LONDON — Looking every bit the rubber-legged cruise ship passenger staggered by a mystery bug at sea, a seemingly disoriented Serena Williams withdrew from her doubles match with her sister Venus because of a virus Tuesday, but not before launching an array of erratic, feeble serves the likes of which Wimbledon has never seen.
“The strangest 15 minutes I’ve ever seen on a tennis court,’’ said former US star Tracy Austin, commenting here for the BBC. “Without a doubt.’’
Williams, who will be 33 in September, was examined courtside by a doctor for some 15 minutes prior to the start of her match against Kristina Barrois and Stefanie Voegele. Sitting on a chair at courtside, a teary-eyed Williams appeared lethargic, if not dazed, as the doctor spoke with her and took her blood pressure.
“Obviously,’’ said Sue Barker, the longtime BBC host, “she was in a lot of stress.’’
But Williams, dismissed from singles competition on Saturday when she was defeated by France’s Alize Cornet, ultimately decided to play the doubles match, or at least get on the court — albeit her stay very short. After serving up no fewer than four double faults in the third game of the Round 2 match, some of her offerings falling 6-8 feet short of the net, the dazed Williams called it quits.
“I am heartbroken I’m not able to continue in the tournament,’’ Williams said in a statement released nearly two hours after she departed the grounds with her sister in a chauffeured car. “I thought I could rally this morning, because I really wanted to compete. But this bug just got the best of me.’’
Williams, who still looked lethargic upon departing the venue, did not offer specifics about her illness. The BBC said the WTA identified her issue only as a virus.
“I want to thank my sister, Kristina, Stefanie and our teams for their support,’’ Williams continued via the release. “We were looking forward to a great match. From the bottom of my heart, I thank all of the fans for their cheers and understanding. I look forward to returning to Wimbledon next year.’’
Added sister Venus, “Unfortunately, Serena has been feeling unwell for the past few days and she just couldn’t play to her potential today. I’m really proud of her trying because we just love playing doubles together.’’
Moments before Serena attempted her final serve of the tournament, chair umpire Kader Nouni took the unusual action to leave his courtside perch and visit her on the court. Soon after returning to the chair, and witnessing Williams’s last lame attempt to serve the ball, Nouni announced the Williams sisters would retire from the match.
According to a report in The Guardian newspaper, at one stage the doctor told a crying Williams, “If you can’t see the ball, you shouldn’t play.’’
“Sad scenes at Wimbledon,’’ Barker told her BBC audience as Williams slowly made her way into the car.
Austin added that a viral illness can impact its victim’s equilibrium and balance.
“She was not able to catch balls from the ball girl,’’ noted Austin, adding that she was surprised Venus didn’t persuade her sister not to play.