It wasn’t supposed to end this way.
When Serena Williams beat her sister Venus in straight sets in the final of the 2017 French Open, it seemed a matter of when and not if she would manage another major triumph to equal Margaret Court’s 24 Grand Slam titles.
Now, four-and-a-half years down the line, it looks as though her quest to add to her 23 Grand Slams has ended in the cruellest fashion. Wimbledon already looks a lot different in 2021, but Serena not making it beyond the opening round for the first time in her career is perhaps the biggest shock of the lot.
In a sisterly rivalry that has spanned over two decades, Serena and Venus have shared a court in the final of a Grand Slam on nine occasions. In all likelihood, we won’t see a tenth.
The younger of the two sisters didn’t have to wait too long for an opportunity to equal Court’s record that has now stood for 48 years, as the American dropped just one set en route to her tenth Wimbledon final in 2018, only to lose in straight sets to the impressive Angelique Kerber.
Naomi Osaka got the better of her at the US Open a few months later, before Simona Halep inflicted a second straight Wimbledon final defeat in 2019. Williams’ most recent attempt at equalling that elusive 24th Grand Slam came in the 2019 US Open, when Bianca Andreescu beat her 6-3, 7-5 in the final after once again dropping just the one set before then.
Before defeats in the 2016 Australian and French Open finals, Williams’ record when playing in finals was an incredible 21 victories and just four defeats. From 2016 onwards, that record now stands at two victories and six losses.
Has she remained competitive? Absolutely. You don’t reach eight Grand Slam finals in four years if you aren’t one of the best players on tour. However, the fear factor that opponents had once suffered with when facing a menacing Serena on the biggest stage was no more.
Williams celebrates her 40th birthday in less than three months, and it is testament to her incredible athleticism and dedication that she continues to test herself against the very best. Until now, perhaps.
A break up and leading 3-1 against Aliaksandra Sasnovich on her beloved centre court, Williams seemed to roll her left ankle and was forced to leave the court for a medical time-out after the world number 100 had immediately broke back.
Williams, with her right thigh already heavily strapped up, returned to an adoring court but the tears were already flowing before she accepted her retirement from this year’s tournament.
At 3-3, the Michigan native stumbled as she tried to change direction and immediately dropped to the floor to gasps from the concerned crowd. Her tournament was over, and with it, perhaps her stellar career too.
It would be a crying shame for a legend of the sport to be forced to bow out like this, particularly with her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, being so bullish in the build up to the All England Club spectacle.
“There are two challenges,” the influential coach claimed. “Be ready for the Grand Slams and be able to find the real Serena when she needs to.
“If she finds those two she will win a Grand Slam. She can, of course she can, 100 percent.”
Following this latest injury nightmare, that percentage may have now dipped significantly and it is now looking increasingly unlikely that Serena will add to her 23 Grand Slam titles.
For the good of tennis, let’s hope we’re wrong.