Serena Williams withdrew from the French Open, citing an Achilles injury, before a scheduled second-round match on Wednesday.
“Struggling to walk, so that’s kind of a tell-tale sign,” she said. “Long-term in this tournament, will I be able to get through enough matches? And so, for me, I don’t think I could.”
Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam singles champion, was due to play Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova on Wednesday. Williams, after a warm-up, spoke with her coach, and they decided not to play.
Williams injured her Achilles in a U.S. Open semifinal loss to Victoria Azarenka three weeks ago, taking a third-set medical timeout.
“My body is willing,” Williams said. “This is not a nagging injury. This is an acute injury. So, if it was my knee, that would be more, really devastating for me. But this is something that just happened, and it’s super acute and that’s totally different. So, I feel like my body is actually doing really, really well, and I just ran into, for lack of a better word, bad timing and bad luck, really, in New York. It happened, but my body is actually doing really, really well.”
After flying to France, she spent most of her preparation time for Roland Garros rehabbing.
“A ton of prayer,” she said, noting coming early to a first-round, post-match press conference to maximize her subsequent time handling the Achilles. “I’m doing so much for it.”
Williams, seeded sixth, beat countrywoman Kristie Ahn 7-6 (2), 6-0 in the first round on Monday.
“In the second set, I just felt like I needed to walk with a limp, and that was no good,” Williams said. “I had to focus on walking straight so I wasn’t limping. I tried. I always give 100 percent. Everyone knows that. Maybe even more than 100 if that’s possible. I take solace in that. I think Achilles is a real injury that you don’t want to play with because that is not good if it gets worse.”
It’s the second time in three years that Williams withdrew from the French Open on the day of a scheduled match.
In 2018, in her first major since childbirth, she didn’t play a fourth-round match with Maria Sharapova, citing a right pectoral muscle injury that prevented her from serving.
This French Open, which began the day after Williams turned 39, marked her 10th major since having daughter Olympia. She made the Wimbledon and U.S. Open finals in 2018 and 2019, losing all four matches in bids to tie Margaret Court‘s record 24 Slam singles titles.
Williams began Roland Garros as an underdog behind clear favorite and No. 1 seed Simona Halep, the 2018 French Open champion who won both of her tournaments (both on clay) since tennis resumed in the summer.
With the WTA’s autumn Asian swing canceled, Williams may not play until the new season starts in Australia in late December or January.
“I need four to six weeks of sitting and doing nothing, at least two weeks of just sitting down, and then from after that two weeks I have been told that I need to start doing a little training,” she said. “It will give me a lot of time to fully recover for the future.”
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