Venus Williams’ 24th Wimbledon campaign ended on Monday on Centre Court, as the five-time tournament champion was beaten in the first round by Elina Svitolina, 6-4, 6-3.
Svitolina was victorious in 1 hour and 31 minutes, but it looked for a moment as though the match between two wild cards might end much earlier after an injury scare for Williams in the first set, when she slipped and fell hard.
The moment it happened: Williams started the match strongly. Serving up 2-0, but facing break point, she was injured at the close of the third game of the match, as she approached the net at the close of a long rally.
After hitting a backhand volley, Williams slipped and fell hard to the ground in an attempt to change direction and reach up for a lob that Svitolina lofted over her head — extending her right knee, which already came into the match wrapped up, awkwardly.
Able to walk to her chair for the changeover, Williams consulted with the trainer before continuing the match. In between sets, she took a medical timeout to get her knee re-taped.
But the American, playing just her third tournament of the season, battled on for the duration, despite being hampered in her movement. She saved a set point in the ninth game of the opening set, and later, broke Svitolina when she first served for the match at 6-4, 5-2.
“Grass is inherently going to be slippery, Williams said afterwards. “You’re going to fall at some point. It was just bad luck for me. I started the match perfectly. I was literally killing it, then I got killed by the grass
“It’s not fun right now. I felt like I was in great form coming into this tournament, and great form in the match. It’s all very shocking at the moment. This is sports. I’m hitting the ball well. Hopefully I can just figure out what’s happening with me and move forward.
“I think what makes this one hard to process is I’ve had so many injuries. I’ve been missing from tour for quite a while. This is not what I want for myself. This kind of fall, I didn’t do anything wrong. I just went for the ball. There’s nothing I can really do about it. Those kinds of things are hard to process emotionally, mentally and physically on the court.
“I’ve played through a lot of injuries and won a lot of matches injured. It’s almost a specialty of mine. I just couldn’t figure it out today.”
Up next: With the victory, Svitolina improved her career head-to-head record against Williams to 4-1, and advances to a second-round match against No.28 seed Elise Mertens, who beat Slovakian qualifier Viktoria Hruncakova 7-6(2), 6-2.
The Ukrainian, a 2019 semifinalist, is playing her first Wimbledon since 2021, having been pregnant with her daughter, Skaï, during the tournament last year.
In her return to Centre Court, Svitolina broke Williams four times, hit 28 winners to just 15 unforced errors, and also struck eight aces.
“It was a special day for me today to play on Centre Court,” Svitolina said. “[It] couldn’t be more special to play also against such a great champion as Venus is. Just really happy I could get a first win on Centre Court.
“She tried, and the champion she is, she fought, she gave her everything…. I thought [the injury] was really, really serious. So I was really happy for her actually that she could stand up after and didn’t take a medical timeout. She just was checking how the knee is. And then we continue playing.”