Venus Williams withdraws from the Aussie Open

We are now less than a week away from the first major of the year – the 2012 Australian Open. Novak Djokovic and Caroline Wozniacki scored the top-seeds at this year’s event, theoretically giving them the easiest first three rounds of the tournament.

Congrats to the weekend winners, including Jo-Wilfried Tsonga who won a fog-delayed title at the Exxon Mobile in Doha over countryman Gael Monfils. Andy Murray, with Ivan Lendl in his camp, and Kaia Kanepi scored wins in Brisbane, while Canadian Milos Raonic defeated Janko Tipsarevic in an epic all-tiebreak three setter in Chennai.

There’s already some early drama with this week’s warm-up tournaments. In Sydney, U.S. Open Champion Sam Stosur was knocked out of the first round by Francesca Schiavone (6-2, 6-4) – a rematch of the 2010 French Open final (with the same result). Next up for Francesca, Brisbane fianlist Daniela Hantuchova. Vera Zvonareva was also knocked out of the first round by Svetlana Kuznetsova.

In Aukland, Donald Young is done – losing in the first round to Columbian Alejandro Falla (6-4, 3-6, 3-6).

Bethanie Mattek-Sands is still playing in Hobart, though she was a down a break early today against defending Wimbledon Junior Champ Ashleigh Barty. Mattek-Sands won the match (6-2, 6-2).

And now the biggest set-back of the day: Venus Williams just announced her withdrawl from the 2012 Australian Open, still struggling with the autoimmune disease Sjogren’s syndrome. In a posting on her website, Venus said that she’s making progress and plans to return to the WTA Tour in February during events in the United States.

While Venus’ ranking has dropped to 100th in the world, sister Serena continues her march into the new season with a freshly sprained ankle, suffered during a win in Brisbane. After the match, she pulled out of that tournament; but after a Twitter message earlier today, it sounds like she’ll be ready for play in Melbourne next week.

19-year-old American hopeful Jack Sock is NOT Down Under. He’ll be playing in a USTA Futures Tournament in Plantation, Florida during the Open. Now that he’s committed to the pro-tour, he’s going to take his time to improve his ranking before putting the heavy load of majors on his shoulders. (A sign of budding maturity from the defending U.S. Open Mixed Doubles champ).

In Perth over the weekend, top-ranked American Mardy Fish – after a rough showing with Bethanie Mattek-Sands in the Hopman Cup – had to be separated from Bulgaria’s Grigor Dimitrov during their mixed doubles match. Earlier in the day, Dimitrov clobbered Mardy (6-1, 6-2) in their singles match – and they had a few words during the handshake. Then, during the mixed-doubles event, Mardy hit a ball directly at Grigor…which led to a restrained throw-down during the changeover. The match was shortened to one set anyway, so the Bulgarians could get on a plane and make their match in Sydney the following day. Dimitrov and Pironkova won (8-5).