Tennis

Serena Williams Pulls Out of the Italian Open With a Knee Injury

ROME — A lingering knee injury forced Serena Williams to withdraw from the Italian Open on Tuesday, one day before her scheduled second-round match against her sister Venus Williams.

“I must withdraw from the Italian Open due to pain in my left knee,” Williams said in a statement provided by the WTA. “I will miss the fans and competition at one of my favorite tournaments. I’ll be concentrating on rehab and look forward to seeing you all at the French Open and next year in Rome.”

Williams, 37, has now pulled out of three consecutive tournaments after completing just one match. She withdrew before her second match at the Miami Open in March because of the same knee injury. Earlier that month in Indian Wells, Calif., Williams won a thrilling first match against Victoria Azarenka, and won the first three games in her next match against Garbiñe Muguruza before retiring when she was down, 3-6, 0-1, citing a viral illness.

Williams, who was one of the hosts of the Met Gala in New York last week, was in good spirits Monday after her 6-4, 6-2 first-round win over 64th-ranked Rebecca Peterson, whom Williams had also beaten in her lone match in Miami.

“It felt good to be back in the match,” she said. “It’s been a while. I haven’t played a ton of matches this year. Not my choice, just by force. I really, really, actually desperately wanted to be on the tour and to be playing, but it hasn’t been able to work out.”

Williams was also undone by a physical issue at the Australian Open in January, rolling her ankle on her first of three match points when up by 5-1 in the third set of her quarterfinal against Karolina Pliskova. Williams did not win another point on her serve after that injury and lost the set, 7-5.

With the French Open less than two weeks away, Williams has played only nine matches this season. Her ability to do cardiovascular training has been limited by her injury, so Williams said she focused on nutrition to optimize her fitness for the clay season.

“I’ve just been on this diet basically; it’s been awful,” she said. “When you’re sedentary, it becomes hard to manage your body. So it’s just basically you have to eat grass. That’s kind of what I did. It was a nightmare. But it worked and it paid off. I didn’t get to train too much. It’s more of a process. I feel like I’m taking it one day at a time — I’ve been really putting in the hours.”

Williams, whose knees have given her trouble for years, has not won a tournament since the 2017 Australian Open, after which she took almost 13 months of maternity leave.

The scheduled second-round match between the Williams sisters would have been the 31st meeting of their careers and their first in Rome since 1998, when a 17-year-old Venus beat a 16-year-old Serena in the quarterfinals.

After Monday’s matches, Venus Williams, now 38, might have seemed the more likely of the two to call off this meeting. Her first-round win over Elise Mertens lasted 3 hours 3 minutes, with Williams letting a 5-1 lead evaporate in the third set. Mertens fended off the first eight match points Williams held, before ultimately falling in a tiebreaker.

The withdrawal of Serena Williams, the 10th seed, removed one marquee event from the schedule on Wednesday. The tournament organizers had doubled the price of admission for that day after Roger Federer announced he would play the event for the first time in three years. He plays the first match of the day on the main court, against João Sousa.

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