MELBOURNE/WASHINGTON, December 8, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)
Serena Williams has withdrawn from the Australian Open, her second straight Grand Slam, saying “I am not where I need to be physically to compete.”
Wednesday’s news of the 40-year-old American’s withdrawal came at the same time as the release of the Australian Open list of entered players for the upcoming 2022 tournament in Melbourne, the year’s first major. Headlining the women’s list is World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty while the men’s list is topped by World No. 1 Novak Djokovic.
“Following the advice of my medical team,” Williams said in a statement released by the Australian Open, “I have decided to withdraw from this year’s Australian Open. While this is never an easy decision to make, I am not where I need to be physically to compete. Melbourne is one of the favorite 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.”
All our love, @serenawilliams 💙
— #AusOpen (@AustralianOpen) December 8, 2021
Once a Melbourne ruler, Williams now a bystander
In a storied career in which she has won 23 Grand Slam titles, Williams has won the Australian Open singles crown seven times. She last won the Melbourne title in 2017 at age 35, when she was two months pregnant with her daughter, Olympia. After her maternity leave, Williams returned to competition in 2018 and reached the Wimbledon and US Open singles finals that year and the US Open again in 2019. At this year’s Australian Open, Williams advanced to the semifinal round before losing to Naomi Osaka in straight sets. Her last title of any kind came in Auckland, New Zealand in January 2020.
More recently, Williams has not played on the WTA Tour since June 28, when she retired from her first-round match at Wimbledon against Aliaksandra Sasnovich at 3-all in the first set because of an injury to her right hamstring. It turned out to be her 18th and final match of the 2021 season, which covered just six tournaments. Ranked eighth at the time, Williams’ world ranking has plummeted to No. 41 due to her inactivity.
The only other player besides Williams in the WTA Top 100 to not enter the Australian Open is No. 46 Bianca Andreescu, who on Monday announced via social media that she was taking a mental health break from tennis and would return sometime after the Australian Open.
Djokovic tops men’s Australian Open entry list
Meanwhile, the Australian Open said that Novak Djokovic, the men’s No. 1 singles player, is entered in the year’s first major that begins in five-and-a-half weeks on January 17. As recently as last weekend, during the Davis Cup Finals in Madrid, the 34-year-old nine-time Australian Open titlist declined to reveal his vaccination status or confirm whether he would play in Melbourne and compete for a record-breaking 21st major championship. The Victoria state government is requiring all players to be fully vaccinated in order to compete.
Among the men’s Top 100, World No. 16 Roger Federer and World No. 82 Stan Wawrinka are missing from the entry list.
Like Williams, Federer last played at Wimbledon and lost in the quarterfinal round to Hubert Hurkacz. Since then, Federer underwent surgery to repair a meniscus in his right knee and to treat some damaged cartilage. Wawrinka, who won the 2014 Australian Open men’s title, is also recovering from surgery.
However, Rafael Nadal, who won the 2009 Australian Open and is currently ranked sixth, is expected to compete for the first time since August at the Citi Open, and 2020 Australian Open finalist Dominic Thiem is due back after a six-month hiatus to heal a wrist injury.
Barty leads women’s Australian Open field
World No. 1 Ashleigh Barty leads a women’s field that features all of the current world’s Top 40 players. The WTA Player of the Year, who won her second Grand Slam this year at Wimbledon, will attempt to become the first Australian in 44 years to win an Australian Open singles title. The last Australian woman to win it was Chris O’Neil in 1978.
Also, defending champion Naomi Osaka, currently ranked 13th, is entered and expected to return after being idle since losing in the third round of US Open, while reigning US Open champion Emma Raducanu, currently ranked 19th, will make her Australian Open debut.