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Serena Williams Said She's "Heartbroken" After Retiring From A Match With Injury. Now Wimbledon Is Facing Backlash For Putting Players In Danger.

"Why are they putting the athletes in so much danger?"

Posted on June 30, 2021, at 8:52 a.m. ET

It was heartbreak for Serena Williams on Tuesday after the 23-time Grand Slam champion was forced to retire from her first round match at Wimbledon due to injury.

Serena Williams lunges for a ball while playing her first-round match at Wimbledon
Adam Davy - PA Images via Getty Images

The seven-time Wimbledon champion had come into the tournament as a potential favorite for the title, and looked to be in good form during the opening games of her first match.

Serena Williams walks on court in a white dress and train before her first-round match at Wimbledon
Pool / Getty Images

But Williams appeared to slip on the grass after 20 minutes of play and, after a medical timeout and then falling to the floor in agony once play resumed, she was forced to retire from the match.

Serena Williams falls to the ground during first round match at Wimbledon
Adam Davy - PA Images via Getty Images

The withdrawal was all the more devastating for Williams as many assumed this could potentially be her last run at one of her favorite tournaments.

Serena Williams waves goodbye to the crowd after retiring due to injury
Julian Finney / Getty Images

In moments that were difficult to watch, the 39-year-old was visibly overcome with emotion as she acknowledged the crowd who'd tried to spur her on. After one last wave to fans, she limped off court, the question of whether she'd ever be back left unanswered.

"I was heartbroken to have to withdraw today after injuring my right leg," Williams wrote on Instagram following the match. "My love and gratitude are with the fans and the team who make being on centre court so meaningful."

Serena Williams tries to hold back tears as she stands next to the umpire after injuring her right leg during her match
Adam Davy - PA Images via Getty Images

She added: "Feeling the extraordinary warmth and support of the crowd today when I walked on – and off – the court meant the world to me."

But Williams wasn't the only player to retire with injury after taking a slip on centre court. In an eerily similar moment that would foreshadow Williams' match, French player Adrian Mannarino slipped in almost the exact same spot while duking it out against Roger Federer.

Adrian Mannarino is on the ground in visible pain during his match against Roger Federer
Adam Davy - Pa Images / PA Images via Getty Images

After briefly attempting to resume play, Mannarino also retired.

This brought into question the playing conditions on arguably the most prestigious court in tennis, with other players such as Andy Murray voicing their opinions on the slippery surface.

Serena Williams cries in pain as she falls to the ground during her first-round match at Wimbledon.
Aeltc / POOL/AFP via Getty Images

"Brutal for @serenawilliams but centre court is extremely slippy out there," Murray tweeted. "Not easy to move out there."

In a post-match press conference, Federer also said that the conditions were "a tad more slippery under the roof."

Williams' opponent, Aliaksandra Sasnovich, echoed this in a post-match press conference of her own, noting just how slippery the surface was. According to reports, she said: "It was very slippery — I fell as well. When she did an angle, I couldn't run, because it was so slippery."

Many spectators voiced their own criticism of the court's surface, pointing out that other players such as Novak Djokovic and Coco Gauff had also slipped multiple times during their own matches.

Coco Gauff steadies herself as she slips during her first-round match at Wimbledon
Steven Paston - PA Images via Getty Images

"There's been more slips in 2 days than in the past 2 years," one tweeted. "Having played on grass for the past 5years this is something that needs to be addressed & quickly as the players safety are in danger! [sic]"

"Wimbledon really needs to manage their courts better," another tweet read. "The baselines already look so damp. Why are they putting the athletes in so much danger."

"The grass is too slippery!" a further tweet said, tagging the Wimbledon Twitter account. "First Mannarino and then Serena Williams injuring themselves and having to retire within an hour of each other on Center Court is not okay. Please do something."

With many critizing the tournament for potentially putting its players in danger of injury, the All England Lawn Tennis & Croquet Club (AELTC) said in a statement to BuzzFeed News that they were "happy with the conditions" despite the complaints.

Roger Federer looks on with concern at the net as Adrian Mannarino lies on the ground after slipping on the grass
Aeltc / POOL/AFP via Getty Images

"The preparation of the grass courts has been to exactly the same meticulous standard as in previous years," the statement read. "Each grass court is checked by the Grand Slam Supervisors, Referee's Office and Grounds team ahead of play commencing, and on both days of the Fortnight they have been happy with the conditions and cleared the courts for play."

The statement went on to add that the dismal weather had played a part in the court's surface being more slippery than usual, but that the grass would "firm up" as the tournament progressed.

The centre court at Wimbledon.
Pool / Getty Images

"Our long-serving Grounds team have experienced nearly every combination of weather conditions possible," the statement said. "They keep abreast of and utilise the latest grass court technologies, prepare for every weather eventuality and react to the current conditions on a daily basis."

It finished: "We will continue to monitor these readings and adjust our care plan for the grass appropriately."

While we wait for confirmation of Williams' condition following her injury, the rest of her season looks uncertain. Having already pulled out of the Olympics before Wimbledon, it's likely her focus will now turn to the US Open at the end of August.

Serena Williams looks to the sky as she fights back tears after injuring herself
Adam Davy - PA Images via Getty Images

Pictures of Williams leaving the tournament grounds following her match seemed to show that she was "walking OK" after receiving treatment.

Although the tennis legend, who turns 40 in September, has yet to reveal her future plans, her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, appeared to suggest that they'd continue to work together.

"Serena trained hard. She was ready. She wanted it with all her heart. But unfortunately, her foot slipped and her body, as it reacted, broke down," Mouratoglou wrote on Instagram. "It is heartbreaking but there is nothing we can do about it, except working and trying again."

And, in a potential message of hope, he appeared to look to the future, simply writing: "See you soon."

A BuzzFeed News investigation, in partnership with the International Consortium of Investigative Journalists, based on thousands of documents the government didn't want you to see.