Serena Williams will not play another match in 2018 after pulling out of next week’s China Open in Beijing to stay home in the United States.
The decision to end her successful return to the tour following childbirth means the controversial defeat to Naomi Osaka in the US Open final will be Williams’ last on-court appearance of the year.
It is the fourth consecutive year that the 23-time grand slam champion will not appear in the late-season Asian swing, including when she was on maternity leave in 2017
Speculation that Williams, who turned 37 on Wednesday, could end her season early had simmered among tennis fans when October speaking engagements were revealed.
Serena is not slowing down…look at the month of October pic.twitter.com/wXcAqdcveU
— All Things Serena (@all_serena) September 18, 2018
We know she ain't going😏.
— IamZee😉 (@naaadom) September 18, 2018
$10 says Serena doesn’t play Beijing
— Team Williams (@GrandSlamSeason) September 20, 2018
I love her…but she's not gonna show. She always signs up for those small ones and then bails. I'd love to see her play there
— Oni Banks (@EmpressOni) September 7, 2018
The spell at home will also allow Williams more time with her husband Alexis Ohanian and daughter Olympia.
She will now return to the court for the Australian Open in January, but there could be a spicy appearance before the first grand slam of the year.
Osaka, the rising Japanese star who won her first major title when she defeated Williams in New York, was this week confirmed as the first women’s player to sign up for the Brisbane International.
Following that coup, Fairfax Media reported that tournament officials are chasing Williams for a first visit since she won the tournament in 2014.
The odds of an Osaka-Williams rematch would be relatively high in comparison to a grand slam – the main draw features just 30 players, one of the smallest events on the WTA calendar.
With the new year still months away, however, Williams is yet to commit to a schedule to begin her 2019 season.
The American made three consecutive appearances in Brisbane from 2012 to 2014, winning twice, before switching to the exhibition Hopman Cup in Perth for 2015 and 2016.
In 2017, when she played while in the early stages of pregnancy, Williams began her year in Auckland before winning the Australian Open.
A rematch with Osaka would be hotly anticipated after Williams was dominated by her young rival in the US Open final, before it descended into a farce.
The American set off a wave of discussion when she incurred three different violations over the course of a bizarre second set in her straight-sets defeat: first for on-court coaching, then smashing her racket in frustration and finally for verbal abuse toward chair umpire Carlos Ramos.
That last violation incurred a game penalty for Williams, an extraordinarily rare action for Ramos to take in a grand slam final.
Over the course of the fiasco, Williams demanded an apology from the umpire for accusing her of cheating, called him a thief for stealing a point from her, argued with officials and reached the point of tears.
She was graceful during an awkward trophy ceremony for her opponent but later said she would not have received the game penalty if she was a man, and claimed she was fighting for women’s equality.
World No.1 Simona Halep this week became the latest women’s tennis star to speak out on the divisive issue of sexism in tennis, saying she sees no difference with the way men and women are treated on the tour.
“The rules are the rules,” Halep told CNN Sport in an interview at the Wuhan Open in China.
“I don’t see any difference between the men’s rules and women’s rules, and I think the chair umpires are doing just their jobs.”