When Serena Williams pulled out of the French Open moments before her second-round match against the accomplished Bulgarian veteran Tsvetana Pironkova on Wednesday, she was quick to insist she is still hunting down Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 majors.
However, whether time, opponents and the achilles injury that first struck at the recent US Open will allow her to do so remains problematic as the American enters her 40th year – three years after winning her last major.
Marooned on 23 majors since winning in Melbourne in 2017, Williams said there would be: “Just two weeks of sitting down and doing nothing and, after that, I’ve been told I need to do a little training. But, doing the math on that, more than likely – I don’t know if I’ll be able play another tournament this year. It will mean a lot of time to fully recover for the future.”
She added: “I feel like my body is willing. This is not a nagging injury. This is an acute injury. If it was my knee, that would be more devastating for me, but this is something that just happened, and it’s super acute. That’s totally different.
“So, I think my body is doing really, really well. I just ran into, for lack of a better word, bad timing and bad luck in New York. It happened but my body is doing really well. And I can never do too much sitting because I’ve been working for over 20-something years.
“I love playing tennis. I love competing and I love being out here. It’s my job – and I’m pretty good at it still. So, until I feel like I’m not good at it, I’ll be OK. And I’m so close to some things. Like, I’m almost there. That’s what keeps me going.”
Her withdrawal left unanswered questions. She said she suffered a recurrence of the injury in the finish to her 7-6 (2), 6-0 first-round win over Kristie Ahn, yet did not complain of an injury afterwards when asked. On Wednesday she said: “In that second set, I felt like I needed to walk with a limp, and that was no good. I had to focus on just walking straight. I tried. I always give 100%. Everyone knows that.
“I think achilles is an injury that you really don’t want to play with because that is not good,” Williams added. “If it gets worse, I think it’s one of the worst. So I don’t want it to get to that point, when I actually have a chance to get better.”
On a fourth day of no little incident, the Italian Sara Errani was near meltdown when the serving yips struck during her match against Kiki Bertens, then accused the fifth seed of faking injury. Bertens collapsed to the ground after saving match point before going on to win 7-6 (5), 3-6, 9-7, in three hours and 11 minutes on Court No 14.
The victorious Belgian was taken from the court in a wheelchair, seemingly in extreme pain from cramping. Errani raged: “I don’t like when someone is joking on you. She played an amazing match, but I don’t like the situation. One hour she’s injured and runs like never . . . she goes out of court on the chair and now she’s in the locker room perfect and in the restaurant. I don’t like these things.”
Bertens said of Errani’s outburst: “She can say whatever she feels like. Maybe I should take some more acting classes. I’m not sure what she’s thinking. But, no, I didn’t feel really good on court. A good thing for me was that all the time the cramps were coming and going again. It was not like that it was staying in the body.”
It is uncertain if Bertens will be ready to play Katerina Siniakova in the third round.
Elsewhere, Rafael Nadal, whose complaints about everything from the ball to the weather have dissipated in victory, confirmed he is in fine shape to move alongside Roger Federer with 20 majors by beating the unseeded American Mackenzie McDonald 6-1, 6-0, 6-3.
Stan Wawrinka, who demolished Andy Murray in the first round, looked powerful again in subduing the young German Dominik Koepfer, 6-3, 6-2, 3-6, 6-1, and said: “Seeing what’s happening in the world, we are lucky to be able to play here. I’m ready for it. I’m playing well. I’m moving well. I’m feeling good on the court. Let’s see what will happen in the next two weeks.”
The other obvious threat on that side of the draw, the US Open champion and two-time French finalist Dominic Thiem, got a solid workout before quelling the challenge of Jack Sock, 6-1, 6-3, 7-6 (6).