Australian Open: Venus withdrawal a big bonus for Serena

Venus Williams has been forced to withdraw from this month’s Australian Open due to illness.

The nine-time Grand Slam champion revealed last year that she is suffering from an autoimmune disease that she is currently being treated for and she now feels she is not well enough to take part in the year’s first major tournament.

Williams has been troubled by health and injury problems for much of the last two years, firstly overcoming knee and hip complaints before being struck down with Sjogren’s syndrome.

The autoimmune disease meant she participated in only four tournaments last season and as a result slipped out of the top 100 in the women’s world rankings.

Despite her lowly position and lack of health and fitness, Venus would still have been a big threat in Melbourne and, while she may not have had enough to win the tournament, she could certainly have caused the top seeds some serious problems.

She defeated her sister in an exhibition match last year and it’s perhaps Serena who has the most to benefit from the withdrawal.

Venus is one of only a handful of players who can beat Serena who has finally started to overcome her own health problems.

Serena missed the Australian Open last year, but triumphed in Melbourne in three of the four renewals prior to that.

She is 3/1 in the Australian Open odds having been initially installed as 9/1 favourite to win a seventh Grand Slam title.

However, she has shown she has the game for the tournament in previous seasons, winning the title five times.

She was also impressive on her run to the final of the US Open back in September when still recovering from her problems, showing she is more than capable of competing on the hard courts once again.

She may have pulled out of last week’s Brisbane International after rolling her ankle in a fall against Bojana Jovanovski, but backing the younger Williams sister – who has already started practicing again – at 3/1 to win the Australian Open is a punt well worth consideration.