PARIS – Serena Williams laughed at her own jokes and sounded an upbeat tone — or one as positive, at least, as could be expected from a player whose latest bid for a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title ended because of injury, as did her season, probably.
Williams tried to warm up for her second-round match at Roland Garros on Wednesday but huddled afterward with her coach and determined that if walking on the Achilles tendon she hurt at the U.S. Open nearly three weeks ago was difficult, then trying to run and compete made little sense.
“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. That’s totally different. I feel like my body is actually doing really, really well,” said Williams, who turned 39 on Saturday. “I just ran into, for lack of a better word, bad timing and bad luck, really, in New York.”
Williams withdrew about an hour before she would have played Tsvetana Pironkova at Court Philippe Chatrier, her earliest exit from a major tournament in six years and the most significant development in Paris on Day 4, which also included a straight-set loss by U.S. Open runner-up Victoria Azarenka and straightforward wins for Rafael Nadal and Dominic Thiem over a couple of American men.
“That’s disappointing on many levels, of course,” said John Isner, the 21st-seeded man who was beaten in four sets by 20-year-old American qualifier Sebastian Korda. “It’s disappointing personally for Serena, but it’s disappointing for the tournament and for tennis fans worldwide.”
Williams’ departure, and the 10th-seeded Azarenka’s 6-2, 6-2 dismissal by 161st-ranked Anna Karolina Schmiedlova — someone who lost 13 consecutive Grand Slam matches until defeating Williams' older sister, Venus, earlier this week — meant zero of the four female semifinalists at Flushing Meadows made it past the second round at Roland Garros.
Champion Naomi Osaka didn’t make the trip to France at all; No. 21 seed Jennifer Brady was upset in her opening match by a 17-year-old qualifier.
The French Open’s start was postponed to September from May because of the coronavirus pandemic, and there were plenty of questions beforehand about what effects there would be from the quick and unusual shift from North America to Europe, from hard courts to red clay.