24 Dec 2011

Venus coming to Australian Open despite Auckland pullout

4:13 pm on 24 December 2011

Seven-times grand slam tennis champion Venus Williams will still play the Australian Open - despite withdrawing from her scheduled warm-up tournament in Auckland for health reasons.

Tournament director Craig Tiley says he has spoken to the American's agent to check her availability after news of the 31-year-old's withdrawal from the ASB Classic due to her receiving treatment for Sjogren's syndrome, an auto-immune disease.

Williams withdrew from September's US Open with Sjogren's, a chronic disease where white blood cells attack moisture-producing glands causing fatigue and joint soreness.

The five-times Wimbledon champion has since slipped to a world ranking of 102, but said last month that she hoped to return to the tour full-time in 2012 and to climb back up to top of the rankings.

The Australian Open starts on January 16th, and Russian star Maria Sharapova is expected to front despite withdrawing with an ankle injury from the Brisbane International, which begins on January 1st.

Sharapova first suffered the left ankle injury at the Pan Pacific Championships in Tokyo in September and has yet to fully recover.

The 2008 Australian Open champion said the injury, which also forced her to withdraw from the China Open and later the WTA Championships in Istanbul after two losses, should not affect her chances of competing at the Australian Open.