Friday, January 21, 2011

Venus Williams Withdraws After Injury

January 21, 2011
Venus Williams Withdraws After Injury


MELBOURNE, Australia — Williams sisters have won Grand Slam titles, won this very tournament, with aches, strains and wraps around their legs. But there will be no mind over matter run to the trophy, or even the second week, this time.

With Serena Williams unable to defend her title at this Australian Open, her big sister Venus was the only Williams healthy enough to make the long journey to Melbourne, and Venus could not stay healthy enough to make it through the third round Friday against Andrea Petkovic.

After injuring a hip flexor muscle in the previous round, Williams walked into Rod Laver Arena for the last match of the night session wearing a businesslike expression, tape on her upper right leg and a black-and-silver outfit that was demure by her rococo standard. But she was soon wincing and making it painfully obvious that she was unable to cover the court or even complete a groundstroke without discomfort.

She lost her serve in a hurry, then changed ends and quickly fell behind by 0-30 after lunging to her right to attempt a forehand return. She grimaced, asked for a trainer and walked gingerly toward her chair. After a brief grim-faced consultation, she stood up, walked past the net to embrace the 30th-seeded Petkovic and then did something she has never done before in her previous 250 Grand Slam singles matches.

She retired.

“I mean, it’s super disappointing because this is just not how I envisioned my Australian Open being,” said Williams, now 30 and seeded fourth here. “I’ve never had to retire from a Grand Slam, especially after working so hard to pull out the match the other day. Just hoping for some magic that I could recover. But I have peace of mind that I really gave more than my best out there.”

The crowd she left behind was not quite so peaceful, and a smattering of boos and whistles accompanied her as she walked through the tunnel with her long left arm raised in farewell. But then they had paid top dollar for tickets to the two night-session singles matches and seen only three sets, with Stan Wawrinka of Switzerland defeating Gael Monfils of France, 7-6 (4), 6-2, 6-3, in the previous match.

The tournament director, Craig Tiley, had scheduled Williams and Petkovic last, in part to give Williams a chance to recover. She arrived in Melbourne, having not played an official match since the United States Open in September. Her mother and coach, Oracene Price, said she did not think Williams should have made the trip here in the first place.

She has had tendinitis in both knees in recent years and sprained her left kneecap last year. Watching her train here before the tournament, it was clear that she was in far from optimal shape.

In the second round Wednesday against Sandra Zahlavova, she screamed in pain after injuring her hip flexor on the last point of the first-set tie breaker. But she still managed to win the next two sets, her movement improving as the match progressed. Afterward, she underwent treatment and did not hit a ball on Thursday and only practiced briefly with her hitting partner, David Witt, on Friday evening.

“Just kind of warming up standing still and trying to give my best for the match,” she said. “You know, a lot of times when you play, too, you get this adrenaline that blocks the pain. But I just didn’t get enough of that today.”

Though Williams retired Friday night, she made it clear that she had no intention of considering retirement in general and pointed to her semifinal run at last year’s United States Open.

“Well, I’m still pretty good, even when I’m injured,” she said. “I mean, at the Open, I came pretty close to winning that tournament just on a hope and a prayer and little to no preparation. Here, you know, I was grinding. So I’m just going to focus obviously on getting healthy and coming back. Because I love tennis, and I’ve got a lot of great tennis in me. I love my job, so no end in sight.”

But for now, there are no American singles players in sight in the women’s tournament. Williams was the last one, and as she walked up the long hallway leading toward transport with her mother and other members of her entourage, they passed by a huge photograph of Serena, her upper right leg wrapped in tape, lying on the blue court in Laver Arena after one of her five singles titles here.

There would be no such happy ending this time, and the legitimate question now — with Serena having not played in seven months and Venus heading for a layoff of her own — is whether either Williams will experience such Grand Slam elation again.

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