Serena Williams pulled out of the French Open on Wednesday, just moments before she was due to go on court in the second round against the Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova. The American said she has been ordered to rest an achilles injury that has worsened since the US Open, and immediately made it plain that equalling Margaret Court’s all-time record of 24 majors is what will drive her in her 40th year.
Marooned on 23 majors since winning in Melbourne three years ago, Williams said there would be: “Just two weeks of sitting down and doing nothing and, after that, I’ve been told I need to do a little training. But, doing the math on that, more than likely – I don’t know if I’ll be able play another tournament this year. It will mean a lot of time to fully recover for the future.”
She added: “I feel like my body is willing. This is not a nagging injury. This is an acute injury. If it was my knee, that would be more devastating for me, but this is something that just happened, and it’s super acute. That’s totally different.
“So, I think my body is doing really, really well. I just ran into, for lack of a better word, bad timing and bad luck in New York. It happened but my body is doing really well. And I can never do too much sitting because I’ve been working for over twenty-something years.
“I love playing tennis. I love competing and I love being out here. It’s my job – and I’m pretty good at it still. So, until I feel like I’m not good at it, I’ll be OK. And I’m so close to some things. Like, I’m almost there. That’s what keeps me going.”
Her withdrawal left unanswered questions. She said she suffered a recurrence of the injury in the finish to her 7-6 (2), 6-0 first-round win over Kristie Ahn, yet did not complain of an injury afterwards when asked. On Wednesday, she said: “In that second set, I felt like I needed to walk with a limp, and that was no good. I had to focus on just walking straight. I tried. I always give 100%. Everyone knows that.
“I think achilles is an injury that you really don’t want to play with because that is not good,” Williams added. “If it gets worse, I think it’s one of the worst. So I don’t want it to get to that point, when I actually have a chance to get better.” Britain’s Fed Cup captain, Anne Keothavong, said: “I am surprised, because she managed to get through that first-round match, and she won the second set 6-0. I thought she was OK. She didn’t play great tennis. And she was asked after her match if her achilles was an issue – on the back of the US Open, where it clearly was – but she didn’t give us any indication that it was bothering her.” Keothavong, commentating for ITV, added: “But clearly it was a problem. It was a problem against [Victoria] Azarenka in her semi-final at the US Open – and it’s one of those injuries in these conditions you so don’t want to take the risk. It’s cold out there and, if you’re carrying an injury, particularly one like an achilles injury, sliding around on a clay court is not going to help it get any better any time soon.
“Also, at the age of 39, it does take more time to recover from these things. Any niggles just require more rest, more rehab, more physio. And, let’s face it, [reaching] 24 [majors] was also going to be very difficult for her here at the French Open. It doesn’t get any easier. She’s got more chance of being fit and ready in Australia getting to 24 than she would have done here in Paris.” Asked if Williams can win another slam, Keothavong said: “Never say never. I’d love to see her get to 24. So many people would. But I do believe it’s going to be increasingly tough for her. Players aren’t as afraid of her anymore. It’s going to take a huge effort. The women’s game is so open right now. There aren’t two or three players, there are five to ten players who can win a grand slam. “If she is going to win anywhere, Wimbledon – absolutely. She’s had great success over the years there, plus the courts. The speed, the bounce, everything suits her style of tennis. And that is a surface other players won’t be as comfortable on as Serena is.”