Serena Williams' decision whether to defend her Australian Open title four months after giving birth to her first child was never about merely being able to play at Melbourne Park. The seven-time Australian Open champion confirmed Friday she wouldn't attempt to defend the title she won here last year, saying she wasn't convinced she could win it. Williams played in an exhibition tournament last weekend in Abu Dhabi to test her match condition, and indicated after her loss to French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko that she might not travel 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 Friday. "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."
Williams was pregnant when she won at Melbourne Park last year, her Open-era record 23rd Grand Slam singles title. She gave birth to her daughter, Alexis Olympia, in September. The 36-year-old Williams needs only one more major title to equal the all-time record held by Margaret Court, who won 13 of her 24 Grand Slam titles before the Open era began in 1968.
With Serena Williams out, the women's singles title at Melbourne appears to be wide open. No. 1-ranked Simona Halep and No. 3 Caroline Wozniacki are bidding to win their first Grand Slam singles titles. Also in the mix will be No. 2-ranked Garbine Muguruza, last year's Wimbledon winner, U.S. Open champion Sloane Stevens and Venus Williams, who will be aiming to win her eighth major singles title at the age of 37.