The two-time champion Naomi Osaka has formally withdrawn from the Australian Open, adding to the growing list of big-name casualties.
Osaka has not played since September and was long odds to make her comeback at Melbourne Park after posting pictures on social media last week of her trip through Europe.
“Naomi Osaka has withdrawn from the Australian Open. We will miss her at #AO2023,” Open officials tweeted on Sunday.
The 25-year-old’s Melbourne no-show will further heighten concerns the four-time grand slam champion may not return to the tennis court at all. Osaka took a mental health break after sitting out the 2021 French Open and later revealed she had been struggling with depression and anxiety for several years.
Down to 47th in the WTA rankings, the Japanese player has not played since withdrawing from the second round in Tokyo last September with abdominal pains and has won only one completed match since last May.
The former world number one crashed out in the first round of her previous three events, including the US Open, which she has also won twice. Osaka’s last victory was an abbreviated one, coming after only one game against Daria Saville when the Australian suffered a torn ACL in Tokyo.
Her scratching is another blow to Open organisers already reeling from the retirements last year of the reigning women’s champion, Ash Barty, and the legends Serena Williams and Roger Federer.
The men’s world number one, Carlos Alcaraz, pulled out on Saturday with a hamstring injury before Serena’s seven-times grand slam-winning sister Venus handed back her wildcard after being hurt while practising in Auckland.
Former Melbourne Park finalist and ex-long-time number one Simona Halep is not competing this year either. The Ukrainian Dayana Yastremska has been promoted to the main draw in Osaka’s absence.
Osaka’s withdrawal would ordinarily have been a boost for the Australian number one, Ajla Tomljanovic, who needs two higher-ranked rivals to drop out before next Thursday’s draw to gain an Open seeding.
But Osaka’s fall from grace has been so spectacular that the former world number one is behind Tomljanovic in the standings and battling to remain inside the top 50.
A first-time grand slam seeding would ensure Tomljanovic – a Wimbledon and US Open quarter-finalist – does not encounter a higher-ranked opponent until at least the third round.
The world number 22, Nick Kyrgios, and the 24th-ranked Alex de Minaur are currently the only two Australians slated to be seeded for the season’s first slam.
Kooyong Classic officials have not given up hope of enticing Kyrgios to the Australian Open warm-up event after losing Alcaraz to injury.
The former US Open champion Dominic Thiem has replaced Alcaraz, joining the likes of fellow former Melbourne Park runners-up Andy Murray and Marin Cilic and home hope De Minaur.
Jannik Sinner and Borna Coric will also feature at the three-day exhibition event starting on Tuesday, with the Czech teenage sensation Linda Fruhvirtova headlining the women’s field.
But the tournament director, Peter Johnston, on Sunday said he would happily find a match for Kyrgios if the Australian maverick wanted to test out his body ahead of the Open starting on 16th January.
Kyrgios withdrew from the United Cup and the Adelaide International, citing a knee injury.
“We’re still holding a candle for Nick,” said Johnston. “It couldn’t be a more perfect setting for him if he wants a hit before the Open. There’s always room for Nick. We’ve already got a pretty solid lineup but Novak [Djokovic] is also welcome.”
Djokovic was due to face the rising American Sebastian Korda in the final of the Adelaide International on Sunday night before heading straight to Melbourne.
The nine-times Australian Open champion plans to round out his preparations with a series of practice sessions on Rod Laver Arena, where the Serbian star has not lost since a third-round defeat to Hyeon Chung in 2018.