Serena Williams has joined a growing list of absentees at the Australian Open in January, citing medical advice from her team.
I’ve been working hard on and off court, doing everything I possibly can to get ready for January. The first few weeks of preseason are always tough physically. I am proud I was able to finish the year at No 1, especially after the challenging and unpredictable season. Ash Barty
Williams was a semi-finalist in 2021, defeating Aryna Sabalenka and Simona Halep before falling to eventual champion Naomi Osaka.
A left knee injury then side-lined her until the clay season, but the 23-time Grand Slam winner returned in Paris where she reached the fourth round of Roland Garros.
An ankle injury forced her to retire six games into her first-round Wimbledon clash with Aliaksandra Sasnovich and, since then, the 40-year-old has not played a match, opting out of the US Open because of with a right hamstring injury and her ranking slipping to No 41.
“Following the advice of my medical team, I have decided to withdraw from this year’s Australian Open,” Serena said in a statement on Wednesday. “While this is never an easy decision to make, I am not where I need to be physically to compete.
“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.”
Williams won the last of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles at the 2017 Australian Open, her 7th at Melbourne Park, while her last title came at Auckland in 2020.
Ash Barty heads the women’s AO field featuring all of the world’s top 40, as she continues her quest to end the long drought for Australian women in Melbourne, with the last Aussie to win the title being Chris O’Neil in 1978.
Barty won the coveted WTA Player of the Year Award for the second time in recognition of the 25-year old’s stellar season, which is voted on by members of the international media.
She built a 42-8 win-loss singles record and won a tour-leading five titles, including her stunning Wimbledon triumph, where she become only the third Australian to claim the ladies’ singles title at the All England Club.
The Aussie progressed to the quarter-finals or better in 9 of the 13 tournaments she contested for the year and held the No 1 ranking for the full season.
“I’ve been working hard on and off court, doing everything I possibly can to get ready for January,” Barty said last week after returning to training. “The first few weeks of preseason are always tough physically.
“I am proud I was able to finish the year at No 1, especially after the challenging and unpredictable season,” related Barty, who experienced her longest-ever stint on tour.
“Being away from home for so long was really tough for not only me but my whole team, everyone made sacrifices which I’m very grateful for.
“We went into 2021 knowing it was going to be an adventure and it definitely was, I wouldn’t change it.”
Osaka, the defending champion, is expected to return to action and will target a fifth career major singles title, while reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu will make her AO debut, with the British teenager up to a career-high ranking of 19.
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, .
“Hi everyone. As you all know, the last two years have been very challenging for me for a variety of reasons,” Andreescu wrote. “Especially this year in particular, I spent multiple weeks in isolation quarantining, which affected me greatly – both mentally and physically. In addition, my grandmother spent several weeks in the ICU for a COVID infection, something that really hit me hard.
“A lot of days, I did not feel like myself, especially while I was training and/or playing matches. I felt like I was carrying the world on my shoulders. I could not detach myself from everything that was going on off the court; was feeling the collective sadness and turmoil around and it took its toll on me.
“I want to give myself extra time to re-set, recover, and grow from this [as cliche as that sounds] and continue to inspire by doing charity work, giving back and working on myself because I know by doing this, I will come back stronger than ever.
“I will therefore not start my season in Australia this year, but will take some additional time to reflect, train, and be ready for the upcoming 2022 tennis season.”
Andreescu, the 2019 US Open champion, finished her 2021 season ranked 46.
After sitting out the 2020 season due to injury, the Canadian, a former World No 4, played her first match in more than a year at the Australian Open in February.
Less than two months later, she was into a WTA 1000 final at the Miami Open, where she scored wins over Garbiñe Muguruza and Maria Sakkari before retiring in the final against World No 1 Barty.
The 21-year old made one quarter-final during the rest of the season.
She announced a split with coach Sylvain Bruneau in June and brought on veteran coach Sven Groeneveld ahead of the summer hard-court season, which yielded a solid Round of 16 showing at the US Open.
Andreescu finished her 2021 campaign with a third-round loss to Anett Kontaveit at Indian Wells.