Tennis: Fears mount over Australian Open participation as Novak Djokovic withdraws from Qatar Open

Novak Djokovic pulled out of the Qatar tournament due to an elbow injury.
Novak Djokovic pulled out of the Qatar tournament due to an elbow injury.PHOTO: REUTERS

DOHA (AFP) - Former world No. 1 Novak Djokovic on Saturday (Dec 30) withdrew from next week's Qatar Open, casting doubt on his participation at the Australian Open later in January.

Qatar is the second tournament Djokovic has pulled out in as many days due to a niggling elbow injury.

The 12-time Grand Slam champion was the top seed in Doha, but in a statement, he said he would not be able to defend the title he won by beating Andy Murray last year.

His withdrawal comes just 24 hours after the injury forced him to drop out of an exhibition tournament in Abu Dhabi.

"Unfortunately, the situation with the elbow has not changed for the better since yesterday," said Djokovic.

"I still feel the pain. Therefore, I will have to withdraw from (the) ATP tournament in Doha."

The Serb added: "Only when I'm 100 per cent ready to play, I will be able to come back.

"I hope it will be soon. I want to thank everyone for patience and understanding."

The latest announcement raises fresh doubts over the long-term future of the 30-year-old and more immediately his availability for the first Grand Slam of the season, the Australian Open, which begins on Jan 15.

In recent years, Djokovic has used the Qatar tournament as valuable warmup for the Major.

In 2016, after beating Rafa Nadal in the Qatar final, he went on to claim his sixth Australian title.

Last year in Doha, he ended then world No. 1 Murray's 28-match winning streak to claim his second Qatar title in a riveting final.

Djokovic was targeting Doha as his first match since his quarter-final loss at Wimbledon in July this year.

Austria's world No. 5 Dominic Thiem has now been made the Qatar Open No. 1 seed.

The draw for the tournament takes place later on Saturday. Qatar Open tournament director admitted Djokovic "will surely be missed".