Naomi Osaka has pulled out of Australian Open, and is the third big name to withdraw over the past couple of days, with World No 1 Carlos Alcaraz and Venus Williams also both withdrawing, while there is speculation over the fitness of both women’s World No 1 Iga Swiatek and Emma Raducanu.
Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from the Australian Open. We will miss her at #AO2023. Dayana Yastremska moves into the main draw. AO Organisers
Osaka is a two-time winner of the Australian Open, and now will be replaced by Dayana Yastremska from Ukraine in the main draw.
It has been a troubling year for the 25-year-old Japanese, whose last appearance on the match court came last September when she was forced to withdraw ahead of her match against Beatriz Haddad Maia due to illness.
That withdrawal came in the 2nd-round in Tokyo after she had won her opening match when Australia’s Daria Saville withdrew after just one game with a knee injury.
Osaka had won only one completed match since May, and was beaten in the 1st-round of her 3 previous tournaments, including the US Open, at which she also is a two-time champion.
Speculation over her impending absence from the first Grand Slam of the year was fuelled when Osaka did not enter any warm-up events ahead of the tournament.
Last week she posted pictures on social media of a trip to Europe with her American rapper boyfriend Cordae and, as a result, had been considered unlikely to play in the first Grand Slam of the season.
The Japanese has now dropped down to No 42 in the WTA rankings, and the timing of her return to action remains unclear.
Organisers finally confirmed in a tweet on Sunday that Osaka, the AO champion in 2019 and 2021, will not be playing in Melbourne, posting: “Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from the Australian Open. We will miss her at #AO2023. Dayana Yastremska moves into the main draw.”
The Australian Open, which starts on 16 January, has already lost several leading players, including Alcaraz in the men’s field, who pulled out Saturday with an ankle injury.
Simona Halep, the 2018 runner-up in Melbourne, is not playing this year because she is currently suspended from the tour after a positive drug test at the US Open, while Venus Williams has handed back her wild-card invitation after suffering an injury while practicing in Auckland.
Williams is a 7-time Grand Slam singles champion, who last played at Melbourne Park in 2021.
Her appearance would have been the 42-year old’s 22nd major at Melbourne Park, but AO organisers confirmed on Saturday that she had withdrawn from the tournament.
Her latest unspecified injury continues a run of misfortunes for Williams, who reached the final in Melbourne twice, losing both to her sister, Serena Williams, in 2003 and 2017.
Now ranked No 1,003, Williams said when granted the wild card in December that she was excited to be returning to Melbourne.
“I’ve been competing in the country for over 20 years now and the Australian community has always supported me wholeheartedly,” she said.
The five-time Wimbledon singles champion has struggled with injuries over the past two years, and was restricted to playing just 4 tournaments in the US last August.
She did not progress beyond the 1st-round in those events, and ended her season when beaten by Alison van Uytvanck at the US Open, but she started 2023 on a positive note by defeating fellow American Katie Volynets in Auckland before being beaten by China’s Zhu Lin in 3 sets in the 2nd-round.
The Australian Open is already short of some of its star players following the retirements of Serena Williams and Roger Federer last year.
Meanwhile, Britain’s Emma Raducanu has decided to fly to Melbourne despite her injury setback after turning her ankle against Viktoria Kuzmova in the 2nd-round of the 2023 ASB Classic in Auckland.
After receiving a medical time-out and getting her ankle heavily strapped, Raducanu was forced to retire from the match, and left the court in tears at the disappointment.
The hope is that she has only sustained a minor sprain that will heal in time for her to compete at the Australian Open in a week’s time.
Raducanu’s injury is just the latest in a string of setbacks that she has struggled during her first full-time year on tour.
After spending two months in the gym improving her conditioning and stamina, Raducanu arrived in Auckland fully ready and prepared for the next season but then suffered the freak injury on a slick indoor court after matches had been forced indoors due to persistent rain.
“It’s difficult to take,” she said afterwards. “I’ve put a lot of physical work in the last few months and I’ve been feeling good and optimistic.
“So to be stopped by a freak injury, rolling an ankle is pretty disappointing, in the first week as well.
“I thought I was playing some pretty decent tennis.
“The courts are incredibly slick, like very slippery, so to be honest it’s not a surprise that this happened to someone.
“It’s out of my control and after a very long day of waiting around.”
If she is fit for the Australian Open, it will be her second appearance at Melbourne Park.
Last year, she defeated Sloane Stephens in the 1st-round match before losing to Danka Kovinic.
Elsewhere, top-ranked Swiatek pulled out of Adelaide International 2 WTA 500 tournament, which starts on Monday, because of a shoulder injury sustained during the recent United Cup.
After dominating play representing Poland and leading her nation to the semi-finals of the new mixed team competition in Sydney, Swiatek was left in tears after a shock 6-2 6-2 defeat at the hands of Jessica Pegula from the USA.
It was her worst performance in terms of games won since losing in Dubai in 2021, as she suffered a heavy straight sets loss to an opponent she had beaten in all 4 prior meetings in 2022.
Later, Swiatek shook off her distress, admitting she had felt ‘helpless’ against Pegula and felt bad having lost while representing her country.
“Because I just knew that I felt kind of helpless today, because physically and mentally I wasn’t able to kind of show up even, and problem-solve,” Swiatek said. “So it’s always hard when you lose, especially when you’re, kind of, playing for the team and your country.
“So I was just sad. But, you know, it’s not the first time I cried after a lost match. Nothing special!”
Her subsequent withdrawal from Adelaide with a right shoulder issue has given rise to concerns but the hope is that Swiatek can shake both this and her loss in time for the season’s first major next week.