Seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams has withdrawn from the ASB Classic for health reasons.
After playing a number of recent exhibition matches, Williams told her agent Carlos Fleming she was not ready to play in Auckland. The former world No.1 has been receiving treatment for Sjögren's syndrome (an autoimmune disease).
ASB Classic tournament director Richard Palmer said it was sad to hear that Williams wouldn't be coming to Auckland.
"We are disappointed to have lost a player of her calibre. While withdrawals of this nature are part and parcel of sport, we sincerely feel for the fans who will also be disappointed by the news of Venus' withdrawal.''
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Palmer said that Williams, ranked 103 in the world, had been given a wildcard to play in the ASB Classic and was seen as a bonus on top of what is an outstanding field.
"Next month's ASB Classic field is one of the strongest in the tournament's history with four players in the top 20, the eight seeds in the top 30 and all 24 direct entries in the top 70 in the world.
"This is still an exceptional field despite the withdrawal of Venus Williams.''
Germany's Sabine Lisicki is the tournament's top seed followed by China's Peng Shuai, former world No.2 and Grand Slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova (Russia) and Italy's Flavia Pennetta.
Palmer wished to pass on Williams' apologies to her fans, especially those in New Zealand, as she had been really excited about starting her year in Auckland.
"Only last month she was reported saying she was looking forward to her first tournament of the year in Auckland and had heard great things about the ASB Classic. Her goal was to play a full schedule next year,'' said Palmer.