Tennis icon Serena Williams was forced to retire — or withdraw from competition — on Sunday after she suffered an injury during the first set of the championship match during the Rogers Cup in Toronto. Serena was down 3-1 when she took a medical time out for what turned out to be a back injury that would prevent her from playing the rest of the final.
Video footage showed an emotional Serena breaking down in tears after the umpire announced she would be retiring from the match. Prior to Sunday, Serena had won her past three matches in straight sets leading up to the tournament’s final.
In an amazing display of sportsmanship, Bianca Andreescu, who became the first Canadian to win the Rogers Cup in 50 years, walked over to Serena’s chair after the match was called and gave the 23-time Grand Slam champion a hug and some comforting words of reassurance.
“I watched you throughout your whole career,” the 19-year-old said to Williams. “You’re a freaking beast.”
After Andreescu told the crowd she wished Serena “a fast recovery,” Williams apologized to the audience.
“I’m sorry I couldn’t do it today,” she said through tears.
Serena also pulled out of the Rogers Cup with a shoulder injury three years ago. She previously won the tournament three times; in 2001, 2011 and 2013.
The injury may cast some doubt over whether Serena, 37, will be able to compete in the U.S. Open, which the sport’s 10th-ranked woman has won six times. A seventh victory would give her the most of any woman ever. The U.S. Open’s main draw was scheduled to begin Aug. 26.
Sunday’s injury may have been especially painful for Serena because the Rogers Cup followed her lopsided loss to Simona Halep during Wimbledon last month. Serena also lost in the third round of the French Open in June. As of Sunday, Serena Williams had not won a singles championship in 2019.
Serena, whose daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian will be two years old next month, has also been in the news for reasons not having to do with tennis. Determined to address alarming trends surrounding the health of Black mothers, Serena recently invested in the maternal healthcare startup Mahmee, in part because African American women in the U.S. are more likely to die from pregnancy and childbirth than women of any other race.
For Serena, the matter was personal. She has been very candid about the pregnancy complications she endured while giving birth to her daughter, requiring two surgeries after having a C-section due to a pulmonary embolism that had developed.
“Given the bleak data surrounding maternal death and injury rates, I believe that it is absolutely critical right now to invest in solutions that help protect the lives of moms and babies,” Serena said last month.