The year’s first major tennis tournament suffered a major blow on Friday when Carlos Alcaraz, the precocious men’s world No. 1 from Spain, announced that he was withdrawing from the Australian Open with a right leg injury.
Alcaraz, a 19-year-old phenom with an acrobatic and all-court game, won his first Grand Slam singles title in September at the U.S. Open in often-spectacular fashion, prevailing in a series of compelling and frequently lengthy matches.
His four-set victory over Casper Ruud in the final was the capstone to a breakthrough season and propelled him to the top spot in the men’s rankings, but Alcaraz has struggled with his health since then: withdrawing from the season-ending ATP Finals in Turin, Italy, and Davis Cup Finals in Malaga, Spain, with an oblique muscle tear in his left abdominal wall.
He has not competed in an official event since retiring against Holger Rune, another gifted 19-year-old, in the quarterfinals of the Paris Masters in early November, though he took part in an exhibition in Abu Dhabi last month. Alcaraz returned to his training base in Villena, Spain, to recharge and rehabilitate for the 2023 season, but he said in a social-media post on Friday that he had injured the semimembranosus muscle in his right leg during a training session.
“I’d worked so hard to get to my best level for Australia,” he wrote in a Twitter post, announcing his withdrawal from an exhibition next week near Melbourne and from the Australian Open, which will begin on Jan. 16.
“It’s tough, but I have to be optimistic, recover and look forward,” he wrote.
Alcaraz’s withdrawal means that the Australian Open will be without the men’s No. 1 singles player for the second year in a row, albeit under starkly different circumstances.
Last year, Novak Djokovic was deported from Australia on the eve of the tournament after arriving in the country without being vaccinated for the coronavirus and losing an extended and high-profile legal battle with the Australian government.
But Australian government policy has changed, now allowing unvaccinated foreigners to enter the country, even without an exemption. Djokovic, a nine-time Australian Open singles champion, returned to Australia this year and has received a warm welcome so far on his way to the semifinals of the lead-in tournament in Adelaide this week.