Serena Williams said she was “struggling to walk” before she made the decision to withdraw from the French Open due to an achilles injury.
The 39-year-old American, a three-time champion at Roland Garros, was striving to claim a record-equalling 24th grand slam title.
“I felt like I needed to walk with a limp,” Williams told a news conference on Wednesday.
“An achilles injury is not one you want to play with as it can get worse.”
— Roland-Garros (@rolandgarros) September 30, 2020
The sixth seed came into the tournament nursing an achilles injury – suffered during her semi-final defeat at the US Open earlier this month – and said before her campaign in Paris that she was not at 100 per cent physically but had recovered sufficiently to play.
She spoke again of the injury after her first-round win over fellow American Kristie Ahn and apparently aggravated it while practising for her second-round match against Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova.
“After I warmed up – it was a very short warm-up – I talked to my coach and I was like, ‘What do you think?’ We both thought about it and we really realised that it likely wasn’t the best for me to play today,” Williams said.
“I love playing in Paris, I really wanted to give an effort here.
“My achilles didn’t have time to properly heal. I’m struggling to walk so that’s kind of a tell-tale sign that I should try to recover.”
This is Williams’ earliest exit at any grand slam since a second-round loss in Paris in 2014.
Williams said she was yet to decide whether she would play again this season but it was “more than likely” she would not.
“I think I need four to six weeks of sitting and doing nothing,” she said.
“At least two weeks of just sitting down.”
However, she said she still wanted to continue her career.
“I love playing tennis. I love competing,” Williams said.
“It’s my job and I’m pretty good at it still … I’m so close to some things and I feel like I’m almost there … that’s what keeps me going.”
Williams also pulled out of the French Open in 2018 before a last-16 clash with Maria Sharapova, citing a pulled muscle in her chest in the first major back on tour after the birth of her daughter.
Williams has reached the finals at four slams since then, losing each time, as she tries to add to her professional-era record of 23 major singles trophies and equal Margaret Court’s all-era mark.
Pironkova, who gave Williams a tough time in the quarter-finals in New York, will face Barbora Strycova or Barbora Krejcikova in the third round.