This is a guest post by Omair, our long-time contributor who likes to specialize in tennis stats. You may remember his in-depth statistical tables and predictions, as well as statistical overviews of matches/tournaments, all neatly listed in our Omair’s Stats Corner. For quite a few past months he’was very busy with non-tennis obligations, but now he’s finally freed his schedule to jot something down for Women’s Tennis Blog and this time, inspired by the retirement and absence of China’s Li Na to defend her title at the Australian Open, Omair wants to explore the WTA history and see how many times it had happened in the past that an Australian Open champion didn’t show up at the tournament the following year.
The Australian Open has started and Li Na, the first Asian player (male or female) to win a grand slam, is the reigning champion. However, she is not defending her title, owing to the announcement of her retirement last year forced by constant injuries. Plus, now we know that she’s about to become a mom!
Let’s take a short walk down the history lane and see which former Australian Open champions didn’t turn up the following year to defend their titles.
This is the eighth time since the Australian Open switched surface from grass to hard courts (1988) that the defending champion is not defending her title. However, this is the first time at the Australian Open since 1988 that the defending champion is absent due to retirement.
- In 1994, Monica Seles became the first player since 1988 to not show up to defend her Australian Open title. Seles was the three-time defending champion, and had beaten Graf in the 1993 championship match. However, during April 1993, she was stabbed by a crazy Graf fan, following which Seles spent the remaining 1993 and the whole of 1994 recovering from that incident.
- Steffi Graf won the Australian Open title in 1994, however, injury kept her out of the 1995 Australian Open, hence making her the second player to not show up to defend her title.
- Monica Seles won the last of her nine grand slam singles titles at the 1996 Australian Open. Seles fractured her finger during an exhibition match just one month before the start of the following Australian Open, which denied her a chance to defend her title in 1997.
- Like Seles, Serena Williams failed to show up to defend her title twice. 2004 was the first time when left knee injury kept the younger Williams from defending her title. Serena won the 2003 Australian Open final over elder sister Venus Williams.
- Justine Henin failed to defend her Australian Open title in 2005, when she fractured her kneecap in December 2004 in a training session.
- Serena Williams stopped the fairy tale comeback of Justine Henin at the 2010 Australian Open by beating her to win her fifth Australian Open crown. However, Williams suffered a foot injury (stepped on a broken glass) in July 2010, which kept her from defending her Australian Open title in 2011.
- Maria Sharapova won the Australian Open title in 2008, beating Ana Ivanovic in the final. However, a recurring shoulder injury ruled her out of the 2009 Australian Open and hence denied her a chance to defend her title.
This brings us to the 2015 Australian Open, where again are not having our defending champion with us.
Li Na reached the Australian Open final for the first time in 2011, losing to Kim Clijsters in three sets. She made it to the final again in 2013, but fell down, bumped her head, twisted her ankle and lost in three sets to Victoria Azarenka. Finally, last year, Li laid her hands on the Australian Open trophy, however, now she’s also making history as an Australian Open champion who has failed to show up to defend her title, the sixth such player in history.
8. A left knee injury forced Li Na to announce her retirement from professional tennis in September 2014. This made Li Na the first player since 1988 to retire from professional tennis as a reigning Australian Open champion.
(Li Na photo by AP/Aijaz Rahi, Monica Seles photo by Bob Thomas/Getty Images, Serena Williams photo by © Neal Trousdale)