London, June 30: The 23-time Grand Slam winner, who is still pursuing Margaret Court’s all-time record, started Tuesday evening’s match well though had heavy strapping on her right thigh.
She broke Sasnovich in the Bulgarian’s second service game, but was immediately broken back herself and appeared to roll her ankle in the process of returning a shot.
Every action after that was met with a grimace and she was forced off court for a medical timeout after the fifth game.
The Centre Court grass is proving to be a particularly tricky surface under the roof this year, while she has been struggling with a long-term ankle problem for a number of years.
Serena returned to court but looked in clear pain and discomfort, breaking down in tears at one point as she struggled to move around the court and failed to return a relatively tame shot from her opponent.
In the seventh game of the first set, she collapsed to the floor and could not continue, her leg appearing to buckle from beneath her, and she informed the umpire that she could not continue.
Williams had been buoyant about her chances heading into the Championships and looked distraught as she packed away her rackets and left the court.
She was given a standing ovation as she did so, saluting the crowd, with a number of spectators also in tears having seen the seven-time Wimbledon champion in such distress.
As she headed down the tunnel back to the changing room, she required help from a medic as she limped off.
‘I’m so sad for Serena, she’s a great champion,’ said Sasnovich on court after her unexpected progression to the second round. ‘I just wish the best for her, and the best recovery.’
There will be big questions over whether the Wimbledon crowd will ever see Serena at SW19 again, with the 39-year-old having been plagued by injuries in recent years.
Despite the French Open draw opening up for her at Rolland Garros earlier this month, Williams exited the tournament in the fourth round to Elena Rybakina and, having exited Wimbledon in the first round now, her pursuit of a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam looks further away than ever.-Agencies