Serena Williams’ latest quest for a record-equaling 24th Grand Slam title ended in the French Open last 16 on Sunday, hours after Roger Federer pulled out of what was possibly his last appearance at Roland Garros, while Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei, Latisha Chan and Chan Hao-ching also exited.
The 39-year-old Williams, still one short of Margaret Court’s all-time record for most Grand Slam singles titles, lost 6-3, 7-5 to Kazakh 21st seed Elena Rybakina, while Federer withdrew as a precaution to protect his body for Wimbledon.
The American won the last of her three Roland Garros titles in 2015, and has not advanced beyond the fourth round in Paris since losing the 2016 final.
“It was definitely close. I’m so close. There is literally a point here, a point there, that could change the whole course of the match,” Williams said.
“I’m not winning those points. That like literally could just change everything,” she added.
Her exit leaves just two of the women’s top 10 seeds in the competition, reigning champion Iga Swiatek and last year’s runner-up Sofia Kenin.
Williams, who despite arriving with just one win on clay this season, had seen her title hopes boosted by the absence of Simona Halep, and early exits of Ashleigh Barty and Naomi Osaka.
Instead, she remains without a Grand Slam title since winning the 2017 Australian Open in the early stages of her pregnancy.
Russian-born Rybakina, 21, extended her best run at a major as she advances to her first quarter-final, where she was yesterday to face Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova for a spot in the last four.
In women’s doubles, Swiatek and Bethanie Mattek-Sands staged an improbable comeback to eliminate the No. 1-seeded team of Taiwan’s Hsieh Su-wei and Belgium’s Elise Mertens. Swiatek, the defending singles champion, and her partner overcame seven match points and a 5-1 deficit in the final set.
They beat Hsieh and Mertens 5-7, 6-4, 7-5 in a wild third-round match that took more than three hours. When it finally ended, an excited Swiatek and Mattek-Sands jumped into a hug.
The Polish and American pairing next face Croatia’s Darija Jurak and Slovenia’s Andreja Klepac, who yesterday defeated the Chan sisters 4-6, 6-3, 6-1 in one hour and 55 seconds.
Earlier on Sunday, Federer made the decision to withdraw from what was possibly his last French Open, unwilling to risk his troublesome knee after an injury-plagued past 18 months.
Federer, a 20-time Grand Slam title winner, who will be 40 in August, had battled more than three-and-a-half hours until 12:45am on Sunday morning to reach the last 16.
“After discussions with my team, I’ve decided I will need to pull out of Roland Garros today,” Federer said.
“After two knee surgeries and over a year of rehabilitation it’s important that I listen to my body and make sure I don’t push myself too quickly on my road to recovery,” he said. “I am thrilled to have gotten three matches under my belt. There is no greater feeling than being back on court.”
It was the first time Federer has conceded a walkover at a Grand Slam, coming at his 80th major.
Fifth seed Stefanos Tsitsipas, fancied to reach his first Grand Slam final, with Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic in the other half of the draw, sealed his return to the quarter-finals with a 6-3, 6-2, 7-5 victory over Spain’s Pablo Carreno Busta.
He would next face twice Grand Slam finalist and second seed Daniil Medvedev. The Russian, who had not won a French Open match before this week, eased past Chile’s Cristian Garin 6-2, 6-1, 7-5.
Additional reporting by Staff writer, with AP
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