BRISBANE, Australia - Alizé Cornet edged through her first match of the 2018 season when compatriot Caroline Garcia was forced to retire, 3-6, 6-3, ret. at the Brisbane International.
"I've always had some issues with my back," Garcia said after the match. "It was going better, and of course with the flight it was a little bit more sore than normal, but it was ok. At the beginning of the match I felt a pain in my lower back and it was different than it is normally. It was getting worse and worse and in the end I couldn't really move. There was no point to keep going."
"I'm very sorry for Caroline," Cornet said during her on-court interview. "I know what it's like to have back pain, I hope she recovers for the next tournament in the Australian Open. I cannot say I'm glad to be through this way, but the adventure continues for me. Last year, I had a super run to the final and I have very good memories. I hope to go as far as possible."
Cornet began 2017 on a high note when she surged into the final of this event last year - falling to future World No.1 Karolina Pliskova in the championship match.
"I almost didn't exist in the final because Pliskova played amazing, so it was a frustrating match, but at the same time, it feels so far away because this tournament is so strong and every match is difficult. I'll try to have fun and play the best I can.
"The off-season was really good. I practiced really well; I had a month in total where I worked really hard. The goals are just to win as many matches possible to get back to the Top 20, where I used to be. But I'm taking it step by step, and having fun and staying injury-free are the most important things."
Garcia enjoyed a thrilling end to last season by capturing back-to-back titles at the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open and the China Open, clinching last-minute qualification to the BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore presented by SC Global, where she reached the semifinals.
Cornet failed to take a set in either of their last two meetings - including a fourth round encounter at Roland Garros - but dug deep to force a final set as Garcia began to fade physically.
"I will take some rest and with the physio I will improve as fast as I can. But right now I don't know much."
Taking a medical timeout before the decider, Garcia attempted a serve but appeared clearly hampered, surrendering the match after 82 minutes on court.
"With the back it's always complicated. Especially mine it's really something I take care of, so it's kind of surprising for it to show up like this. But we'll do the best that we can.
Despite the somber finish, the Frenchwoman still managed to have some fun with the crowd, noting the interviewer's thick Australian accent after struggling to understand one of his questions.
Up next for the 27-year-old is 2017 Australian Open semifinalist Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who won the first match of the season earlier in the day over Germany's Tatjana Maria.