Serena Williams’ latest – and seemingly best – chance to match Margaret Court’s all-time grand slam singles titles record has ended in tears.
Williams stopped playing her first-round match at Wimbledon after hurting her left leg slipping during a point at 3-all in the opening set against Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus.
Even fellow 39-year-old eight-times champion Roger Federer was dismayed as Williams’ ongoing quest to equal – and ultimately eclipse Court’s 24 majors came to a shuddering halt.
“Oh my God, I can’t believe it,” Federer said, surely articulating a common sentiment.
Williams was serving in the fifth game at Centre Court – where the roof was shut because of rain much of the afternoon – when she lost her footing near the baseline while hitting a forehand.
She winced and stepped gingerly between points, clearly troubled. After dropping that game, she took a medical time-out and tried to continue playing.
A crying Williams bit her upper lip and covered her face between points. The crowd tried to offer support and encouragement.
But eventually, the 39-year-old American dropped to her knees, and the chair umpire came over to check on her.
Williams then made her way up to the net to shake hands with Sasnovich, conceding with the score 3-all, 15-30.
“Of course, I am so sad for Serena,” said Sasnovich, who is ranked 100th and reached the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2018 for her best grand slam result.
“She is a great champion. It happens sometimes in tennis. But all the best for her. Best recovery.”
Officially, this will go in the books as only the second first-round grand slam exit of Williams’ stellar career.
Her departure as she chased Court’s record makes a wide-open women’s draw even more so for Court’s fellow Australian and world No.1 Ash Barty.
As it was, defending champion Simona Halep and four-time major champ Naomi Osaka withdrew before the tournament started.
Williams is a seven-time singles champion at the All England Club, including most recently in 2016.
She also was the runner-up at Wimbledon each of the last two times it was held, in 2018 and 2019, before the tournament was cancelled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
It was better day for her older sister, five-time Wimbledon singles champion Venus Williams, who defied her age to secure a 90th victory at the Championships with a three-set success over Mihaela Buzarnescu.
Placed on the inconspicuous setting of Court Three, the 41-year-old brushed off that snub to win 7-5 4-6 6-3 in a marathon first-round encounter which lasted two hours and 37 minutes.
Barty had to fight off a sterling effort from 32-year-old crowd favourite Suarez Navarro before winning 6-1 6-7 (1-7) 6-1.
Former world No.1 Angelique Kerber made a wobbly start against Wimbledon debutant Nina Stojanovic before finding her groove on grass to secure a 6-4 6-3 victory and reach the second round.
American teenager Coco Gauff is also through to the second round after battling 7-5 6-4 against England’s Francesca Jones. But Australia’s Sam Stouser was ousted 6-1 5-7 6-3 by American Shelby Rogers.