Serena Williams retires in tears as Centre Court grass is under fire

Serena Williams was forced to retire from her first-round match with Aliaksandra Sasnovich at Wimbledon, ending her quest for her 24th major title with her earliest ever Wimbledon departure.

Shock and surprise held Centre Court captive on Day 2 at Wimbledon – but nobody expected the drama that concluded a bizarre, emotional day at the cathedral of tennis.

A day that started with tears of adoration for the soon to be retired Carla Suarez Navarro quickly changed tone, as France’s Adrian Mannarino slipped and badly injured his knee during the fourth set of his contest with Roger Federer. The Frenchman would eventually retire, at the beginning of the fifth set, but his departure would pale in comparison to what happened next.

Serena Williams Abandons Grand Slam Quest

Williams began her first-round match on Day 2 with heavy strapping on her right thigh, but it seemed mainly precautionary until five games into the contest when she slipped and found herself in pain during the ensuing points.

Williams was broken for 3-2 and gingerly walked to her chair, close to tears. Moments later she was whisked off court for a medical timeout, but when she returned, the pain only increased.

Serving first serves at 91 MPH, well off her normal speed, Williams struggled through three points in the seventh game, but fell to the court in agony at the conclusion of the third – a tormented scream let forth to give the supportive Centre Court crowd an idea of what she was feeling.

Willliams’ next move was directly to the net to shake hands with Sasnovich. The legendary American’s first retirement from a match at a Grand Slam in 23 years, since Wimbledon in 1998.

“Of course I’m so sad for Serena, she’s a great champion,” Sasnovich told the crowd after the match. “It happens sometimes in tennis but all the best for her and her recovery.”

Federer on the news: “Oh, my God, I can’t believe it”

Roger Federer could not contain his disappointment when he heard the news about Williams’ injury as he was conducting his post-match press conference.

“This is obviously terrible that it’s back-to-back matches and it hits Serena as well,” he said of his fellow 39-year-old Wimbledon legend. “Oh, my God, I can’t believe it.”

Talk of the slickness of the grass courts this year, if it wasn’t before today, will surely now become a hot topic. Here is the transcript of what Federer said about Williams, and the state of the courts, when he learned of the news:

Q. We’ve just seen Serena Williams unfortunately have to retire after slipping.

ROGER FEDERER: C’mon.

Q. No, it’s very sad. Is it substantially more slippery under the roof? What do you feel about the conditions?

ROGER FEDERER: Well, as I was walking out, the referee asked me how I was feeling about the court. I said, I think the court plays normally as we know it.

I do feel it feels a tad more slippery maybe under the roof. I don’t know if it’s just a gut feeling. You do have to move very, very carefully out there. If you push too hard in the wrong moments, you do go down.

I do feel it’s drier during the day. With the wind and all that stuff, it takes the moist out of the grass.

A slick surface wreaks havoc

We’ve seen it before, and especially under the roof. But is the Wimbledon grass any more slippery than it has been in year’s past? And is it safe for play?

Many players have talked about the difficult playing conditions over the first two days.

Andy Murray, who played on Centre Court on Monday, said the courts are “extremely slippy.”

Sasnovich admitted that she wouldn’t bother to chase some balls against Williams – it was just too slippery.

“It was very slippery, I felt, as well,” she said. “When she did the angle, I couldn’t run because it was so slippery. But, okay, it’s same for everyone.”

American Coco Gauff, playing on No.2 Court on Tuesday, also had her share of struggles.

“I think everybody saw me slipping and sliding out there on the court,” The American said after her win. “I didn’t realize this till after the match, but my coaches were telling me when I was going to get my towel, the ground was super wet in the back so it was causing my shoes to get wet; therefore, I was slipping a little bit.

A missed opportunity for Williams

After beginning the season in remarkable shape, Williams reached the semi-finals at the Australian Open. Many believed that if she could maintain that form and fitness through Wimbledon, she’d have her best chance at winning another major on the fast-playing lawns of the All England Club.

It is unclear what the severity of Williams’ injury was before the match, and in the scheme of things it isn’t important. What really matters is that Williams’ window is closing, and she’s just seen what many believed to be her best chance at Grand Slam glory pass her by.

The collective sadness of her fan base, and of the tennis world, at not getting a chance to see Williams fight for an eighth Wimbledon title is palpable. We can only hope that she returns to fitness to continue her quest at the US Open in New York.

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