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Second big-name withdraws from Sydney

AAP logoAAP 7/01/2017 Matt Encarnacion

Two of her main rivals were big-name withdrawals, but Svetlana Kuznetsova has every intention of playing as many matches as she can in Sydney.

For the second year in a row, two leading contenders of the Sydney International pulled out on tournament eve within hours of each other as preparations ramp up for the Australian Open.

Recently-crowned Brisbane International winner and world No.6 Karolina Pliskova cited a thigh injury, while world No.14 Elina Svitolina had a viral illness.

"I've had constant headaches for the last two days and unfortunately in today's hot weather it got even worse when I was warming up and my body wasn't ready to compete," Svitolina said.

Held a week before the main event in Melbourne, the biggest tennis tournament in the harbour city has often been cruelled by players opting to prepare for the grand slam.

But for defending champion Kuznetsova, who set up a possible round two meeting with Samantha Stosur with a straight sets win over Irina-Camelia Begu, a busy lead-up to Melbourne is key.

"I always felt like at the start of the year, I need a lot of matches," she said after her 6-1 6-4 win on Ken Rosewell Arena on Sunday.

"Always in Auckland, I couldn't win one match. One match was my maximum. I was playing horrible and then I came here and (matches) gave me confidence. So it's important.

"Our sport, it's very individual. For some people, they like to relax. For me, I like to play.

"I don't mind. I've stayed in Australia and other parts of the world. I love it here but still, I'm not coming here to visit interesting places. I'm coming here to play and I want to play matches."

In other first-round matches, former Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard ended a four-month drought with a hard-fought 7-6 (7-1) 6-2 win over China's Zhang Shuai.

Rising Kazakh talent Yulia Putintseva progressed after Belinda Bencic retired when she was trailing 6-4 3-2, while Daria Kasatkina came from behind to beat Timea Babos 3-6 6-4 6-2.

Australia's top two females, Stosur and Daria Gavrilova, are set to play on Monday, while top seeds Angelique Kerber and Agnieszka Radwanska have first round byes.

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