Serena Williams has announced her return from next month’s Australian Open, extending her absence from the sport she long reigned in.
“I’m not where I need to be physically to compete,” Williams said in an announcement Wednesday. Australian Open released the list of players entered for the 2022 tournament.
Seven-time Australian Open singles champion Williams is now 40 and hasn’t played on the WTA Tour since June 28, when she retired late in the first set of her opening round match at Wimbledon due to a right hamstring injury.
The injury was slowly healing, and it also prevented Williams from competing in this year’s United States Open. Williams did not specifically mention the hamstring injury in her statement on Wednesday, saying only that she had decided to withdraw because of “the advice of my medical team.”
While Williams confirmed his absence, the Australian Open said No 1 men’s singles player Novak Djokovic was included in the event, which is set to begin in Melbourne on 17 January.
Victoria’s state government requires that all players be fully vaccinated in order to compete, and Djokovic has declined in recent weeks to reveal his vaccination status or confirm whether he will compete at the Australian Open. where he has won nine singles titles. But he is on the admissions list, only a week after his father described the need for vaccination as “these blackmail and conditions” and suggested that his son not play.
Williams said she was “excited to return and compete at her highest level,” but it is unclear when she will be able to achieve that goal.
Williams, ranked 41, hasn’t won a Grand Slam singles title in nearly five years: She captured the Australian Open in January 2017 when she was two months pregnant with her daughter, Olympia. She returned to tour in 2018 after the birth of Olympia and notably reached the singles finals of Wimbledon and the United States Open in 2018 and again in 2019.
But although he has won his only Tour title since his return to Auckland, New Zealand in January 2020, he has struggled to keep up the pace. She has shown glimpses of strong form, returning from a five-month pandemic hiatus on the tour in 2020 to reach the semi-finals of the US Open, where she lost in a three-set duel against Victoria Azarenka. At this year’s Australian Open in February, Williams arrived in Melbourne in excellent physical condition and was impressive in the opening round but lost in straight sets to Naomi Osaka in the semifinals.
The Australian Open has been the scene of some of Williams’ biggest successes. In 2003, she won her fourth straight Grand Slam singles title in Melbourne. In 2005, she saved three match points in the semi-finals in a classic match against Maria Sharapova and defeated Lindsay Davenport in the final. In 2007, she was unseeded in the tournament and swept for the title. In 2017, she won when she got pregnant without dropping a set.
But it is now unclear whether she will return to the tournament where she has won seven of her 23 Grand Slam singles titles: one less than Margaret Court’s record.