For the second straight year, Serena Williams, the biggest name in women's tennis, will not be coming to Singapore for the season-ending Women's Tennis Association (WTA) Finals.
The 35-year-old American, whose 22 Grand Slam titles make her arguably one of the sport's greatest players, announced yesterday that she has withdrawn from the Oct 23-30 tournament.
Williams has been plagued by a right shoulder injury and skipped recent tournaments in Wuhan and Beijing earlier this month. She has not played since her US Open semi-final loss to Karolina Pliskova on Sept 8.
The world No. 2 said in a video message that she has not recovered fully from that ailment in time for the US$7 million (S$9.74 million) Finals tournament presented by SC Global.
Apologising to her fans in Singapore, Williams added: "I'm really, really bummed that I wouldn't be able to come and compete this year. It's been a really tough year for me, just dealing so much with the shoulder injury.
"My doctors insist that I stay home and heal it every single day and do different treatments every day, so that I can have a chance to play next year and hopefully make it to Singapore next year."
She has won the WTA Finals five times, the last coming at the 2014 edition in the Republic. She had also pulled out of last year's event, which was won by Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska.
Williams had cited health reasons then, although the heart-break from a shock loss to unseeded Italian Roberta Vinci - which ended Williams' historic calendar-year Grand Slam bid - was understood to be a big factor in her decision.
Williams' absence means that Angelique Kerber is assured of finishing this year as world No. 1, becoming the first German to achieve this feat since her idol Steffi Graf did so two decades ago.
Kerber, 28, has enjoyed a breakthrough season. She started the year ranked 10th but beat Williams to win her maiden Grand Slam at the Australian Open in January. She then added a second major title at last month's US Open.
She rose to the top spot on Sept 12, becoming the oldest player to reach the pinnacle, and ended Williams' record-tying 186-week streak as world No. 1.
She will be joined at the Singapore Indoor Stadium by Radwanska, Simona Halep, Pliskova, Garbine Muguruza, Dominika Cibulkova and Madison Keys. Both Kerber and Radwanska have arrived in Singapore.
With Williams unable to compete, the eighth and final slot will go to either Johanna Konta, Carla Suarez Navarro or Svetlana Kuznetsova, who are ninth to 11th on the Race to Singapore leaderboard.
Konta will qualify for her first WTA Finals unless either Kuznetsova or Suarez Navarro wins this week's Kremlin Cup in Moscow.
Kerber wrote on Twitter yesterday: "Wishing Serena a quick recovery and looking forward to seeing you @serenawilliams back on the tour in 2017!"
It has been a trying year for Williams, both on and off the court with injuries and indifferent form.
She won two titles, the Italian Open and Wimbledon, but lost three finals, including the Australian Open and French Open. The last time she lost three finals was in 2004.
She played in just eight events and 36 matches this campaign. This is her fewest since 2011, when she played in six events while she was battling back after suffering from life-threatening blood clots in her lungs.
She said: "I was looking forward to competing in Singapore this year and playing against the best players in the world... I will miss coming to Singapore for the year-end Finals and playing in front of my fans but truly hope to be back soon."
Despite Williams' no-show and Russian star Maria Sharapova still serving a drugs ban, the Finals is not short on big-name draws, said Singapore's top tennis player Stefanie Tan.
The 24-year-old added: "I was personally excited to see her play live as I haven't had the chance to before. But it also means that we get to see fresh faces compete at the Finals. More importantly, Kerber's had an awesome year and she's going to be here and I'm pumped to see her play."