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VENUS WILLIAMS WON’T PLAY IN AUCKLAND

THE world women’s tennis number five Venus Williams has decided to play the Sydney International this summer instead of returning to the ASB Classic in Auckland.

Williams hasn’t played in Sydney since losing a quarter-final to the legendary Steffi Graf in 1999. The previous year she lost the final to Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario having beaten then world No 1 Martina Hingis in the round of 16.

In recent years, Williams has used the Auckland event as the stepping stone to her Australian Open campaign.

The 37-year-old, who reached the Australian Open and Wimbledon finals this year, said she was looking at her options.

“Auckland is a great event but I was looking at options to extend my off-season,” Williams said.

Williams has played the last four years in Auckland, winning in 2015.

The Sydney International is played the week after the Auckland tournament.

With number six Caroline Wozniacki already confirmed for the ASB Classic Williams would have needed special dispensation to also play there as the tournament is only allowed one top ten player.

Williams has the right to choose if she wants to be considered a top 10 player due to her length of service to the WTA, however if she was to take that option she would potentially miss out on about a million dollars in bonuses at the end of the year.

ASB Classic tournament director Karl Budge said he’s been making plans for not having Williams at his 2018 tournament since Wimbledon and is pleased with the field he’s assembled.

Meanwhile the winners of men’s and women’s Australian Open singles titles will bank $4 million in prize money for the first time.

Tournament organisers announced a 20 per cent increase in the prize-money pool to $55 million.

Australian Open boss Craig Tiley also confirmed that Serena Williams, who gave birth to a daughter in September, would be back to defend her title.

–AAP

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