Wuhan, China — Serena Williams announced on Friday that ongoing shoulder problems have forced her to withdraw from the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open, where Angelique Kerber has been handed a tough draw.
Williams, who recently told CNN she is “tired of playing unhealthy”, will be skipping the two events in China – Wuhan and Beijing – in hopes to return to action for the WTA Finals in Singapore end of October.
“I am disappointed that I will not be able to compete at the Dongfeng Motor Wuhan Open or the China Open due to continuing issues with my right shoulder,” the second-ranked Williams said in a statement. “I have been practicing and playing but my shoulder is still not fit for tournament play.
“I wish the tournaments great success and I’m sure the fans will enjoy some great tennis. I am focused on getting ready to compete at the WTA Finals in Singapore.”
Williams has played just eight events this year, the fewest she has contested since returning from injury and illness in 2011.
The 34-year-old American lost her No1 ranking to Kerber, who is having a statement 2016 that saw her win the Australian and US Open titles en route to dethroning Williams.
According to Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, the No1 ranking is currently not a priority for his charge, and with her missing the China events, it’s unlikely she will be able to recapture it before the end of the year.
Instead, the Frenchman has set a rather ambitious target for Williams, who claimed an Open Era record-tying 22nd grand slam at Wimbledon in July.
“We decided to let go that No 1 spot for the moment. Maybe she’ll get it back but we shouldn’t focus on that – we focus on the grand slams,” Mouratoglou told CNN at his academy launch in Nice.
“I know people are going to be very much focused on the 23rd (grand slam), I’m more focused on the 30th. Why not set up a record that will never be beaten in history?
“I think she can do it.”
The Wuhan draw was revealed on Friday and even in Williams’ absence, Kerber will have her hands full with the path she has been handed, in her first tournament back since winning the US Open title.
The German world No1 has a bye in the first round but then faces the winner of the clash between American big-server Coco Vandeweghe and French shot-maker Kristina Mladenovic.
In the third round, Kerber could face Williams’ Rio Olympics conqueror, Elina Svitolina, 2014 Wuhan champion Petra Kvitova, or tricky Latvian teenager Jelena Ostapenko.
In the quarter-finals, seventh-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro or 11th-seeded Johanna Konta possibly await.
Fourth-seeded Simona Halep and eigth-seeded Madison Keys are potential semi-final opponents for Kerber.
On the opposite side of the draw, No2 seed and last year’s runner-up Garbine Muguruza commences her campaign against either Australian Daria Gavrilova, or ex-world No1 Jelena Jankovic, who is contesting a final today, 500 miles south of Wuhan, in Guangzhou.
Possible road blocks in the third round for Muguruza could be in the form of No15 seed Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova or Czech world No21 Barbora Strycova.
US Open runner-up Karolina Pliskova lies in Muguruza’s quarter of the draw while defending champion Venus Williams and No3 seed Agnieszka Radwanska – who could face-off in the quarters – are possible semi-final opponents for the Spaniard.
Venus, who beat Muguruza in the final here last year, opens against Yulia Putintseva or Anastasija Sevastova.
Radwanska has a brutal opener against either 2013 Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki, or tough lefty Ekaterina Makarova.
Caroline Wozniacki, who is enjoying a decent run of results following a season of injuries and a drop in the rankings, was dealt a cruel first round against Australian ex-US Open champion Sam Stosur. It will be their third meeting in 2016 and 12th overall.
Rio 2016 Olympics gold medallist, Monica Puig drew No13 seed Roberta Vinci in the first round.
The first round action in Wuhan commences on Sunday.
Wuhan fact file
Status: Premier 5 event
Edition: Third edition
Former champions: Venus Williams (2015), Petra Kvitova (2014)
Draw: 56 players + 8 byes
Prize money: $2,288,250
Surface: Hard courts
Did you know that?
Wuhan, the capital of the province Hubei, is the hometown of two-time grand slam champion Li Na.