After one match, Serena out of Rome

It was like déja vu for Serena Williams, back to the last time she played tennis.

At the Miami Open two months ago, the 37-year-old met Sweden’s Rebecca Peterson in her opening match. She won it – and then pulled out of the tournament before she was to face Qiang Wang in the next round.

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On Monday in Rome, Williams defeated Peterson again. And Tuesday, the day before she was due to meet sister Venus in the second round, she pulled out of the tournament – again.

The culprit is the same left knee. It’s not the first time she’s had an issue with that knee over her long career. But at this stage, it’s definitely more of a concern.

The Italian Open is only Williams’s fourth tournament of the season. And she still has only completed one.

The American lost 7-5 in the third set to Karolina Pliskova in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open. You remember that one; after upsetting No. 1 Simona Halep in the previous round, she was up 5-1 in the third set and had four match points before Pliskova came all the way back. 

And even that one wasn’t straightforward, after Williams rolled her ankle late in the match.

Ankle, viral illness, knee – and knee

At Indian Wells, a viral illness led to “dizziness and extreme fatigue”, and Williams retired early in the second set of her match against Garbiñe Muguruza after a hard-fought victory over Victoria Azarenka in her opener.

Then, Miami. And now, this.

Here’s the statement provided by the tournament.

“I must withdraw from the Italian Open due to pain in my left knee. I will miss the fans and competition at one of my favorite tournaments.

“I’ll be concentrating on rehab and look forward to seeing you all at the French Open and next year in Rome.”

Williams seemed in very good spirits during an interview with the Tennis Channel after her first-round win. Turns out, she’s a better actress than we think.

She said she felt “good, really good”. And that she wasn’t sure how she was going to feel, because she “didn’t have a lot of time to get myself together.”

The spirit is willing, the body less so

Of course, if Williams could only get through one match after a two-month break, it’s hard to see how another two weeks will measurably improve her chances to make a serious run in Paris. But hope springs eternal.

It’s ironic that, earlier in their careers, the Williams played relatively little compared to other players. And some of that was because of outside interests – and because they were so good, they didn’t have to play a huge number of weeks to keep winning.

But now, in the twilight of her career and after returning from maternity leave, Serena Williams says she really wants to play. But her body isn’t letting her.

Sister Venus, who needed over three hours and nine match points to defeat Elise Mertens in her own first-round match Monday, thus gets a walkover to the third round.

She’ll play the winner between No. 7 seed Sloane Stephens and Johanna Konta.

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