Mouratoglou On Serena’s US Open Withdrawal: ‘We Tried Everything’

Patrick Mouratoglou (photo: Florian Heer)

WASHINGTON, August 26, 2021 (by Michael Dickens)

With Serena Williams‘s announcement Wednesday that she’s withdrawing from next week’s US Open due to a hamstring injury, it marks the first time since 1997 there will be a US Open played without her or Roger Federer or Rafael Nadal.

“We tried everything. She did everything she could,” Serena’s coach Patrick Mouratoglou told Tennis Majors in an interview Wednesday. Williams has been off the WTA Tour since retiring from her first-round match at the Wimbledon Championships on June 29 with an injured hamstring.

Mouratoglou noted that Williams’s entire team knew from the outset that being ready for the US Open would be filled with challenges due to the severity of her injury. He said during the interview that had the tournament been three or four weeks later than next week, she would “mostly likely be able to compete, but that the risk of long-term damage competing now was too great.”

The last time Williams missed a US Open was 2017, when she was on maternity leave giving birth to her daughter, Olympia. In the past three US Open tournaments, she’s been a finalist twice (in 2018 losing to Naomi Osaka, and in 2019 losing to Bianca Andreescu) and last year was eliminated in the semifinals by Victoria Azarenka.

According to Mouratoglou in the interview, Williams had an MRI (magnetic resonance imaging) scan done 10 days ago.

“It showed that her injury had partially healed, but not tally, and in a way that was very insufficient for her to be able to move,” he said. “When you are 20 days away from a major tournament and you haven’t sprinted for five or six weeks, you know that you are off to a bad start.”


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Eventually, Mourtaglou joined Williams several weeks ago in Florida. “She did all she could do: daily therapy and the fitness training she could manage in order to lose as little time as possible,” he said in the interview. “At one point, she could hit the ball without moving, really not moving. That lasted two weeks. Last week, she started a bit of restricted movement, but with pain that made it clear she could not move like a normal tennis player. We did our best to not overload her leg. But despite all of that, she is not able to run today. If she runs with pain, that means there is a real danger of aggravating the injury. That also means she can’t train at 100 percent. But the most important thing is not that she isn’t ready but that if she plays, she is risking her future.”

Venus Williams, Kenin latest big names to withdraw from US Open

Venus Williams has followed her younger sister, Serena, out of the 2021 US Open. On Wednesday afternoon, she withdrew due to a leg injury. Currently ranked No. 147, Williams lost Monday at the Chicago Women’s Open in the first round to No. 81 Hsieh Su-Wei, 6-2, 6-3, after being sidelined for over a month after Wimbledon.

“Not the best news from Serena and me today,” the 41-year-old Venus Williams, who had been given a wild card into the US Open, said in a video she posted on her social media platforms. “It’s super, super, super disappointing. [I’ve been] having some issues with my leg all this summer. Just couldn’t work through it. … I just was unable to figure out the equation, and there’s been so many times when I was able to figure it out. This time, I couldn’t just make any miracles work.”

It was at the 1997 US Open that Venus Williams made her Grand Slam breakthrough. Unseeded and just 17, Williams reached the final. Three years later in 2000, she won her first US Open title and successfully defended it the next year. Williams has won seven major singles titles.

Williams said she’s committed to making a comeback.

“I’m going to miss the Open. It’s my favorite Slam and I’ve had so many amazing memories there and I can’t wait to get back out on the court, whenever that is,” she said. “I’m really disappointed and it’s a tough time right now, but like all tough times, they don’t last forever.”

Then, Wednesday evening, World No. 5 Sofia Kenin posted on social media that she had to pull out of the US Open after testing positive for COVID-19.

“Recently, I tested positive for Covid-19. Fortunately I am vaccinated and thus my symptoms have been fairly mild. However, I have continued to rest positive and thus will not be able to compete at the US Open next week.”

US Open leadership not resting on last year’s laurels

During a conference call Wednesday that included Mike Dowse, USTA chief executive officer and Stacey Allaster, US Open tournament director, Allaster said that looking back on last year’s US Open, which was played without spectators at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center, she’s “incredibly proud” of the organization’s accomplishments.

“It was historic. We rebooted the entire industry, not only in the United States where we had incredible growth in our sport, but worldwide.We showed our sport we could return to competition in a safe manner.

“This year I think the big difference, we know more about how to mitigate risk and the behavior of the virus. Very fortunate in this country, specifically in New York City, to have a high vaccination rate.

“I can tell you that there’s a lot of energy here on-site. Players are incredibly happy that fans will be back on-site. It was very exciting [Tuesday] morning when we had first ball. We had our qualifiers also returning to this US Open. We’ll have all draws, all competition, close to 750 athletes competing here during the 2021 US Open.”

Dowse added: “I think a couple learnings that stand out to me, through that crisis of pandemic initially what was really special to me is how the industry came together. We didn’t do this by ourselves by any means. We quickly partnered with the ATP and the WTA and even our fellow Grand Slam peers in the ITF to put together a comprehensive plan. We all learned from each other, and those learnings were spread across the different organizations going forward.

“On top of that it also reinforced that the professional side of tennis is not separated from the community side of tennis. They go hand-in-hand. They helped each other through this process.”

This year, although about 70 percent of the players will be staying in one of two New York City hotels (the InterContinental Barclays and the Lexington) in Manhattan, the players will have a lot more freedom of movement unlike a year ago. Is it a risk? Allaster said:

“We are absolutely confident in the 2021 COVID protocols that have been developed by our USTA Medical Advisory Group. We’re following CDC regulations and New York state and New York City Department of Public Health.

“We have that confidence because here in New York City, because of New Yorkers, how they have managed the virus, the vaccination rate in this community is almost at 70 percent. We heard loud and clear the athletes’ mental health through these last 12 months, the isolation in the bubbles, was important, that they could have some flexibility.

“Each of us every day, we are living with the virus. It’s therefore then our collective responsibilities on how we do it and the protocols that we put in place.”

CrossCourt debuts with Gaël Monfils and Elina Svitolina

This week marks the return of Tennis United: CrossCourt, a continuation of the award-winning digital content series produced by both the ATP and WTA. Tennis United made its debut last year during the suspension of the 2020 season due to the coronavirus pandemic.

The reimagined Tennis United: Cross Court marks the first major co-branded initiative to debut since the ATP and WTA Tours integrated their marketing operations this year.

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