Serena Williams' devastating Wimbledon exit will be made all the more painful by the fact that she may have missed her last real chance to equal Margaret Court's grand slam record.
Stuck on 23 grand slam titles (one behind Court) for over four years now, many thought Williams might finally claim the elusive 24th at the All England Club this year.
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With defending champion Simona Halep and World No.2 Naomi Osaka not playing, and injury concerns around World No.1 Ash Barty, Williams had emerged as a warm favourite to win her eight Wimbledon crown.
But it all ended in brutal fashion in the first round on Tuesday when the 39-year slipped and injured her right leg on Centre Court.
Williams went down during the fifth game of the opening set against Aliaksandra Sasnovich and needed a medical timeout.
Even though she returned after a 10-minute delay and hit a handful of winners, the pain in her right leg appeared too severe and she had to quit in tears.
"I was heartbroken to have to withdraw today after injuring my right leg," she said.
"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."
In a telling move that some thought was a final farewell to Wimbledon, Williams made sure she stopped and thanked all four sections of the crowd before making her way off court.
Tennis fans were left gutted that Williams once again missed her latest chance to equal Court's record.
— Dick Vitale (@DickieV) June 29, 2021
Serena, an amazing champion who turns 40 in September, is still stuck at 23 Grand Slam singles titles, one behind Margaret Court’s record.
It increasingly looks like Court’s record, as well as @JimmyConnors 109 ATP mens singles titles, will not be broken any time soon.#Wimbledon https://t.co/VERS3IJBNi
— Billy H (@BillyHeym) June 29, 2021
Just another reminder that Queen Serena has NOTHING to prove and that I hope whatever she's still fighting for is not rooted in anything more than desire and joy. Love you sis-- #WIMBLEDONxESPN
— Elle Duncan (@elleduncanESPN) June 29, 2021
Argghh, just saw that Serena is out! I think her body is trying to tell her something and she doesn't want to hear it. I get that. Most of us want her to take Margaret Court out of the record books, but I'm not sure that's possible anymore. Alexis Junior in 13 years?
— KT (@sloyoroll01973) June 29, 2021
Tweeted about Serena Williams going to the Wimbledon open to hopefully claim her 24 Grand Slam to equal Margaret court record. Little did I know that those dreams and aspirations will end on a bad note for Serena Williams.
The news coming out from Wimbledon is that Serena is https://t.co/UUEEKvhVCd
— Tweet of God (@IamTopsy4real) June 29, 2021
Serena Williams' grand slam drought continues
Williams has now gone over four years without winning a major after securing her 23rd while pregnant with her daughter at the Australian Open in 2017.
In that time she's reached four grand slam finals but finished runner-up every time - including at Wimbledon in 2018 and 2019 when she lost to Angelique Kerber and Halep respectively.
"This is to me her golden opportunity," tennis great Chris Evert said before the tournament.
"If there was ever a year that has looked good in the last few years, if there ever was a grand slam she is capable, more than capable, of winning... it would be this year's Wimbledon."
Instead, it was the first time Williams has bowed out in the opening round of Wimbledon in 20 appearances.
It was the second-straight match on Centre Court in which a player was forced to retire hurt, after Adrian Mannarino also slipped on the grass and injured his knee against Roger Federer.
The All England Club later said in a statement that the wettest two opening days of Wimbledon "in almost a decade" indirectly led to "additional moisture" on the grass while the retractable roof has been closed for long periods.
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