x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Dubai Tennis Championships: Serena Williams withdraws citing lower back injury

Both top-ranked players, and finalists at last week's Qatar Open, have now opted out of the event on fitness grounds.

Serena Williams lost in the Qatar Open final last week. EPA
Serena Williams lost in the Qatar Open final last week. EPA

DUBAI // She came, she saw, she left without having played a single shot. Again.

Serena Williams, the world No 1, angered organisers of the US$2 million (Dh7.35m) Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships last night after withdrawing from the tournament just 20 minutes before being due on court to play her opening match.

It is the third time the American has confirmed to play in the emirate only to pull out without contesting a single point.

With more than 3,000 expectant spectators inside the Aviation Club, the American told reporters that lower back problems had forced her to withdraw. She left her decision too late for organisers to offer the vacant slot to a lucky loser.

“I’ve just had some back problems the past couple of weeks,” Williams said. “It didn’t get better. I thought it would get better as the week went on, but it didn’t. I don’t want to keep pushing it and make it worse.”

It is understood Williams will receive no appearance money. She later addressed the crowd and promised to “100 per cent” return and play next year.

The 31 year old said she will now rest and recover ahead of her next tournament in Miami, which starts on March 18. “I have a lot of time and I think that’s good – to get back and to get better. I’ll be fine,” she said.

“I have been having treatment here as well as in Doha, and just the whole past two-and-a-half weeks. So it’s getting better, but it’s not at a level where I can compete where I feel comfortable to not make it worse.”

Williams has played in Dubai twice, retiring in 2005 and losing to her sister Venus in 2009. She confirmed to play in 2007 and 2010 before withdrawing through illness and injury.

“I feel terrible,” the 15-time major winner added. “I feel like that. So maybe three times; maybe the next time will be a better time. Just horrible.”

The announcement was a further blow for organisers, who saw the top seed Victoria Azarenka withdraw on Tuesday for the second successive year, citing a right foot injury.

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