Tennis bits: Simona Halep withdraws at Sydney as Garbine Muguruza advances; Del Potro wins on return

World No 3 Simona Halep cited illness for withdrawing from the Sydney International on Tuesday as Spanish rising star Garbine Muguruza notched an impressive win over Agnieszka Radwanska.

Simona Halep addresses a press conference on Tuesday after pulling out of the Sydney International with an illness. Dan Himbrechts / EPA / January 13, 2015
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WTA Sydney

World No 3 Simona Halep withdrew from the Sydney International on Tuesday after being struck down with gastroenteritis.

The Romanian top seed was scheduled to face Karolina Pliskova in her opening match, but pulled out citing the illness ahead of next week’s Australian Open in Melbourne.

Halep, who had a breakthrough year in 2014, reaching the final at Roland Garros and the Wimbledon semi-finals, was using the Sydney event as her final lead-in to the opening grand slam of the year.

She said she became unwell in Shenzhen in China last week where she beat Swiss Timea Baczinszky in the final.

“I got this problem with my stomach during the tournament in China. I feel like I cannot play,” Halep said.

“I was waiting till today to see if I’m ready or not, but I really cannot play. It’s tough to start the tournament, and I decided to retire because I think it’s the best way.”

Halep said she expected to recover over the next few days ahead of her fifth tilt at the Australian Open, where she reached the quarter-finals last year.

The other Sydney matches continued on Tuesday, with Spanish rising star Garbine Muguruza notching an impressove victory over world No 6 Agnieszka Radwanska after dropping the first set 3-6, 7-6 (7/4), 6-2.

The 21-year-old will be tasked either with fifth-seeded world No 9 Angelique Kerber or upstart world No 187 Daria Gavrilova, who play later Tuesday, in the quarter-finals.

Pliskova, meanwhile, faced replacement Nicole Gibbs and cruising to a double bagel 6-0, 6-0 against the overwhelmed world No 97.

She will meet Carla Suarez Navarro in the quarter-finals after the world No 17 beat sixth seeded world No 10 Ekaterina Makarova 4-6, 6-1, 6-4.

World No 67 Tsvetana Pironkova, following up a win over Flavia Pennetta, also reached the last eight after opponent Madison Keys retired. She’ll match up with Barbora Zahlavova Strycova in the quarters after the Czech defeated Sam Stosur in straight sets.

Also playing later for quater-final spots on Tuesday are Peng Shuai and Petra Kvitova, and Dominika Cibulkova and Jarmila Gajdosova.

ATP Sydney

Juan Martin del Potro savoured the thrill of being on court again by winning his first match in 10 months since wrist surgery at the Sydney International on Tuesday.

The giant Argentine, who is defending his Sydney title on a wildcard after his ranking sank to 338 due to his inactivity, had a 6-3, 7-6 (7/4) win over Ukraine’s Sergiy Stakhovsky.

It set up the 2009 US Open champion and one-time world No 4 with a second-round encounter with Italian top seed Fabio Fognini.

Just to be playing again was a triumph for Del Potro after going under the knife last March on his left wrist, which forced him off the tour.

“It was a great moment for me. I think I played well to be in my first match after 10 months,” he said.

“I served well. My forehand is still working out. So that’s a good sign for the future.

“I need to work very hard to my backhands and my movements, but I think now is time to think about my comeback and enjoy this moment a lot,” he added.

“I have been at home for a long time, really sad. To be honest, I didn’t expect this moment to be early in the season. I’m so happy, so glad.”

Del Potro’s playing career has been sidetracked by wrist problems since he beat Roger Federer in the final at the US Open six years ago, and he is taking his comeback slowly.

“I have to go very slowly, tournament by tournament. But if I play like 15, 20 tournaments that will be a great season for me,” he said.

“Just staying healthy for all the season will be great for me. I’m making a schedule, but a shorter one.”

Del Potro, who still needs one hour of treatment before and after each match, said it had been “horrible” sitting at home in Buenos Aires watching tennis on television.

“I think for all the players watching the big tournaments on TV is really bad,” he said.

“I’m supposed to be there playing with these guys, looking at trying to win a grand slam again. But I was at home trying to fix my wrist.”

After breaking Stakhovsky in the third game of the match, Del Potro barely dropped a point on serve before taking the opening set in 31 minutes.

He was again untroubled on serve in the second set, but needed a tiebreaker to clinch victory after one hour and 21 minutes.

In Tuesday’s other first-round ties, Bernard Tomic, Pablo Andujar, Mikhail Kukushkin, Vasek Pospisiland Jeremy Chardy were all straight-sets winners.

Later Australian Sam Groth is set to face Gilles Muller and compatriot Nick Kyrgios will meet Jerzy Janowicz.

ATP Auckland

The Auckland Open first round continued on Tuesday, where New Zealander Michael Venus scored a win for the locals in an upset over Alejandro Gonzalez.

World No 426 Venus dropped the first set 5-7 against the world No 109 Gonzalez, but won the second set 6-3 and finished off the surprise victory with a 7-6 (9/7) third-set tiebreak triumph.

Elsehwere Albert Ramos cruised by Paolo Lorenzi in straight sets in a matchup between the World Nos 61 and 60, and Jiri Vesely also beat Thomaz Bellucci in straight sets in a meeting of World No 63 v 62.

Veseley will face second-seeded Ernests Gulbis, who had a bye, in the second round.

Diego Schwartzman and Donald Young will also face off in the second round after both managed three-set victories on Tuesday, and Pablo Carreno-Busta dusted off rising Croatian teenager Borna Coric 6-4, 6-3.

Qualifier Kenny De Schepper of France also knocked out the tournament’s sixth seed, Santiago Giraldo, 6-2, 6-3.

It was another relatively big-name loss for the tournament, which had seen David Ferrer, John Isner and Gael Monfils all pull out prior to it beginning.

WTA Hobart

The Hobart International saw three players advance to the quarter-finals on Tuesday morning with one match to go in the day.

Most notably, Heather Watson of Britain made it three singles wins in a row, knocking off American fifth-seed Sloane Stephens in a convincing 6-3, 6-1 win.

The 22-year-old world No 49 has won her last three, including her first-round match in Hobart and her last tie against Casey DellAcqua at the Hopman Cup, after dropping her first two singles Hopman Cup matches to Agnieszka Radwanska and Alize Cornet.

She meets Italian veteran world No 44 Roberta Vinci in the quarters, after Vinci defeated Annika Beck in three sets.

Japanese Kurumi Nara also booked her last eight place with a 7-6 (7/1), 6-4 win over Johanna Larsson.

Camila Giorgi will face Kaia Kanepi later on Tuesday.

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