Serena faces major doubts after Roland Garros shocker

Paris: Serena Williams’ bid to win a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title was thwarted again when she suffered her earliest exit at the majors in almost five years, prompting more questions over her long-term future at the highest level.

Her 6-2 7-5 French Open third round defeat by US compatriot Sofia Kenin on Saturday meant that she failed again to move level with Margaret Court’s majors record set between 1960 and 1973.

She will be 38 in September and her 23rd and most recent Slam triumph was at the Australian Open in 2017 while pregnant. After giving birth to daughter Olympia Alexis in September 2017, she returned to Grand Slam tennis at Roland Garros in 2018, making the last 16 where she had been set to resume her bitter rivalry with Maria Sharapova. An arm injury torpedoed that meeting and stalled her assault on a fourth title in Paris after 2002, 2013 and 2015.

Defeat in the 2018 Wimbledon final to Angelique Kerber, and at the US Open championship match, where her now-infamous meltdown overshadowed Naomi Osaka’s title triumph, followed. Her Australian Open campaign in January ended in a quarter-final loss to Karolina Pliskova despite having led 5-1 in the final set and holding four match points. Since Melbourne, Williams had been unable to finish the three tournaments she entered — she retired to Garbine Muguruza in the third round of Indian Wells, withdrew after winning a round in Miami, and pulled out after winning a round on the clay in Rome due to a right knee injury.

But the American remains defiant over her longevity. “If I was told I would only make the third round here, I would have thought they were lying, because I wouldn’t expect to have gotten only to the third round,” said Williams after her loss on Saturday.

Williams said she will try again to equal Court’s record at Wimbledon in July where she will be chasing an eighth title at the All England Club. ‘I’m just pretty far away, but the optimistic part is I haven’t been able to be on the court as much as I would have,’ she said, adding that she may even take a wildcard into a pre-Wimbledon event grass court event.

“At least I can start trying to put the time in now. It’s just been a really gruelling season.” Saturday’s loss was Williams’ earliest exit at the Slams since a third round loss to France’s Alize Cornet at Wimbledon in 2014. This year’s Wimbledon gets underway on 1 July, so she at least has four weeks to line up her next assault on the Court landmark.

“I’m still working on it and working on getting there. So I think it will be enough time. We’ll see, but I definitely hope so,” she explained. “I feel like I have had some great runs last year, and I’m hoping to still build on that this year and keep it going. I’m definitely feeling short on matches, and just getting in the swing of things. So I have some time on my hands, so maybe I’ll jump in and get a wildcard on one of these grass court events and see what happens.”

“This is such a great win for me,” said Kenin after her third victory over a top 10 player. “I don’t normally cry after a match. I had so many emotions playing on Chatrier. I have always imagined playing there and winning a match.”