The Short & The Long of It: Where an injured Serena Williams goes next

The Short & The Long of It: Where an injured Serena Williams goes next

The 39-year-old 23-time Grand Slam singles champion pulled out of Roland Garros before her second-round match, dues to a lingering Achilles problem.

Serena Williams loves Paris. She has an apartment in the City of Light, enjoys its food and culture, and works with a coach based in France. Her three Roland Garros singles titles, earned over a 13-year-period (2002, 2013 and 2015), reveal exceptional tenacity and longevity.      

Alas, hours prior to this afternoon’s second-round match versus Tsvetana Pironkova, the 39-year-old announced she was withdrawing from the tournament she so enjoys. The injury to Williams’ left Achilles heel that first surfaced in her US Open semifinal versus Victoria Azarenka continued to flare during Monday’s first-round match with Kristie Ahn. 

“I love playing in Paris," said Williams. "I actually adore the clay. It's so, I don't know, fun for me. I really wanted to give an effort here.”

Apparently, the injury never fully healed.

“I was able to get it somewhat better, but just looking long term in this tournament, 'Will I be able to get through enough matches?'" she said. "And so for me I don’t think I could, I’m struggling to walk, so that’s kind of a telltale sign that I should try to recover.”

The recovery cycle for such an injury to an area as sensitive as the Achilles is arduous. Williams said she’d need to start with two weeks of complete rest. From there, rehab for several more.

“Achilles is a real injury that you don't want to play with, because that is not good if it gets worse," she said. "I think it's one of the worst. So I don't want it to get to that point, where I actually have a chance to get better.” 

Based on such timing, it appears that Williams won’t be able to resume rigorous tennis training until the last half of November, surely ending her 2020 season. (“So I think I’m going to call it more than likely,” she said of the question.)

Hopefully, all will go smoothly and Williams will be primed to head to Australia and continue her pursuit of a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title. 

“I feel like my body is willing,” she said. “I just—just literally, this is not a nagging injury. This is an acute injury. So if it was my knee, that would be more really devastating for me. But this is something that just happened, and it's super acute. That's totally different.

"I feel like my body is actually doing really, really well. I just ran into, for lack of a better word, bad timing and bad luck, really, in New York. So it happened, but my body is actually doing really, really well, and I can never do too much sitting, because I have been working for over 20-something years.”

It's been nearly four years since Serena Williams last won a Grand Slam singles title. (FFT)

The current calendar chronology is mind-blowing: After Roland Garros, very soon comes the Australian Open. Added to the mix are the Australian government’s quarantine protocols. Come December and January, how far in advance of the tournament will a player need to arrive in Melbourne to appropriately quarantine? How will this affect a player’s preparation for the Australian Open, which is scheduled to begin on January 18? 

Given all that, it’s logical to think that throughout her recovery, rehab and training period, Williams and her team will give considerable thought about how to best approach the 2021 tennis year with the long-view in mind. To be sure, there are the four majors, as well as various WTA tournaments. But 2021 also features an event Williams has often cited as deeply meaningful—not just to her, but to her sister Venus: the Olympics. The tennis event for the Games is set to begin on July 24, just two weeks after the end of Wimbledon. 

Despite the setback, Williams gave no indication that her time on tour was ending anytime soon.

“I love playing tennis obviously,” Williams said. “I love competing. I love being out here. It’s my job. It’s been my job. And I’m pretty good at it still, so until I feel like I’m not good at it, then I’ll be like, Okay. And I’m so close to some things. I’m almost there. I think that’s what keeps me going.”

Recovery, rehab, training, history, scheduling, COVID-19, quarantines, as well as her own personal health journey: unquestionably, Serena Williams will have much on her mind over the coming weeks and months.