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Serena Williams withdraws from U.S. Open to recover from torn hamstring

An injured Serena Williams wept as she retired from her first-round Wimbledon match against Aliaksandra Sasnovich in June. (Kirsty Wigglesworth/AP)
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Serena Williams became the latest champion to withdraw from the U.S. Open on Wednesday, explaining that she needs more time to recover from a torn hamstring she suffered in the first round at Wimbledon nearly two months ago.

Williams’s decision, which she shared via an early-morning Instagram post, comes one month shy of her 40th birthday and with a history-making mark in the balance.

The 23-time Grand Slam champion has been seeking to tie Margaret Court’s record of 24 majors since she returned to competition in March 2018 following the birth of her daughter, Alexis Olympia.

“After careful consideration and following the advice of my doctors and medical team, I have decided to withdraw from the US Open to allow my body to heal completely from a torn hamstring,” Williams wrote in her post. “New York is one of the most exciting cities in the world and one of my favorite places to play — I’ll miss seeing the fans but will be cheering everyone on from afar.”

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William joins Roger Federer, 40, and Rafael Nadal, 35, in pulling out of the season’s final Grand Slam event, which gets underway Monday at USTA Billie Jean King Tennis Center in New York.

The trio of former world No. 1 players share 63 Grand Slam singles titles (Federer and Nadal are tied with Novak Djokovic at 20 apiece). Each has redefined excellence in the sport in their own way and supplies massive star wattage for tournament promoters and broadcasters alike.

Federer and Nadal, who are battling ongoing knee and foot injuries, respectively, have announced they won’t compete again in 2021. Federer plans to undergo a third surgery on his right knee. Nadal’s course of treatment is unclear for a debilitating condition in his left foot that he has battled for more than 15 years.

Williams didn’t indicate her plan for the balance of the 2021 season, closing her statement by thanking fans for their love and support, adding, “I’ll see you soon.”

Her longtime coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, shed light on the decision via Twitter, posting: “Since she had to pull out from Wimbledon, @serenawilliams has been fully committed to her recovery and we’ve done everything we could so that she could compete at the @usopen. But her body isn’t ready. It is heartbreaking, but this is the only possible decision.”

Williams’s lingering injury raises questions about her ability to return to the tour after her 40th birthday Sept. 26 at the competitive level she has been accustomed to for more than two decades.

Court’s record is the only significant one Williams hasn’t matched or broken in a 26-year career in which she revolutionized women’s tennis with her powerful groundstrokes and pulverizing serve.

But her place in tennis history hardly hinges on whether she equals or surpasses the mark set decades ago by Court, who won several of her majors when the women’s game was populated by amateurs and many top pros didn’t compete in all four majors.

“I don’t think she needs that validation,” Mouratoglou said of the quest for a 24th major during the Australian Open in February. “Clearly, she came back to tennis to win some other Grand Slams, so that’s the goal, for sure. … She’s not as obsessed with the 24 [as] most of the people in the tennis world, but definitely she wants to win Grand Slams.”

Williams last won a major at the 2017 Australian Open.

She gave birth the following September and days later suffered a pulmonary embolism that could have killed her.

Since her return to competition, she has reached the finals of four majors but failed to win a set in any of those matches, falling to Angelique Kerber and Simona Halep in Wimbledon’s 2018 and 2019 finals and to Naomi Osaka and Bianca Andreescu in the U.S. Open finals in 2018 and 2019.

This season, Williams has played just six tournaments, compiling a 12-5 record. Though she held the world No. 1 ranking for 319 weeks during her career, she is currently ranked 22nd.

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Nonetheless, she is a tenacious and seasoned competitor who has proved throughout her career that she can play her way into form over the two weeks of a Grand Slam if need be, which makes her a contender at every major regardless of her pretournament preparation.

Her effort to do just that at Wimbledon this year, however, ended just six games into her first-round match, when she stumbled and slipped on the slick Centre Court grass against Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus.

Williams grimaced in pain, and tears fell as she put one hand over her heart and acknowledged the crowd with the other. She needed assistance to reach the clubhouse as she hobbled off to a standing ovation.

Williams had not competed since she was forced to retire from that June 29 match at 3-all in the first set. Nor had she posted videos or photos of training sessions in the run-up to the U.S. Open.

On Tuesday afternoon, Venus Williams, 41, also announced on social media that she was withdrawing from the tournament, citing a leg injury she explained had bothered her all summer. It will mark the first time she has missed the U.S. Open since 2006.

A two-time U.S. Open champion, Venus had been granted a wild-card entry given that her ranking (112th) had slipped below the cutoff for automatic entry. She was competing at a tuneup event in Chicago when she concluded that she wasn’t healthy enough to contest the U.S. Open.

“It’s a tough time right now,” she said in a video announcing her withdrawal, “but like all tough times, they don’t last forever.”

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