ABU DHABI • Former world No. 1 Novak Djokovic's preparation for next month's Australian Open suffered a blow, after he pulled out of the season-opening exhibition event in Abu Dhabi yesterday owing to pain in his right elbow.
The 12-time Grand Slam winner was scheduled to kick-start his new season against Roberto Bautista Agut at the Mubadala Championship but was advised by his medical team to skip the tournament just hours before.
He has not played since he was forced to retire against Tomas Berdych in July's Wimbledon quarter-finals due to an elbow injury.
"Unfortunately, in the past few days I started to feel pain in the elbow and, after several tests, my medical team has advised me not to risk anything, to withdraw from the tournament and to immediately continue with the therapies," the 30-year-old Serb said in a statement on his website.
"I am very sad because I was eager to return to playing official matches. Now I need to accept this situation, and to wait for the results of the therapies, in order to start playing tennis again and getting back to full rhythm.
"This might affect the start of the season and the tournament plan, but the decision will be made in the following days."
Britain's Andy Murray was yesterday set to replace the six-time Australian Open champion and play a one-set exhibition match against Bautista Agut. Murray himself has been out of competitive action for six months due to an ongoing hip problem but was in Abu Dhabi as part of his rehabilitation.
According to the Daily Express, the three-time major champion, 30, will decide whether he will still play in the Brisbane International tournament, scheduled to start tomorrow, based on how he feels in Abu Dhabi.
With the Australian Open - the first Grand Slam of 2018 - starting on Jan 15, Djokovic and Murray are in a race to get fully fit.
They are not the only A-listers under an injury cloud.
World No. 1 Rafael Nadal withdrew from the Brisbane event on Thursday, days after pulling out of the Abu Dhabi tournament.
The 31-year-old Spaniard has not played since he withdrew from the season-ending World Tour Finals in London last month with a knee injury.
Three-time major winner Stan Wawrinka is hopeful of making his comeback at Melbourne Park after two knee operations.
The 32-year-old Swiss was also supposed to return to action in Abu Dhabi but remains without a competitive match since Wimbledon.
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
3rd place & final: StarHub Ch201, 6.30pm & 11pm Women's exhibition: 9pm