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Serena Williams withdraws from Australian Open

Serena Williams beat her sister, Venus, to win the Australian Open in January 2017. She took time off after the tournament to give birth to her first child. Reuters/Jason Reed

Serena Williams pulled out of the Australian Open on Friday after conceding she was not in title winning form. The American claimed the women's singles crown last January by beating her older sister Venus in the final.

Once she had hoisted her 23rd Grand Slam singles trophy, she revealed that she was pregnant with her first child.

Soon after the birth of her daughter Alexis Olympia, 36-year-old Williams said she would start the preparation to defend her title in Melbourne.

But after an exhibition match in Abu Dhabi on 30 December against the French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko, Williams admitted she needed more time before returning to the intensity of WTA Tour action.

"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.'"

Williams added: "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.

"The memory of last year's Open is one that I will carry with me. Olympia and I look forward to coming back again."

It is the second blow for the Australian Open organisers in as many days. On Thursday, the former world number one Andy Murray withdrew from the event in order to continue his recovery from a hip problem that has forced him off the circuit for six months.

Six-time Australian Open champion Novak Djokovic is also a doubt for the tournament. The 30-year-old Serb, who has not played competitively since an elbow injury led to his withdrawal from Wimbledon in July, said he would test his arm at matches next week.

The men's world number one Rafael Nadal is expected to take part even though he pulled out of the Brisbane International tournament.