MELBOURNE - Venus Williams withdrew from the Australian Open yesterday, prolonging her absence from the tennis tour because of an autoimmune disease that can cause fatigue and joint pain.
Williams, a seven-time Grand Slam title winner, announced on Twitter and her website that she wouldn’t play in the year’s first major tournament, which starts next week. She added, though, that she plans to be back in action next month.
Williams hasn’t played competitively since Aug. 29, at the US Open. Two days later, she pulled out of that tournament, revealing that she had been diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome.
“I regret to announce that I am withdrawing from the 2012 Australian Open. After several months of training and treatment, I am making steady progress to top competitive form. My diet and fitness regimen have allowed me to make great strides in terms of my health and I am very close to being ready to return to WTA competition,’’ Williams said in a posting on her website. “I have every intention to return to the circuit in February.’’
The 31-year-old American is a former No. 1 who is 100th in this week’s WTA rankings. She has dealt with a series of health problems, including a hip injury that forced her to withdraw from last year’s Australian Open, and a left knee injury that kept her on the sideline between Wimbledon and the US Open in 2010.
Since reaching the semifinals at the 2010 US Open, Williams has played only 11 matches.
After winning her opener at Flushing Meadows in August - which was Williams’s first match in two months - she withdrew shortly before her second-round match.
“It was just energy-sucking, and I just couldn’t play pro tennis,’’ she said at the time.
Her younger sister Serena, whose 13 Grand Slam titles include five at the Australian Open, badly sprained her left ankle at a tournament in Brisbane this month. It’s not clear whether Serena will be able to play at the Australian.
Caroline Wozniacki and defending champion Novak Djokovic were named the top seeds for the Australian. Tournament organizers stuck to convention and based the seedings on the current WTA and ATP rankings.
Djokovic is followed by 2009 champion Rafael Nadal, four-time champion Roger Federer, and Andy Murray, who has lost the past two Australian finals. Of the top 32 men, only Robin Soderling (No. 13) and Marin Cilic (No. 20) are absent.
Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova is seeded No. 2 and is followed by Victoria Azarenka and Maria Sharapova.
Kvitova can move from No. 2 to No. 1 in the rankings by winning this week’s Sydney International - where nine of the top 10 women are playing, including Wozniacki - but it wouldn’t change the Australian seedings. All the top 32 women have entered the Melbourne draw.
Defending women’s champion Kim Clijsters sustained a hip injury during the Brisbane International last week, but is expected to play.
Clijsters is seeded No. 12, one spot in front of Serena Williams. Williams was unable to defend her Australian title last year due to prolonged injury.
The draw for the tournament will be held Friday.