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Venus Williams pulls out of Australian Open

Venus Williams of the U.S. serves to Flavia Pennetta of Italy during an exhibition tennis match in Milan
Venus Williams of the U.S. serves to Flavia Pennetta of Italy during an exhibition tennis match in Milan

(Reuters) - Seven-times grand slam winner Venus Williams has withdrawn from this month's Australian Open saying she is not ready to return to action after being sidelined because of health reasons.

The American has not played competitively since withdrawing from the U.S. Open in September ahead of a second round match and has been receiving treatment for Sjogren's syndrome, an auto-immune disease that causes fatigue and joint soreness.

The five-times Wimbledon champion said she is targeting a return to action in February.

"I regret to announce that I am withdrawing from the 2012 Australian Open. After several months of training and treatment, I am making steady progress to top competitive form," Williams, 31, said in a statement on her website.

"My diet and fitness regimen have allowed me to make great strides in terms of my health and I am very close to being ready to return to WTA competition."

The Australian Open starts on January 16.

(Reporting by Simon Evans in Miami; Editing by Frank Pingue)

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