Serena Williams, the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion from the US, was forced to retire from Wimbledon due to an injury in her first-round match against Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich here.
Arriving on court with her right thigh heavily strapped, the No.6 seed was leading Aliaksandra by a break in the first set at 3-1. Serving at 15-15, Serena slipped briefly at the back of the court and was finally forced to retire in the seventh game.
While she never fell to the ground, Serena requested for a physio after losing serve in the fifth game, and received off-court medical timeout before returning to the court.
Upon resumption, Aliaksandra held serve in the sixth game to level 3-3, but the match ended shortly after as Serena made the decision to retire and left the centre court to a standing ovation.
“I was heartbroken to have to withdraw today after injuring my right leg,” Serena said in an Instagram post late on Tuesday night.
“My love and gratitude are with the fans and the team who make being on centre court so meaningful. Feeling the extraordinary warmth and support of the crowd today when I walked on — and off — the court meant the world to me.”
Serena had previously been 19-0 in the first round of Wimbledon. It is just her second career retirement in a Grand Slam match, dating back to her first against Spain’s Virginia Ruano Pascual in the third round of Wimbledon in 1998.
“It was so nice of an atmosphere out here and it was my first time playing on Centre Court. I’m so sad for Serena,” Aliaksandra said on-court. “She’s a great champion. It happens sometimes in tennis, but (I’m wishing) all the best for her for the best recovery.
“It’s very sad for me, honestly, when your opponent feels bad. She’s a great champion, and it’s sad story. I was happy to play against her. She’s a great champion. She has a lot of Slams. It was a dream of my dad. He dreamed for eight years in a row, he just wrote me before the match, that I would play with Serena in Wimbledon, and it happened,” added Aliaksandra.
“We’re heartbroken for you, Serena. Our seven-time singles champion is forced to retire from The Championships 2021 through injury,” tweeted Wimbledon.
Aliaksandra will now face either Japan’s Nao Hibino or American Bernarda Pera, whose match was suspended ahead of the third set due to darkness after they split sets at 6-1, 5-7.
Serena Williams, the winner of 23 Grand Slam singles titles and four Olympic gold medals — three of them in doubles — has confirmed that she will skip the Tokyo Games, scheduled to commence on July 23.
“I’m actually not on the Olympic list, not that I’m aware of,” Serena said on Sunday, a day before the scheduled Wimbledon start.
“If so (if I am on the list), then I shouldn’t be on it. There’s a lot of reasons that I made my Olympic decision. I don’t feel like going into them today. Maybe another day. Sorry. In the past, the Olympics have been a wonderful place for me.
“I really haven’t thought about what it will be like not to be there. I’m going to keep not thinking about it,” the American, who is three months shy of her 40th birthday, said.
Serena won the Olympic doubles gold in 2000 Sydney and 2008 Beijing. At the 2012 London, she won both the singles and doubles gold.
Williams, who is seeded No.6 in the absence of Japan’s Naomi Osaka and defending champion Simona Halep of Romania, has not played since losing to Kazakhstan’s Elena Rybakina in the last-16 at Roland-Garros.
She notched up number 23 at the 2017 Australian Open when she was in the early stages of pregnancy but has drawn a blank since Roland-Garros 2018, which marked her return after her daughter’s birth. Four times she has reached the Slam finals in that period, including the most recent two at Wimbledon.
Williams did not reveal why she decided to skip the delayed Olympics.