Venus Williams has withdrawn from the Australian Open in a heartbreaking development for the 42-year-old veteran. The American champion had been granted a wildcard to play in the grand slam at Melbourne Park, starting on January 16.
However organisers announced on Saturday that she had been forced to withdraw due to an undisclosed injury suffered at the ASB Classic in Auckland. Australia's Kim Birrell has been granted a wildcard as a result of Williams' withdrawal.
The 2023 Australian Open would have been Williams' 22nd appearance at the event. The 42-year-old has won seven grand slam singles titles and made the final at the Australian Open twice, famously losing to sister Serena in the 2017 decider while Serena was pregnant. She also lost to her sister in the final in 2003.
Williams is now ranked 1003rd in the world after a run of misfortune. She last played at the Australian Open in 2021 when she injured an ankle and knee when stumbling awkwardly at the net in a second-round match against Sara Errani.
Williams has struggled with injuries over the last two years and played just four tournaments in 2022, which all came in the US last August. She lost in the first round at all four events and ended her season after being beaten by Alison van Uytvanck at the US Open.
Her 2023 season started on a bright note when she beat fellow American Katie Volynets in Auckland. She then lost to China’s Zhu Lin in three sets in the second round before her injury came to light.
Williams said she was looking forward to the Australian Open when she was granted a wildcard in December. "I am very excited to be returning to Melbourne to compete at the Australian Open in January," she said.
"I've been competing in the country for over 20 years now and the Australian community has always supported me wholeheartedly. It will be an honour to play for the fans again and I'm looking forward to making more memories at the tournament this year."
Fans took to social media to express their disappointment at her withdrawal on Saturday.
Carlos Alcaraz out of Australian Open as well
Williams' withdrawal came just hours after men's World No.1 Carlos Alcaraz also announced he was out of the Australian Open. The 19-year-old, who won his maiden grand slam title at the US Open last year, said he suffered a hamstring injury during pre-season training.
"I had worked a lot to reach my best level in Australia. Unfortunately I won't be able to play either the Care A2+ Kooyong (warm-up event) or the Australian Open," Alcaraz posted on social media. "It is a hard moment, but I have to be optimistic, recover and look ahead. See you in 2024 Australian Open."
The Spaniard had only just recovered from a torn abdominal muscle that ruled him out of the season-ending ATP Finals and Davis Cup Finals. He added: "When I was at my best in pre-season, I picked up an injury through a chance, unnatural movement in training. This time it's the semimembranosus muscle in my right leg."
His withdrawal means countryman Rafa Nadal is the new No.1 seed for the year's first grand slam. It also sees World No.5 Novak Djokovic move up on spot in the draw, cementing his place as the short-priced favourite to win his 10th title at Melbourne Park and 22nd major overall.
However the Serbian star is dealing with an injury issue of his own after picking up a hamstring complaint at the Adelaide International on Saturday night. Djokovic took a medical timeout and left the court, but was able to overcome Daniil Medvedev 6-3 6-4 to advance to the final.
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