Coco Gauff, the rising 17-year-old American, was watching on television in the Wimbledon gym. She said she had to turn away from the screen.
“It was hard for me to watch that,” Gauff said. “I’m a big fan of her, even though I’m a competitor now. But she’s the reason why I started to play tennis. It’s hard to watch any player get injured, but especially her.”
The chair umpire, Marija Cicak, climbed down from her post and was soon by Williams’s side. They walked toward the net together, where Williams retired and shook the 100th-ranked Sasnovich’s hand.
It was the second consecutive retirement on Centre Court. In the preceding match, Adrian Mannarino of France stopped play early in the fifth set against Roger Federer, an eight-time Wimbledon singles champion.
“This is obviously terrible that it’s back-to-back matches, and it hits Serena as well,” Federer said when informed of Williams’s retirement. “I can’t believe it.”
After gathering her belongings, Williams limped off Centre Court, her accreditation badge dangling from her hand, and performed one of her traditional pirouettes. But after a final wave to the crowd, she stumbled again as she reached the passageway behind the most famous court in tennis, where she last won the singles title in 2016. Though she stayed on her feet, she needed help to walk into the clubhouse.
Williams, 39, has been chasing a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title since returning to the tour in 2018 after the birth of her daughter, Olympia. Seeded sixth at Wimbledon, she was still considered a favorite for the title by many bookmakers, along with the world No. 1, Ashleigh Barty.