London: Serena Williams, the 23-time Grand Slam singles champion was forced to withdraw from Wimbledon due to an injury during her first-round match against Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich here.
Arriving on court with her right thigh heavily strapped, the No.6 seed was leading Aliaksandra by a break in the first set at 3-1. Serving at 15-15, Serena slipped briefly at the back of the court and limped out of Wimbledon in tears after her bid for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles crown was stopped in the seventh game by the injury.
The American sixth seed and seven-times Wimbledon winner was visibly in pain on a slippery Centre Court and sought treatment while 3-2 up in her first round match against unseeded Belarusian Aliaksandra Sasnovich.
While she never fell to the ground, Serena requested for a physio after losing serve in the fifth game, and received off-court medical timeout before returning to the court.
Upon resumption, Aliaksandra held serve in the sixth game to level 3-3, but the match ended shortly after as Serena made the decision to retire and left the centre court to a standing ovation.
"I was heartbroken to have to withdraw today after injuring my right leg," Serena said in an Instagram post late on Tuesday night.
"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."
Serena had previously been 19-0 in the first round of Wimbledon. It is just her second career retirement in a Grand Slam match, dating back to her first against Spain's Virginia Ruano Pascual in the third round of Wimbledon in 1998.
"It was so nice of an atmosphere out here and it was my first time playing on Centre Court. I'm so sad for Serena," Aliaksandra said on-court. "She's a great champion. It happens sometimes in tennis, but (I'm wishing) all the best for her for the best recovery.
"It's very sad for me, honestly, when your opponent feels bad. She's a great champion, and it's sad story. I was happy to play against her. She's a great champion. She has a lot of Slams. It was a dream of my dad. He dreamed for eight years in a row, he just wrote me before the match, that I would play with Serena in Wimbledon, and it happened," added Aliaksandra.
"We're heartbroken for you, Serena. Our seven-time singles champion is forced to retire from The Championships 2021 through injury," tweeted Wimbledon.
Aliaksandra will now face either Japan's Nao Hibino or American Bernarda Pera, whose match was suspended ahead of the third set due to darkness after they split sets at 6-1, 5-7.