PARIS: Serena Williams hopes of a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title took another hit Wednesday when she announced on her Instagram page that she was pulling out of next week's US Open because of a hamstring injury.
"After careful consideration and following the advice of my doctors and medical team, I have decided to withdraw from the US Open to allow my body to heal completely from a torn hamstring," wrote the 39-year-old American.
"New York is one of the most exciting cities in the world and one of my favorite places to play - I'll miss seeing the fans but will be cheering everyone on from afar. Thank you for your continued support and love. I'll see you soon."
Williams, who has not played since a tearful first round exit at Wimbledon when she hobbled off court during the first set against Aliaksandra Sasnovich, is a six-time winner in New York.
She missed last week's event in Cincinnati in a bid to get fit for Flushing Meadows and said she hoped "to be back on the court very soon" but her hamstring ultimately failed to recover in time, much to her disappointment.
"We took medical advice and the medical advice was clear -- if you play, you take a big risk," her coach Patrick Mouratoglou told the website Tennis Majors.
"Then we had to discuss a little as a team. Serena always feels like she's giving up if she doesn't play. It's inside her.
"We had to reason her a little, but anyway, the medical advice had a big part. In that sense it was a team decision."
The withdrawal marks the latest setback for a player who has dominated women's tennis since collecting her first major at the US Open in 1999 as a teenager and is viewed by many as the greatest female player of all time.
The problem for Williams, who turns 40 in September, is that the target of equalling Margaret Court's all-time record of 24 Grand Slam singles titles looks more remote than ever.
Back in 2017, when she won the Australian Open to move to within one of the controversial Court's tally, she looked odds-on to achieve that and more.
Even after taking time out that year to have her baby daughter Olympia, she was expected to return as dominant as before with few likely rivals on the horizon.
However, since then it has been a tale of regression by degrees from reaching four finals -- two at Wimbledon (2018, 2019) and two at the US Open (2018,20 19) -- and falling short every time.
Last year, albeit one in which Wimbledon did not take place due to the coronavirus pandemic, her fortunes dipped even lower as for the first time since 2006 she failed to reach a Grand Slam final, something she will repeat in 2021.
Mouratoglou insisted it was just a question of time before Williams, who has slipped to 22 in the rankings,returns to the courts.
"If the US Open happened in three weeks instead of next week, it would have been possible," he said.
"You have a new deal in tennis, it's that champions can play longer, over 35, thanks to their unprecedented professionalism. Nevertheless, it's still a race against the clock."
The same could be said for three other former US Open champions who have pulled out of the men's draw.
Four-time winner Rafael Nadal, 35, withdrew because of an injury to his left foot that has troubled him since his defeat in the semi-finals at the French Open in June.
Meanwhile Roger Federer, 40, who won the last of his five US Open titles in 2008, said he needed further knee surgery and admitted he "will be out for many months".
The 2020 men's champion Dominic Thiem, who is still only a sprightly 27, will also be missing after failing to recover from a wrist injury.