WIMBLEDON, England — Serena Williams stopped playing her first-round match at Wimbledon in the first set Tuesday after she hurt her left leg by slipping during a point, a sudden end to her latest bid for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title.
Roger Federer’s reaction when he found out what happened to Williams? “Oh my God, I can’t believe it,” he said, surely articulating a common sentiment.
Williams was serving in the fifth game at Centre Court — where the roof was shut because of rain much of the afternoon — when she lost her footing near the baseline while hitting a forehand against Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus.
Williams winced and stepped gingerly between points, clearly troubled. After dropping that game, she took a medical timeout and tried to continue playing.
A crying Williams bit her upper lip and covered her face between points. The crowd tried to offer support and encouragement.
But eventually, the 39-year-old American dropped to her knees, and the chair umpire came over to check on her.
Williams then made her way up to the net to shake hands with Sasnovich, conceding with the score 3-all, 15-30.
“Of course, I am so sad for Serena,” said Sasnovich, who is ranked 100th and reached the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2018 for her best Grand Slam result. “She is a great champion. It happens sometimes in tennis. But all the best for her. Best recovery.”
Williams raised her racket with right arm and put her left palm on her chest. Then she waved to the spectators.
Officially, this will go in the books as only the second first-round Grand Slam exit of Williams’ career.
Her departure makes a wide-open women’s draw even more so. As it was, defending champion Simona Halep and four-time major champ Naomi Osaka withdrew before the tournament started.
Williams is a seven-time singles champion at the All England Club, including most recently in 2016. She also was the runner-up at Wimbledon each of the last two times it was held, in 2018 and 2019, before the tournament was canceled last year because of the coronavirus pandemic.
Williams was hardly the first player to find it difficult to deal with the slick grass over the first two days of main-draw play.
In the match that preceded hers at Centre Court, eight-time Wimbledon champion Federer got through his contest there after his opponent, Adrian Mannarino, hurt his right leg when he slipped near the baseline late in the fourth set.
Federer was trailing two sets to one, but ahead 4-2 in the fourth, when Mannarino fell. He tried to continue but dropped eight of nine points when they resumed and called it quits.
“Obviously,” Federer acknowledged, “he was the better player.”
Novak Djokovic fell twice in the first set of his first-round victory Monday in the main stadium, too.
“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,” Federer said. “I do feel it’s drier during the day. With the wind and all that stuff, it takes the moist out of the grass. But this is obviously terrible.”