Sharapova withdraws from Australian Open


TENNIS: Defending champion Maria Sharapova has been forced to withdraw from the Australian Open due to injury.  The 23-year-old has not played since August because of a nagging shoulder complaint, but she had hoped to be ready for the first Grand Slam of the year.

However she explained: "I am very sorry to announce that I am not going to be able to defend my title at this year's Australian Open.

"My shoulder is doing great, but I just started training a few weeks ago and I am just not near the level I need to be to compete at the highest levels."

Sharapova dominated the tournament last year, not dropping a set on her way to her third major success.

"The Australian Open is one of my favourite tournaments, they have the best fans in the world and I am going to miss everything about the tournament. I promise I will see everyone next year," she said.

Tournament Director Craig Tiley said he was disappointed for Sharapova because he knows how hard she has been working since the injury and how much she wanted to defend her crown.

"She played some amazing tennis on Rod Laver Arena last year and has a massive legion of fans in Australia. I know she has been working around the clock to try and get back from the shoulder injury. In the end, time beat her this year," he said.

"We wish her well with her return to tennis and look forward to seeing her back in Melbourne next year, Maria is always welcome here. Maria is always welcome here."

Prize money has increased this year, with the singles winner each receiving A$2million (€1.05million) and the runners-up A$1million (€525,000).

Tennis Australia has increased the overall prize pool for Australian Open 2009 by A$1.14 million (12.3 per cent) to a total figure of A$23.14 million (€12.1million) with all of the increase going to the singles finalists.

"As the President of the Player Council and on behalf of all the ATP players, I want to thank Tennis Australia for acknowledging the players' role in helping to make the Australian Open one of the greatest tennis tournaments in the world," world number two Roger Federer said.

"The increase in prize money, even in these tough economic times, is a positive symbol of Tennis Australia's commitment to rewarding the players for their role as a partner in the Australian Open."