Unable to serve or make the slightest explosive movement, Williams tried steeling herself, mouthing “Come on” as she stepped up to serve at 3-3. But it was futile.
The tears fell, and she crumpled to her knees, informing the chair umpire upon rising that she couldn’t continue. With one hand on her heart, she raised the other to acknowledge the crowd before gingerly walking off to an extended ovation.
In a statement Tuesday night, Williams said: “I was heartbroken to have to withdraw today after injuring my right leg. My love and gratitude are with the fans and the team who make being on Centre Court so meaningful. Feeling the extraordinary warmth and support of the crowd today when I walked on — and off — the court meant the world to me.”
Williams suffered the injury at the same end of the court where Adrian Mannarino had fallen less than an hour earlier, suffering a knee injury that also ended his Wimbledon campaign in the first round. Mannarino had taken a two-sets-to-one lead over eight-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer when he lost his footing and fell on his back, clutched his knee and grimaced in pain.
After receiving courtside treatment, Mannarino tried to continue but couldn’t mount a credible fight and hobbled off. His retirement sent Federer, who is seeking a men’s record 21st Grand Slam title, into the second round, 6-4, 6-7 (7-3), 3-6, 6-2.
Two-time Wimbledon champion Andy Murray, who competed on Centre Court on Monday night, noted the tricky conditions on social media, tweeting: “Brutal for @serenawilliams but centre court is extremely slippy out there. Not easy to move out there.”
Federer was incredulous when informed during his post-match interview that Williams had also fallen, been injured and forced to withdraw.
“This is obviously terrible that it’s back-to-back matches, and it hits Serena as well,” Federer said. “Oh, my God, I can’t believe it.”
Given the persistent rain over the tournament’s first two days, the retractable roofs on the two largest venues — Centre Court and Court No. 1 — have been closed for most matches. Without open air, humidity and dampness are accentuated on the court.
The All England Club, which hosts Wimbledon, acknowledged as much in a statement Tuesday night, noting: “The weather conditions on the opening two days have been the wettest we have experienced in almost a decade, which has required the roof to be closed on Centre Court and No. 1 Court for long periods. This is at a time when the grass plant is at its most lush and green, which does result in additional moisture on what is a natural surface.”
The statement added that court conditions have been closely monitored by experts both days to ensure they have the correct level of moisture and are playing consistently, noting: “We will continue to monitor these readings and adjust our care plan for the grass appropriately.”
Federer, who has spent more time competing on Wimbledon’s Centre Court than any player in the sport’s modern era, said that he felt the surface was “a tad more slippery” under the roof. “I don’t know if it’s just a gut feeling,” Federer said. “You do have to move very, very carefully out there. If you push too hard in the wrong moments, you do go down.”
Williams, who was not available to reporters, had reached Wimbledon’s final four of the past five times the grass-court classic has been held.
Many analysts have said this year’s edition probably represented her best remaining chance to win the 24th major title that would tie Margaret’s Court record set decades ago. Now that pursuit must be deferred until the U.S. Open, which coincides with Williams’s 40th birthday.
Zina Garrison, a former top-five player who reached the 1990 Wimbledon final, said she hoped tournament officials would look closely at Centre Court conditions when the roof is deployed.
“When you have the guy who played Federer go out [with injury], and then the same thing happens to Serena, you’ve got to start trying to figure out what’s going on,” Garrison said by telephone.
As for Williams, whom she has known for decades, Garrison said hardship and challenges have defined her.
“This is who she is,” Garrison said after watching Williams try to fight back tears Tuesday. “She’ll do everything possible to figure out where she goes from here now. She’s a fighter; that’s what we’ve always loved about watching her.”
Martin Blackman, the U.S. Tennis Association’s general manager of player development, voiced similar confidence.
“I think she’s going to win number 24,” Blackman said. “She’s a great champion and is going to come back and do what it takes.”
Williams’s exit further depletes Wimbledon’s women’s field, which already was missing defending champion Simona Halep, who remains sidelined by a calf injury, and world No. 2 Naomi Osaka, who is taking an extended break from the pro tour for her emotional well-being.