early Auckland exit

Jiri Vesely’s hopes of defending his Auckland Classic title disappeared in the first round on Tuesday when he was bundled out in straight sets by eighth-seed Roberto Bautista Agut of Spain.

On a rain-disrupted second day that saw no matches completed during the day session, Bautista Agut made up time in the evening by taking just 76 minutes to dispose of Vesely 6-3, 7-5.

Former tournament champion Philipp Kohlschreiber of Germany had the worst of the rain disruptions, though he managed to turn it to his advantage.

He was trailing compatriot Benjamin Becker 0-30 in the first game when the rain sent the players off the court and they did not resume until nearly six hours later when Kohlschreiber claimed a 7-6 (10/8), 6-3 victory.

He said the long weather disruption made it a tough day.

“You eat, you wait and you try to relax as much as you can. We had a very short start on Centre Court, but for everybody it was a very long day,” he said.

“The start was slow, he served very well in the beginning and we didn’t have long rallies, but overall, there were some very good points in the match.”

Jet-lagged Feliciano Lopez beats injured Gilles Simon at Kooyong

Spain’s Feliciano Lopez fought off jet lag to open the Kooyong Classic with a 6-7 (4/7), 6-4, 11-9 comeback win over an injury-hampered Gilles Simon on Tuesday.

Despite Simon’s abdominal injury, Lopez had to save four match points before prevailing against the world number 15 from France.

Simon’s camp said the problem stemmed from a shoulder injury from September, resulting in a compensated serving action which had strained his abdominal muscles.

“But besides this problem, I’m fine,” Simon said at the tournament in Melbourne, a week before the year’s opening Grand Slam. “I hope to get this better and play well in the Australian Open.”

Nicolas Almagro became the second Spaniard to advance as he beat France’s Paul-Henri Mathieu 7-5, 6-3, rallying from 3-5 down in the first set and winning five games in a row during his fightback at an event expanded this year to a dozen players.

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