Serena Williams Exits Wimbledon With a Leg Injury

Williams started her first-round match against Aliaksandra Sasnovich aggressively, but she slipped on the grass court and later fell before leaving the match.

Serena Williams struggled on the slick grass during her first-round match on Tuesday against Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus.
Credit...Peter Nicholls/Reuters

WIMBLEDON, England — Serena Williams retired from her first-round match at Wimbledon on Tuesday because of an injury to her right thigh.

“I was heartbroken to have to withdraw today after injuring my right leg,” Williams wrote in a post on Instagram. “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.”

Williams, a seven-time Wimbledon singles champion, started her match against Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus with her right thigh taped, just as she had taped it during the French Open earlier this month in Paris.

But Williams began her match in impressive fashion on Tuesday night, moving aggressively and ripping returns with precision to take a 3-1 lead under the closed roof on Centre Court.

But when serving in the next game at 15-15, Williams slipped while changing direction, appearing to twist her left ankle. After losing the point, she stopped for several seconds, staring down at the grass. She went on to lose her serve and then walked gingerly to her chair, where she was examined by a trainer. She left the court for treatment and returned several minutes later, limping slightly. She resumed play, but struggled to move as Sasnovich held serve to make the score 3-3. Williams, in obvious distress, began crying at the baseline as she prepared to start her next service game.

Unable to push off and jump into her serve, she missed her first serve, then put a low-velocity second serve in play and slapped a backhand winner as the crowd roared to encourage her. But on the following point, Williams hit a forehand awkwardly into the net and then on the next point, she tried to shift direction during a baseline rally and let out a cry of pain as she fell to the grass.

The chair umpire, Marija Čičak, climbed down from her post and was soon by Williams’s side. They walked toward the net together, where Williams retired and shook the 100th-ranked Sasnovich’s hand.

After gathering her belongings, Williams limped off Centre Court, her accreditation badge dangling from her hand, and performed one of her traditional pirouettes. But after a final wave to the crowd, she stumbled again as she reached the passageway behind the most famous court in tennis, where she last won the singles title in 2016.

Williams, 39, has been chasing a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title since returning to the tour in 2018 after the birth of her daughter, Olympia. Seeded sixth at Wimbledon, she was still considered one of the pretournament favorites.

This was only the second first-round exit from a Grand Slam singles tournament in Williams’s long career. She was beaten in the first round of the French Open in 2012 by Virginie Razzano of France.

A tearful Williams shook hands with Sasnovich before leaving the court.
Credit...Peter Nicholls/Reuters

“Of course I’m so sad for Serena; she’s a great champion,” Sasnovich said in her post-match interview. “It happens sometimes, but all the best to her, the best recovery.”

Williams has had increasing trouble with injuries since her comeback. She withdrew during the French Open in 2018 and 2020. At the 2019 Australian Open, she injured her left ankle during her quarterfinal loss to Karolina Pliskova but completed the match.

This time, she could not finish, and her injury raised questions about the condition of the grass at Wimbledon. Slips and tumbles are not uncommon in the opening days of the tournament as players navigate the fresh grass behind the baselines.

“Brutal for Serena Williams but Centre Court is extremely slippery,” tweeted Andy Murray, a two-time Wimbledon men’s singles champion. “Not easy to move out there.”

Sasnovich said she had also struggled to stay on her feet. “It was very slippery,” she said. “When she did an angle, I couldn’t run because it was so slippery.”

Novak Djokovic, the No. 1 men’s player and a five-time Wimbledon champion, fell twice in his opening-round victory over Jack Draper on Monday. But Williams was not the only competitor to retire after a fall on Centre Court on Tuesday.

In the preceding match, Adrian Mannarino, a French veteran, was leading Roger Federer by two sets to one. But Mannarino slipped while changing direction with Federer serving while leading 4-2 in the fourth set. Mannarino landed awkwardly, his right knee twisting, and remained on his back on the grass for more than a minute before limping to his chair and being examined by tournament medical officials.

After Federer closed out the fourth set at 6-2, Mannarino retired following the opening point of the fifth set, and Federer, 39, advanced to the second round.

Federer said he was asked after the match for his opinion on the court’s condition by Gerry Armstrong, the tournament referee.

“I said, ‘I think the court plays normally as we know it,’” said Federer, an eight-time Wimbledon champion. “I do feel it feels a tad more slippery maybe under the roof. I don’t know if it’s just a gut feeling. You do have to move very, very carefully out there. If you push too hard in the wrong moments, you go down. I do feel it’s drier during the day. With the wind and all that stuff, it takes the moisture out of the grass.”

Earlier on Tuesday, Williams’s older sister Venus, 41, defeated Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania, 7-5, 4-6, 6-3. It was the first singles victory at Wimbledon for Venus Williams since 2018.

It remains to be seen how many more moments Serena Williams will have on Centre Court. She, like Federer, is approaching her 40th birthday, but she has a role model in her own family who has demonstrated that 40 is not an impassable barrier in tennis.

Ben Rothenberg contributed reporting.

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