By George Sessions, PA
A slippery Centre Court surface saw Serena Williams’ latest title challenge at Wimbledon end in sad fashion after she had to retire from the tournament in the first round.
The seven-time singles winner at the All England Club slipped in the fifth game against Aliaksandra Sasnovich and needed a medical time-out.
Even though the American returned after a 10-minute delay and hit a handful of winners, the pain in her left ankle appeared too severe and she had to quit while in tears.
Wishing you a speedy recovery, @serenawilliams#Wimbledon
— Wimbledon (@Wimbledon) June 29, 2021
It saw her pursuit of a record-equalling 24th grand slam continue and sparked a debate about the impact of the roof being closed on Centre Court.
Opponent Sasnovich said: “It is very sad for me, honestly, when your opponent feels bad. She is a great champion and it is a sad story.
“It was very slippery. I fell as well. When she give the angle, I couldn’t run because it was so slippery but it is the same for everyone.”
Williams sustained her injury after losing her balance on two occasions during a point in the fifth game. Immediately the sixth seed looked to her left ankle while she already had heavy strapping on her right thigh.
The 39-year-old had made a positive start in SW19, breaking the Belarusian early on before the slip contributed towards being broken herself to leave the match at 3-3 when she required a trainer to come on.
Upon returning to Centre Court, the finalist at the 2019 edition was given a huge ovation which left the world number eight close to tears before the size of the task at hand hit home.
A couple of big winners landed but once Williams tried to serve, the pain in her ankle became too much and it was a second retirement in quick succession on Wimbledon’s main stage.
Roger Federer’s enthralling first-round tie with Adrian Mannarino also came to a premature end after the Frenchman slipped and injured his right knee in the final exchanges of the fourth set.
It forced his retirement and the Swiss great admitted: “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.
“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.”
Andy Murray, who had played on Centre Court on Monday night against Nikoloz Basilashvili, joined the list of players questioning the surface.
He said on Twitter: “Brutal for Serena Williams but Centre Court is extremely slippy out there. Not easy to move out there.”
It was not only Centre Court where players had problems with Coco Gauff on Court Two unable to stay on her feet on numerous occasions before she got the better of Great Britain ace Francesca Jones 7-5 6-4.
The teenage prospect could have faced the sixth seed in the last 16 and expressed her sadness at seeing her idol withdraw.
“I think everybody saw me slipping and sliding,” Gauff explained.
“With Serena, it was hard for me to watch that. I am a big fan even though I am a competitor. She got me into tennis, so it is hard to watch any player get injured but especially her.
“Stuff like that makes me really emotional but I wish her the best.”
A walkover for Sasnovich was not how she envisaged her battle with Williams going but she will have hopes of enjoying another run at the Championships having made the fourth round in 2018.
Brutal for @serenawilliams but centre court is extremely slippy out there. Not easy to move out there.
— Andy Murray (@andy_murray) June 29, 2021
The 27-year-old added: “I was happy to play against her. I think it is luck to play against Serena, she is a great champion and has a lot of slams.
“It was a dream of my dad. He dreamed eight years in a row – he told me before the match – that I would play with Serena in Wimbledon. And yeah it has happened. Of course I wanted to play the full match but it is tennis, injuries happen.”
There will be one Williams sister in the second round after Venus triumphed in a marathon contest with Mihaela Buzarnescu, which lasted two hours and 37 minutes on Court Three.
At the age of 41, the five-time Wimbledon winner triumphed 7-5 4-6 6-4 and will face Ons Jabeur on Wednesday.
Venus Williams’ exploits will raise hopes Serena will return to the All England Club next year even if she will be 40 by then.