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Tennis: Venus pulls out of Australian Open

Former world No 1 Venus Williams has withdrawn from the Australian Open for health reasons.

The 31-year-old, a finalist in Melbourne in 2003, has not played a competitive match since pulling out of the US Open in August after being diagnosed with Sjorgen's Syndrome, an auto-immune disease.

Williams, currently ranked No 101 but a seven-times Grand Slam singles champion, said yesterday: "I regret to announce that I am withdrawing from the Australian Open.

"After several months of training and treatment, I am making steady progress to top competitive form.

"I am very close to being ready to return to WTA competition. I have every intention to return to the circuit in February."

The seedings were released yesterday, with Novak Djokovic and Caroline Wozniacki receiving top billing.

Serbian Djokovic, after a superb 2011 in which he become world No 1, tops the men's side of the draw from Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, with Andy Murray the fourth seed.

Wozniacki, who heads to Melbourne still searching for an elusive Grand Slam title and in danger of relinquishing her No 1 ranking to Czech Petra Kvitova, is the top women's seed, with Kvitova second, Belarusian Victoria Azarenka third and Maria Sharapova fourth.

With the seedings based solely on the ATP and WTA rankings, there were no surprises on the list, but the placing of defending champion Kim Clijsters and Serena Williams could see fireworks earlier than anticipated.

Belgian Clijsters, who is still battling back to full fitness after an injury-ravaged 2011, is seeded 12th, with Williams -- five-times champion at Melbourne Park -- the 13th seed, meaning they could face a top-10 player as early as the last 16.

Meanwhile, Italian Francesca Schiavone thinks home favourite Sam Stosur, seeded six, is struggling with the pressure of public expectation.

Schiavone, who beat Stosur in the 2010 French Open final, said: "It's not easy for her to play here in Australia. To play at home, when you love it, it is tough to do.

"But you are never in control with Sam because you never know how she can play. She has a chance -- she has big power and the big shoulders to do it."

Irish Independent