Australian Open 2022: Covid chaos continues as question marks raised over Japanese star

Australian Open organisers continue to sweat on the fitness of international tennis stars as withdrawals mount.

Japan’s Kei Nishikori is the latest tennis star in doubt for next month’s Australian Open after withdrawing from the lead-in event in Melbourne.

The four-time Australian Open quarter-finalist, who withdrew from a series of tournaments at the end of this year because of a back issue, has dealt with increasing injuries in recent years.

There is still mystery around world No.1 Novak Djokovic’s immediate plans, while big-name trio Rafael Nadal, Andrey Rublev and Denis Shapovalov are recovering from Covid-19.

Shapovalov tested positive after arriving in Sydney on Thursday, while reports out of Serbia suggest Djokovic will skip the ATP Cup.

Nishikori has played only two matches since September and not been ranked inside the top 20 since early last year. He turns 32 on Wednesday and is the world No.47.

Japan's Kei Nishikori had to pull out of several tournaments in recent months because of a back injury. Picture: David Gray/AFP
Japan's Kei Nishikori had to pull out of several tournaments in recent months because of a back injury. Picture: David Gray/AFP

“I hurt my back some weeks ago before San Diego and it has continued to bother me,” Nishikori said on Twitter in November.

“It’s been a long year, coming back from injury, and I look forward to (the) off-season. Also look forward to having a strong pre-season training to make 2022 a great year.”

Joining Nishikori in pulling out of the ATP 250 event in Melbourne is 36th-ranked Alexander Bublik, of Kazakhstan.

Both players remain in the Australian Open field at this stage.

Canadian Milos Raonic (Achilles) elected at the weekend not to make the trip to Melbourne, where he’s reached at least the quarter-finals five times.

Milos Raonic is still recovering from an achilles injury and won’t play in the 2022 Australian Open. Picture: Michael Dodge/AAP
Milos Raonic is still recovering from an achilles injury and won’t play in the 2022 Australian Open. Picture: Michael Dodge/AAP

Others already out of the 2022 Australian Open include Roger Federer, Guido Pella, Stan Wawrinka, Jeremy Chardy, Aljaz Bedene, Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Kyle Edmund.

Herbert chose not to be vaccinated against Covid-19.

The Australian Open women’s draw will miss three of the four semi-finalists from this year’s tournament.

None of Jennifer Brady, Karolina Muchova and Serena Williams are in next month’s Open, while world No.4 Karolina Pliskova suffered a right hand injury in training and also won’t play.

2019 US Open champion Bianca Andreescu, 2021 Australian Open quarter-finalist Su-wei Hsieh and dual grand slam winner Svetlana Kuznetsova are out as well.

Top-liners Ons Jabeur, Belinda Bencic and Emma Raducanu still intend to play despite contracting the virus in recent weeks.

Originally published as Australian Open 2022: Covid chaos continues as question marks raised over Japanese star