Seven-time champion Serena Williams has withdrawn from the Australian Open because of concerns about her fitness 4 months after giving birth to her first child.
Williams gave birth to a daughter in September and was intending to return to defend her crown in Melbourne.
However, the 36-year-old, who has won 23 major singles titles, said her fitness was not at the level she had hoped after appearing in an exhibition match last week in Abu Dhabi, where she lost to French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko.
Williams said in a statement;
“After competing in Abu Dhabi, I realised that although I am super close, I’m not where I personally want to be.
“My coach and team always said ‘only go to tournaments when you are prepared to go all the way’.
“I can compete — but I don’t want to just compete. I want to do far better than that and to do so, I will need a little more time.
“With that being said, and even though I am disappointed about it, I’ve decided not to compete in the Australian Open this year.
“The memory of last year’s Open is one that I will carry with me, and Olympia and I look forward to coming back again.
“I appreciate the support and understanding of my fans and everyone at the Australian Open.”
Williams beat older sister Venus in last year’s final before revealing she played the tournament despite being more than two months’ pregnant.
She had been desperate to defend her crown and equal Australian great Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 major singles titles.
Williams’ scratching comes less than 24 hours after Andy Murray withdrew from the men’s event with a chronic hip injury.
Other big stars, including top-ranked Rafael Nadal, six-time champion Novak Djokovic and 2014 winner Stan Wawrinka, also remain under fitness clouds 10 days out from the year’s first major at Melbourne Park.
Williams’ absence, while disappointing for fans and officials, raises the prospect of another first-time major winner making their mark in Melbourne.