MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Former U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro has withdrawn from the Australian Open due to a lingering wrist injury that he was concerned could cause him further damage if he played the season opening grand slam.
The 26-year-old Argentine played just four tournaments last year after he injured his left wrist and made his comeback earlier this week by reaching the quarter-finals in Sydney but decided it was too risky to play at Melbourne Park.
"I didn't feel prepared for playing in this big event," Del Potro told reporters on Sunday. "My first grand slam after one year, five-set matches, is very tough.
"Could be dangerous for my wrist. I think it was a tough decision, but could be a smart decision if I want to stay healthy and play for the whole year."
The 2009 U.S. Open winner had surgery on his wrist and had been out of the game for 10 months before he made his comeback in Sydney this week, a tournament he won last year.
He made a strong start to the tournament, reaching the last eight and beating world number 18 Fabio Fognini in the process and said on Sunday he been pleased with his progress but felt he was not quite ready for a return to the ATP Tour.
"It's been hurting the last couple of days and weeks. Nothing new. Nothing dangerous," said del Potro, whose ranking had tumbled 338 before Sydney. "But I think my wrist is not ready for play in this important tournament.
"It's tough to say this, but I'm still positive and I want to play tennis as I did last week. That's why I decided to withdraw."
Del Potro said he did not have a problem with his serve or hitting forehands but his backhand was causing the pain and he was not able to hit that as well as he liked.
"I couldn't hit backhands like I want, it's not helping a lot for my game," the former world number four added.
"I don't want to change my style. I don't want to change my backhand, my technique. I'm trying to do the same as always.
"That's why I'm taking this decision now because I don't want to put in risk again my body, my wrist, and I want to play healthy.
"I saw last week, if I am in good shape, I could be a competitive player again. I'm very excited for that."
(Reporting by Greg Stutchbury; Editing by John O'Brien)