With less than two weeks to go before the start of the U.S. Open, Serena Williams withdrew Tuesday from a Cincinnati-area tournament, citing back issues.
Williams pulled out of the Western & Southern Open before her opening round match against Zarina Diyas. The decision came just days after the 37-year-old Williams tearfully retired during the final of the Rogers Cup in Toronto and ceded the title to Bianca Andreescu.
In a statement released through the Western & Southern Open, Williams said she traveled Sunday to the tournament site in Mason, Ohio, and had “tried everything to be ready to play” Tuesday. She remained hopeful after practicing in the morning.
“But unfortunately my back is still not right,” she said, “and I know I should not take the court.”
Williams was just four games into the final in Toronto when she called a medical timeout. A mic picked up Williams saying that she was suffering from back spasms. She shed tears as Andreescu, 19, gave her a hug and offered words of empathy.
Williams told reporters Sunday that, despite her back spasms, she would go to Ohio “to see what happens.” She said her ailment started during a previous match and grew worse. She had trouble sleeping, she said, and couldn’t move very well.
“I’ve had these awful spasms a lot in my career, actually,” Williams said. “And they’re incredibly painful, but it goes away after, like, 24, 36, maybe 48 hours, and like clockwork.”
Williams is ranked eighth in the world but still seeking her first tournament win since the 2017 Australian Open, after which she had a long layoff related to a pregnancy and a difficult childbirth. That victory gave her 23 Grand Slam singles titles, one short of Margaret Court’s record for men and women, and reaching that mark has been a motivating factor.
“Twenty-four will mean that she will equal the record of all time … and that’s why she came back to playing tennis after having a baby and so many medical complications,” her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, said in July, during Wimbledon.
“The effort she has put in, I have never seen something like this,” he added. “You have no idea how much she worked, how hard she worked to come back to that level, and she came back for that [record], so it will probably mean a lot if she makes it.”
Williams came agonizingly close to tying Court’s record at Wimbledon, where she lost to Simona Halep in the final. In 2018, she lost to Angelique Kerber in the Wimbledon final and she made it as far at the U.S. Open, only to fall to Osaka amid a heated dispute with the chair umpire.
Jessica Pegula, who lost to Diyas in the qualifying tournament for the Western & Southern Open, took Williams’s place in the main draw. Williams won the tournament in 2014 and 2015. Pegula won the Citi Open in Washington earlier this month.
In her statement, according to ESPN, Williams said that she loved to play in the Western & Southern Open tournament.
“I promise I’ll do my best to be back here next year,” she said.
Two-time #CincyTennis champ Serena Williams has withdrawn.
"I came to Mason on Sunday and have tried everything to be ready to play tonight, and was still hopeful after my practice this morning. But unfortunately my back is still not right."
Second night match: Pegula vs. Diyas pic.twitter.com/OGhmPnJgSY
— Western & Southern Open (@CincyTennis) August 13, 2019