World No. 1 Serena Williams has not played a tennis match since her shocking loss to then 43rd-ranked Italian, Roberta Vinci, in the US Open semifinals on Sept. 11. In an article posted by ESPNW on Wednesday, it was revealed that Williams’ coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, questioned whether it was in her best interest to play the two tournaments remaining on her schedule, in Beijing next week and the WTA Finals in Singapore October 25 through November 1. On Thursday morning Williams officially withdrew from both, citing a need to “properly address my health and take the time to heal.”
With a win in New York, Williams, who was the heavy favorite, would have become the first tennis player, male or female, to win all four Grand Slam tournaments in the same calendar year since Steffi Graf in 1988. A US Open title also would have tied Williams with Graf for the second most Slam singles titles in the Open Era, with 22.
While Williams has repeatedly denied the loss to Vinci had anything to do with the magnitude of the occasion, her mother and Mouratoglou have both alluded to nerves and the weight of expectations.
“Because she lost [the semifinal] match, she says to me her season is not good,” Mouratoglou told ESPNW’s Melissa Isaacson. “But I like that because it’s just about having high expectations and that’s what champions have and I think the same way.”
Williams has had her share of physical ailments this season — trouble with her knee and elbow — and an extended offseason will certainly give her body time to recover. But it is surely to be used to reset her mind as well. Mouratoglou told Isaacson he was unsure how high Williams’ motivation is after the disappointing loss and that he didn’t see the point for a champion of her caliber to continue to compete under those circumstances. He added that he believed her desire would return; arguably the greatest player of all time, there is still plenty of opportunity for Williams to continue making history.
“I’m a fierce competitor and I want to compete as well as I can, for as long as I can,” Williams was quoted as saying on the China Open official website. “So I am taking a proactive step and withdrawing from tournaments in Beijing and Singapore to properly address my health and take the time to heal. …This is a very difficult decision, but one ultimately made because of the love of the game. I plan to return to practicing and participating in exhibition matches later this year. And when I do, I will focus and focus and focus so I can continue my journey in this beautiful game.”
At age 34, Williams displayed some of the best tennis of her career in a dominant 2015. The winner of 69 career titles, she finished her season with a 53-3 record and clinched the year-end No. 1 ranking for the fifth time. Williams has several times before come back from a long hiatus to experience great success but as former player and current ESPN commentator Pam Shriver pointed out in an article posted on ESPN.com, that gets harder with time. Still, Williams vows she loves this game now more than ever and when she is focused and driven — which she is likely to be with history still on the line — she remains virtually unbeatable.
“I’ve grown more this year than perhaps at any other point in my career,” Williams continued in her China Open statement. “The tennis family, and our fans, have embraced and supported me in ways I never imagined. I am grateful beyond words.”
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Spark Sports Analyst