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Serena Williams has stunned the tennis world after announcing her withdrawal from next week's US Open.
The 23-time grand slam champion made the heartbreaking announcement on Wednesday night, saying she hasn't fully recovered from a hamstring injury.
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The former World No.1 said the injury had not completely healed after she was forced to retire hurt in the first round at Wimbledon.
"After careful consideration and following the advice of my doctors and medical team, I have decided to withdraw from the US Open to allow my body to heal completely from a torn hamstring," Williams wrote in a statement on Instagram.
"New York is one of the most exciting cities in the world and one of my favourite places to play - I'll miss seeing the fans but will be cheering everyone from afar."
Williams is a six-time winner at the US Open and finished runner-up in 2018 and 2019.
She missed last week's event in Cincinnati in a bid to get fit for Flushing Meadows and said she hoped "to be back on the court very soon".
"We took medical advice and the medical advice was clear — if you play, you take a big risk," her coach Patrick Mouratoglou told the website Tennis Majors.
"Then we had to discuss a little as a team. Serena always feels like she’s giving up if she doesn’t play. It’s inside her.
"We had to reason her a little, but anyway, the medical advice had a big part. In that sense it was a team decision."
Williams is the latest big name to pull out of the tournament after reigning men's champion Dominic Thiem and four-times winner Rafa Nadal ended their 2021 season due to injuries.
Roger Federer also announced his withdrawal earlier this month, resulting in the first grand slam since the 1997 US Open that will not feature Williams, Federer and Nadal.
American tennis writer Ben Rothenberg described it as the “end of an era”.
Serena Williams stranded on 23 grand slam titles
Williams' withdrawal leaves her stranded on 23 grand slam titles, still one behind the all-time record set by Australian great Margaret Court.
The 39-year-old hasn't won a grand slam title since the 2017 Australian Open, finishing runner-up on four occasions since.
Even after taking time out that year to have her baby daughter Olympia, she was expected to return as dominant as ever and break Court's record.
But it hasn't happened that way with Williams reaching four finals - two at Wimbledon (2018, 2019) and two at the US Open (2018, 2019) - and falling short every time.
But Mouratoglou insisted it was just a question of time before Williams, who has slipped to 22nd in the world rankings, returns to the courts.
"If the US Open happened in three weeks instead of next week, it would have been possible," he said.
"You have a new deal in tennis, it's that champions can play longer, over 35, thanks to their unprecedented professionalism.
"Nevertheless, it's still a race against the clock."
The main draw of the US Open gets underway in New York on Monday.
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