U.S.’s Serena Williams crashed out in the third round of the Rio Games, losing 6–4, 6–3 to Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina. Serena, who appeared to be struggling with a shoulder injury throughout the match, was close to tears when she left the court of what could be her last Olympics.
Let’s take a closer look at her loss.
How big of a loss is this for Serena?
Her failure to win the Grand Slam at the U.S. Open last year might go down as the worst loss of her career, but this sadly is in the running for No. 2. We’ll need to hear as to whether or not she’s suffering from an injury, but one thing’s for certain—this is not how the world No. 1 envisioned her Olympic gold-medal defense.
This loss comes shortly after crashing out in the first round of doubles with her sister, Venus, making the singles loss that much more disappointing. Serena and Venus love playing together, and it was crushing for them to suffer their first-ever Olympic loss together. But at the end of the day, singles is what most players are recalled for and losing in singles will always bother Serena more.
What does this mean for the Olympic tournament?
The highest remaining seed is Germany’s Angelique Kerber, who beat Serena in the Australian Open final and lost to Serena in the Wimbledon final. But keep an eye on American Madison Keys, the 21-year-old from the Quad Cities who’s primed for a breakthrough. Crazily enough, she’s the second-highest seed remaining.
Djokovic’s loss was tough for the Olympics crowd, but the air left the building tonight with Serena’s loss. That being said, it’s a huge opportunity for the remaining eight women. And for the men, well, Andy Murray is well on his way to defending his gold medal, Rafael Nadal looks terrific, Juan Martin del Potro looks healthy... what more can you ask for?
What’s next for Serena?
Best case scenario, the next time we see her will be at the U.S. Open. She didn’t play between Wimbledon and the U.S. Open, and it’s hard to imagine she plays again before the U.S. open—though if she did that, it would be a huge sigh of relief.
Clearly Serena was in physical pain against Svitolina, but we’ve seen her play many times in physical pain and she still finds ways to win. Fifteen months ago, she played an entire French Open so sick that she could hardly stand up, yet she won.
So even after Serena lost the first set on Tuesday, there was a general feeling that this match would go to three sets and she would win. But it was the exact opposite; she never really got back in against Svitolina.
There’s also a little more going on here below the surface. She comes to these Olympics and literally thousands of professional athlete want selfies with her. She’s playing every day between singles and doubles. She watches her sister lose this excruciating match against Kirsten Flipkens in likely her last Olympics. Then she and her sister then lose an excruciating match in likely their last Olympics. You hope this is more emotional than physical, but this is in some ways more pressure than the four Grand Slams every year. The next Grand Slam is never more than 90 days away; its hard to lose here and think about Tokyo in four years.