Have we just witnessed the final act in the remarkable career of Serena Williams?

Serena Williams in tears

Was that what we think it was? Was that the painful end of Serena Williams’ story on Wimbledon’s Centre Court?

After the drama of an injured Adrian Mannarino pulling out of his epic match with Roger Federer half an hour earlier, now we were presented with a sight that had a distinct finality around it.

The slip that ended Mannarino’s efforts to see off Federer had occurred in almost precisely the same spot as Serena’s ankle injury, as the 23-time Grand Slam-winning legend stumbled in what appeared to be innocuous fashion, only for the severity of the injury to quickly become apparent.

Treatment off-court didn’t resolve the issue and while Williams did not want her Wimbledon story to end like this, her attempts to play on came to a tearful end as she slumped to the court that has witnessed so many of her greatest triumphs and had to admit the game was up. 

Five years after she won her last major title on Centre Court and with Margaret Court’s record of 24 Grand Slam titles still tantalisingly out of reach, what many believe to be her best hope of equalling that record was snatch away as her body let her down once again.

We should not be surprised, as tennis players don’t tend to win Grand Slam titles at the age of 39, but this is not an ordinary tennis player.

This is Serena Williams, the icon who has transcended the game for most of her career and become a household name for those who barely know the rules of tennis.

Here is a sporting icon as big as Tiger Woods, as famous as Michael Jordan and who could lay claim to being the greatest female athlete of all-time.

Now, under a closed roof on the first Tuesday of Wimbledon, this champion who refuses to accept the sands of time have caught up with her, was finally hoisting the white flag.

It remains to be seen whether this was her final act at Wimbledon, but as she left the court with the tears flowing and thanked the crowd for giving her the send-off she merited, it certainly felt like that.

“She’s been the greatest player, so far that’s ever lived on the women side, and she deserves our respect and she’s earned our respect and she’s earned the right to play as long she wants to play,” 18-time Grand Slam champion Chris Evert told Tennis365 last month.

“Can she win again? I don’t know. The women players are only getting better. There are some really impressive players out here now that we didn’t even know their names before the pandemic. And they’re not intimidated by playing Serena anymore.

“Serena has to work twice more because of her age. She’s 39, she has to work, I think, a little harder on her fitness. In saying that, to see the passion and the commitment that she has had until her 39 has been very inspiring and kudos to her.”

Serena has done things we never thought could ever have been done. Serena is a force of nature, you can’t predict what she’s going to do. If she is going to win again, it will be at Wimbledon, but it is getting tougher and tougher for her.”

For a champion who doesn’t know how to admit defeat, limping out of Wimbledon would have hurt more than any defeat on the court.

Now Serena has to decide whether her golden legacy needs to be left as it is or whether she wants to carry on trying to defy all logic to win again.

Follow Kevin Palmer on Twitter @RealKevinPalmer

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