Defending champion Serena Williams has withdrawn from the Australian Open, saying she is not ready to return to tournament tennis.
The season’s first major starts on Jan. 15 at Melbourne Park and seven-time Australian Open champion Williams will be missing it for the first time since 2011.
Williams was pregnant with her first child when she won here last year to collect her Open-era record 23rd Grand Slam singles title.
The four-time Olympic gold medalist gave birth to her daughter, Alexis, in September.
Williams played in an exhibition tournament last week in Abu Dhabi and indicated after her loss to French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko that she might not make it to Melbourne.
“After competing in Abu Dhabi I realized that although I am super close, I’m not where I personally want to be,” Williams said in a statement released Friday by Australian Open organizers.
“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 36-year-old Williams needs one more Grand Slam singles title to equal the all-time record held by Margaret Court, who won 24 titles before and during the Open era.
Her withdrawal comes less than 24 hours after fellow former world No.1 Andy Murray withdrew from the men’s event with a chronic hip injury.
Several other stars, including top-ranked Rafael Nadal, six-time champion Novak Djokovic and 2014 winner Stan Wawrinka, also are dealing with injuries.
Williams last year beat sister Venus Williams in the final, and later revealed she played the tournament despite knowing she was pregnant.
Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley said Williams waited as long as she could before letting organizers know she wouldn’t be able to compete.
“I’ve been in constant contact with Serena and her team and know this is why she has pushed it and pushed it until the 11th hour to make her final decision,” Tiley said.
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