Serena Williams has announced her shock withdrawal from the Australian Open, saying she's not where she wants to be physically ahead of the first grand slam of the year.
Williams' name was missing when Australian Open officials released the preliminary entry list for the tournament on Wednesday.
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And not long after she confirmed the devastating news that she won't be playing at Melbourne Park.
The 40-year-old hasn't played since retiring from her first-round match at Wimbledon in July with a right hamstring injury.
Her ranking has slipped to No. 41 in the world during the long layoff.
Williams won the last of her 23 grand slam singles titles at the 2017 Australian Open, and was beaten in the semi-finals this year by Naomi Osaka in straight sets.
The Australian Open released a statement from Williams saying she made the decision to withdraw “following advice from her medical team."
“While this is never an easy decision to make, I am not where I need to be physically to compete,” Williams told the Australian Open website.
“Melbourne is one of my favourite cities to visit and I look forward to playing at the AO every year.
"I will miss seeing the fans, but am excited to return and compete at my highest level.”
Novak Djokovic and Stefanos Tsitsipas are both on the Australian Open entry list.
Serena Williams is NOT. pic.twitter.com/Ob4xhuMor6
— The Tennis Podcast (@TennisPodcast) December 8, 2021
Fans were left gutted over the realisation that we might have seen Williams in Australia for the last time.
It's kind of sad that's it is now more unusual when Serena Williams plays a major than when she withdraws from one. Still one short of Margaret Court's record, which must drive her nuts. https://t.co/owW2APvgtX
— Andrew Das (@AndrewDasNYT) December 8, 2021
If @serenawilliams is at the end of her competitive career, I'm sad. I'd argue she is the greatest single athlete of my lifetime. She's carried a lot on her shoulders. Grateful we witnessed her excellence, power and grace. ❤✊
— #AbolishPrisons (@Jwd76Dunn) December 8, 2021
I am so so so sad. World greatest @serenawilliams has withdrawn from @AustralianOpen : World No.41 Serena Williams will not contest the women’s draw, with the seven-time AO champion withdrawing following advice from her medical team. @WTA -2-
— Saraya (@Sarayatennis) December 8, 2021
This Serena Williams news is pretty devastating.
— мґ℮η†℮ґ†Ѧ1ηм℮η† (@MrEnterta1nment) December 8, 2021
I’m devastated. Please come back again. 💔
— Not Cheryl Kernot (@notcherylkernot) December 8, 2021
Terrible news!💯 So now what about Venus!?!? Her ranking is low does she have to qualify to get in or wildcard?
— Tristan (@TrishLaVie) December 8, 2021
Not the same without you goat! 😭
— on my goat! (@C4mi13) December 8, 2021
Novak Djokovic on Australian Open entry list
Meanwhile, Novak Djokovic was named on the men’s entry list in a further indication that he’ll be playing at Melbourne Park despite Australia’s strict regulations requiring all players, officials and fans to be fully vaccinated for Covid-19.
Djokovic has declined to comment on his vaccination status in recent months, although he was included last week on the Serbian team for the ATP Cup which starts on January 1 in Sydney.
"Obviously, Australia is just around the corner so you'll know very soon," Djokovic said at the Davis Cup last week.
"I will use the next days to recover and forget about tennis. I am really tired from this season and this whole year.
"I need some family time now and we'll see what the future holds."
The nine-time Australian Open champion is tied with Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal for the men's record of 20 grand slam singles titles.
Nadal is also entered for the Australian Open, which starts January 17, but Federer is skipping the tournament as he continues his recovery from surgery.
Daniil Medvedev, who ended Djokovic's bid for a calendar-year Grand Slam with victory in the US Open final, Alexander Zverev, Stefanos Tsitsipas and Andrey Rublev are all listed above No. 6 Nadal, who is not playing for Spain at the ATP Cup.
Ash Barty tops the women's entry list and will continue her quest to end a long drought for Australian women at the tournament.
No Australian woman has won the singles title since Chris O'Neil in 1978.
On Monday, Bianca Andreescu, the 2019 US Open champion, said she will take a mental break from tennis and sit out the start of next season, including the Australian Open.
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