AN OVERZEALOUS pedicurist has been fingered for disrupting the Australian Open preparation of defending champion Victoria Azarenka, who withdrew from Friday night's Brisbane International semi-final against Serena Williams after a minor medical procedure to remove an infected piece of nail from her right big toe.
Azarenka claimed to have suffered toe pain for the past 10 days, the last few while on antibiotics, before deciding to act to give herself the maximum recovery time before the Australian Open. Thus, the latest rematch between the US Open finalists was postponed for at least a fortnight and Williams advanced directly to Saturday night's final against either Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or lucky loser Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine.
Azarenka hopes to resume hitting within two days, while claiming to be confident there will be no impact on her grand slam preparation. ''No, I'm not concerned about that. For me it's important that the procedure has been done and the worst already passed by,'' said the 23-year-old, who explained her situation to the crowd on Pat Rafter Arena, then hit some autographed balls into the stands.
Operation ... Victoria Azarenka expects to be back on court soon. Photo: AFP
''It just got infected from a bad pedicure experience. I had somebody who gave me infection. Actually the doctor said it happens a lot … They cut a little bit too much and it got infected. And then from as much as we do, as much exercise, it's just been jamming into it and it's created an infection inside, created a little piece of nail to go in and always be hurting me.''
Azarenka said the procedure had been a last resort, after medication and taping failed. ''It's just something that I had to do to make sure that I can be fully recovered and ready for Australian Open.''
Injury concerns have now afflicted both the top seeds for the January 14 to 27 grand slam, with world No.2 Maria Sharapova withdrawing before her opening match in Brisbane due to an inflamed collarbone.
But, for Brisbane, it is nothing new. Last year, it was Kim Clijsters who suffered an injury blip ahead of her Australian Open title defence: she was forced to retire during the second set of her semi-final against Daniela Hantuchova with a hip problem. Williams had damaged her ankle ligaments two rounds earlier, and, clearly less than 100 per cent recovered, failed to reach the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park.
The 15-time grand slam champion, who suffers from chronic foot issues and had minor surgery before Christmas, said she could empathise with Azarenka. ''It sucks. I had that toe problem just a couple weeks ago and it's painful … You can't walk with that. I hope she gets better fast.''
Once told of the walkover, Williams returned to the practice court and then the gym, before her 62nd career final. ''I've played three matches, so I feel really good for this tournament, and I'm happy to be in the final.''
The withdrawal thwarted the first real power play of the women's summer, for Azarenka will be the top seed at Melbourne Park and Williams the title favourite. The American has won 11 of the pair's 12 contests, including all five last season.