This wasn’t supposed to happen. Serena Williams’ quest for history ended in tears on Tuesday night as she was forced to quit early in her first-round match against Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus because of a leg injury.
The 39-year-old American, who wore strapping on her right thigh from the start of the match, led 3-1 but slipped twice and it was immediately obvious she was in serious pain. Williams, who was trying to equal Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 grand slam titles, had the trainer out and tried to play on. With the score at 3-3, she called it a day. “I’m so sad for Serena,” Sasnovich said. “She’s a great champion, This happens sometimes in tennis.”
The sight of Williams in pain and in tears was hard to watch. The American had worked so hard to get back on court, having not played for three months after the Australian Open. She returned on clay and played three events, including the French Open, where she reached the fourth round. She went into Wimbledon having not played a warm-up event on grass, but as the No 6 seed and with her history, she shared the favourite’s status with top seed Ash Barty. By 39, there’s no certainty she will be back.
There was better news for her elder sister Venus Williams, who keeps going about her business. The five-time Wimbledon champion won her first match at the Championships since 2018 with a 7-5, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania. She was 41 verlede maand.
The win was only her second in her past six grand-slam matches but it also made her the fourth-oldest woman ever to win a match at Wimbledon, a reminder of her longevity, a testament to her physical ability and her sheer desire. Only Madeline O’Neill (bejaardes 54 in 1922), Martina Navratilova (47 in 2004) and Kimiko Date Krumm (42 in 2013) have won a match at an older age.
“I answer this question a lot,” she said when asked what inspires her to carry on. “You know, [I’m] good at what I do. You can’t win them all. Life is about how you handle challenges. Each point is a challenge on the court. No one gives you anything. I like to think I handle my challenges well.”
For most of the past few years, Williams has been asked how long she plans to carry on playing. It is a question she has largely batted away and her immediate future is a second-round match against the talented Tunisian, Ons Jabeur.
“Ons, I would say, is one of my favourite people on Tour," sy het gese.
“Honestly she’s just breaking down barriers. The first woman from her country to do anything that she’s doing. She just won her first tournament, so she’s got to be feeling great. I just think you’re going to see a whole other generation of women from North Africa or wherever coming into tennis. It’s going to be all owed to her. I think she’s inspiring so many people, including me.”
After several near-misses, Jabeur won her first WTA title in Birmingham and the Tunisian is likely to offer a real test against Williams, who at a world ranking of 111, will be the underdog against the No 21 seed. “She gives 100 per cent every time,” Williams said. “She holds herself in a way that she respects and that people can respect. I don’t think we can limit her. You can’t limit her to just inspiring women in the Arab region. She’s inspiring all kinds of women, including me. When I see her winning, I’m very happy for her. I’m proud also. Obviously we play now, so of course I’d like to win. But there’s only great things ahead of her.”
Having been put out on Court No 3, Williams is likely to be on Centre Court or No 1 for her second round, but she said she’s happy wherever she is put. “I wasn’t disappointed," sy het gese. “I’m here to play. I’m here to play on whatever court I’m put on. As long as I win on that court, that’s all I care about. Court 3 is quite a nice court. I have a lot of great memories on that court, singles and doubles. To me it was like going home. Whatever happens, happens. All good to me.”