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Illness forces Venus Williams to pull out of Australian Open

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Former World No.1 and 2003 finalist, Venus Williams withdrew from the 2012 Australian Open Championship citing health reasons. The American has been sidelined from the WTA tour since late 2010 on account of multiple injuries and illness.

Williams' lingering illness is understood to be on account of Sjögren's syndrome. She was first diagnosed with the ailment in August 2011 when she withdrew in the second round of the US Open. Sjögren's syndrome is a rare autoimmune disease in which the body's immune system attacks its own healthy tissues. The ailment is known to cause fatigue and joint pain.

The American hasn't played a competitive match since the US Open and her prolonged absence has lead to her ranking slip to no.102 in the world, finishing the year outside the top 50 for the first time since 1997. Venus was originally scheduled to come back to the WTA tour in Auckland as a preparation for the Australian Open, but withdrew from the event as well. She played just 11 matches in 2011 and also suffered from hip & knee injuries.

Venus made the announcement through her official website, "I regret to announce that I am withdrawing from the 2012 Australian Open. After several months of training and treatment, I am making steady progress to top competitive form. My diet and fitness regimen have allowed me to make great strides in terms of my health and I am very close to being ready to return to WTA competition. I have every intention to return to the circuit in February."

The seven-time Grand Slam winner's best result at the Australian Open came in 2003 when she reached the final. The American's best performances have traditionally come on grass, which accentuates her serve and power game. Venus has won Wimbledon five times and the US Open twice. Venus along with her younger sister, Serena, have dominated the WTA tour like no other, winning twenty Grand slam titles between them.

Serena, who has five Australian Open titles to her credit, is recovering from an ankle twist she suffered at the Brisbane International last week. Serena, while back on the practice courts at Melbourne, is still a slight doubt heading into a two week long tournament. If Serena also withdraws, it'll be first time since 1997 that the Australian Open doesn't feature a Williams sister.