(Getty Images)

There are times in tennis where there are simply no words, even for all of the journalists that cover the sport. Few players have left fans more frequently breathless in almost three decades on tour than Serena Williams, who made a regal entrance into her campaign for a 24th Grand Slam singles title and began her first round in authoritative fashion against Aliaksandra Sasnovich.

She left fans in a different kind of hush when, overcome by an injury that took her off Centre Court for a medical timeout, the former No. 1 was forced to retire in tears at 3-3, just six games into the opening set.

"I was heartbroken to have to withdraw today after injuring my right leg," Serena said in a statement. "My love and gratitude are with the fans and the team who make being on centre court so meaningful. Feeling the extraordinary warmth and support of the crowd today when I walked on—and off—the court meant the world to me."

The specter of Margaret Court’s all-time record—one that looms larger or smaller, depending on the amount of stock you put in it—has surely been on already-GOAT’s mind. It is the one mountain this sport’s pioneer has yet to climb, and it is the challenge that almost certainly brought her back from maternity leave after giving birth to daughter Alexis Olympia in 2017.

Defeats in four major finals since her 2018 return (all in straight sets) have hardly dampened her determination, though as she stands on the edge of a 40th birthday, the question of how many more opportunities she will have to achieve this milestone will only grow bigger.

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WATCH: Williams' draw appeared in her favor as she attempted to win an eighth Wimbledon title.

An emotional defeat in Australia to Naomi Osaka halted her early-season momentum, and sent her sputtering through an unsatisfactory clay-court swing that culminated with a decisive defeat to an on-fire Elena Rybakina.

Still, many insisted, Wimbledon would be where she would have her best shot at No. 24. Even with a heavily strapped right thigh, that proverbial wisdom appeared to bear out as she barreled into a 3-1 lead against Sasnovich—a sometimes-gangly Belarusian who channeled her awkwardness into precise shotmaking when she defeated Petra Kvitova at the All England Club in 2018.

"I was happy to play against her," Sasnovich said after the match. "I think it's luck, you know, to play against Serena. She's a great champion. She has a lot of slams. It was a dream of my dad. He dreamed for eight years in a row, he just wrote me before the match, that I would play with Serena in Wimbledon, and, yeah, it's happened."

At a moment where the world’s best front-runner would pick up speed, doubt suddenly showed on Williams’ face, and she left the court for a medical timeout.

A wrong move upon resumption left the seven-time Wimbledon champion in tears, standing in silence as the crowd attempted to cheer her back to health. A few more off-kilter serves did little to assuage onlookers’ fears, and a fall to her knees spelled the end of the match for Serena, who was helped to the net by umpire Marija Cicak.

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An Eastern European Lucille Ball, Sasnovich is a proud Nutella aficionado and better suited to comedy than tragedy, but somehow found the words to lift the spirits of a shocked arena.

“I think I can do better. I like grass. I love England and English people. I love the public,” she said to a mix of laughter and applause. “I want to stay here as long as possible. I’ll do my best for sure, and try to make you happy.”

It’s a promise Sasnovich will be under pressure to keep in the absence of one who has made so many smile over the years, one who fatefully shares the same initials as SW19.

With a disconsolate wave, Serena left Wimbledon far more quietly than she’s ever done in the past. Whatever she does next, there’s little doubt she will leave the tennis world speechless at least once more.

The question remains whether it will be with a record-tying Grand Slam title, or with a heartbreaking farewell.

We will have additional coverage on this result shortly.