MELBOURNE – This was, in some ways, rather difficult to watch: 40-year-old Venus Williams gasped and groaned as she limped around the court at the Australian Open on an injured right ankle and left knee.
This also was, in some ways, rather inspiring to watch: Williams refused to concede to the pain, declined to stop playing and toughed it out. She saw the second-round match through to the end, no matter how compromised her body was after two medical timeouts, no matter how non-existent her chance of victory was.
After getting hurt heading to the net for a volley while down 5-1 in the opening set of a second-round match Wednesday, Williams would not — could not, in all likelihood — win another game at Melbourne Park and was eliminated by Sara Errani of Italy.
The final score was 6-1, 6-0.
“I thought she would retire, because she wasn't running. She was walking badly. ... I was worrying about her more than thinking about how I should play,” said Errani, the runner-up at the 2012 French Open. “I was thinking, ‘Who knows? Maybe at a certain point she’ll say enough is enough.' But instead, she continued right up until the end.”
Indeed, there was no quit in Williams — much like there hasn't been for years for someone who has played while dealing with Sjogren’s syndrome, an energy-sapping auto-immune disease that can cause joint pain.
The oldest woman in the field, she was playing in her 21st Australian Open and 88th Grand Slam tournament overall, a record for the professional era.
She has won seven major singles championships and another 14 in doubles with her sister, Serena.
Through her long and distinguished career, Williams never has been much of a fan of discussing injuries or blaming setbacks on them. And so while it seemed clear to others that she was going to have to stop playing against Errani, that never did happen.
Errani was in control of the match when Williams twisted her right ankle and landed awkwardly on her left leg, which already was bandaged with athletic tape and buckled.
She reacted with audible sounds of dismay as she shuffled around the back of the court, trying to test her legs. It looked as if she could not put much weight on either, and she tried leaning on her racket as though it were a cane.
“I was a bit shocked,” Errani said.
Action was halted, and a trainer treated Williams on the sideline, first taping the troubled ankle, then the knee.
Soon after play resumed following a delay of more than 15 minutes, that set was over. Williams returned to her changeover seat and bowed her head, resting it on her arms.
She would continue, however, even if it appeared to be a chore to walk. Even if her usually speedy serves often were tapped in at about 65 mph instead of 100 mph or more. Even if she could not properly chase all of the many drop shots that Errani kept using to win points.
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