39-year-old Serena Williams was leading 3-1 in the first set of her first round match against Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus when she slipped and injured her right leg and she returned from receiving medical attention but called it a day at 3-3 and walked off Centre Court in tears
American legend Serena Williams's dreams of winning an eighth Wimbledon singles title and equalling Margaret Court's Grand Slam record of 24 ended in tears on Tuesday as further doubt was cast on her future in the sport.
The 39-year-old was leading 3-1 in the first set of her first round match against Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus when she slipped and injured her right leg.
Williams returned from receiving medical attention but called it a day at 3-3 and walked off Centre Court in tears.
"I was heartbroken to have to withdraw today after injuring my right leg," she said in a statement posted late evening on her Instagram account.
Perhaps tellingly, she waved to all four sides of the court as she left.
However, she gave no indication in the statement of how serious the injury was nor about her future.
Serena Williams is in tears as she serves at 3-3.— The Tennis Podcast (@TennisPodcast) June 29, 2021
She falls again, and retires.
She is in floods of tears as she waves to the crowd.
This absolutely cannot be how her #Wimbledon career ends. It can't. She HAS to come back.
She has to. pic.twitter.com/FQiRgemkda
It is the first time that Williams has bowed out in the opening round of Wimbledon in 20 appearances.
She had only once previously lost in the first round at any Slam, in the 2012 French Open.
The tears said it all as with the withdrawals of 2019 champion Simona Halep and of Naomi Osaka prior to the tournament the American would have fancied her chances of at last equalling the controversial Court's landmark.
"Brutal for @serenawilliams but centre court is extremely slippy out there. Not easy to move out there," tweeted British star Andy Murray.
Wimbledon's 2019 star Coco Gauff said she could not look as the player who inspired her to take up tennis wept as she left the stage.
"I turned away," said 17-year-old Gauff after beating British wildcard Francesca Jones in her first round match.
"I was in the gym actually stretching. I turned away because stuff like that makes me, like, really emotional."
Gauff, who in 2019 as a qualifier beat Serena Williams's elder sister Venus on her way to the last 16, said she hoped the injury was not too severe.
"I wish that hopefully she can have a speedy recovery," said Gauff.
"Yeah, you could tell she was really emotional.
"Nobody ever wants to retire, but especially at a Grand Slam, a place as special as Wimbledon after waiting two years to come back (it was cancelled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic)."
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Williams, who also had strapping on her right thigh, hasn't won a Slam since the 2017 Australian Open losing in four finals, twice at Wimbledon and two at the US Open.
Sasnovich said she felt for her "a great champion, and it's a sad story."
"It was very slippery, I felt, as well.
"When she did the angled shot, I couldn't run because it was so slippery.
"But, okay, it's the same for everyone," added Sasnovich.
Williams's slip came at the same end of the court as that of Adrian Mannarino which brought a premature end to the Frenchman's hard fought match with Roger Federer.
Mannarino fell late in the fourth set and pulled out at the beginning of the fifth set.
Federer felt the surface was more slippery when the roof is in use which it had been due to rain earlier on Tuesday.
"You do have to move very, very carefully out there. If you push too hard in the wrong moments, you do go down," said Federer.
"This is obviously terrible that it's back-to-back matches and it hits Serena as well. Oh, my God, I can't believe it."
Serena's tearful exit does not mean the end of the Williams family's interest in the singles.
Venus came through her first round match earlier on Tuesday in what is her record 90th Grand Slam appearance.
The 41-year-old five-time champion beat Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.