On June 29, Serena Williams retired from her first-round 2021 Wimbledon match due to an apparent leg injury. The seven-time Wimbledon champion was visibly in pain as she exited to a standing ovation, and opponent Aliaksandra Sasnovich from Belarus will advance to the second round. This is only the second time Williams has had to retire from a match at a major, ESPN reports.
Williams wrote on Instagram after the fact that retiring from the match left her "heartbroken." She continued, "My love and gratitude are with the fans and the team who make being on centre court so meaningful. Feeling the extraordinary warmth and support of the crowd today when I walked on - and off - the court meant the world to me."
What Is the Difference Between a Walkover and Retiring a Match?
According to Friend at Court, a book of rules and regulations from the United States Tennis Association (USTA), a retirement occurs when a player cannot continue a match due to injury or illness. It can also occur due to "personal circumstance or adult discipline." A walkover can still occur due to injury, but it is initiated before a match, not during. For instance, last fall, Williams withdrew from the 2020 French Open because of a left Achilles injury that she sustained at the US Open weeks prior. This caused her would-be opponent, Bulgarian Tsvetana Pironkova, to advance by walkover.
What Is the Difference Between a Walkover and a Default?
Though a walkover can occur when there has been an administrative error, the main difference between a walkover and a default lies in who initiates the action. A player is the one to initiate a walkover when they withdraw from a match beforehand due to injury, illness, or personal circumstance. "Refusal to play for any other reason is treated as a default," the rules state. A default happens when an official decides the player cannot take part in or continue a match due to violation. "Examples of this kind of default include a player who does not show up, a player who is defaulted for lateness, and a player who is defaulted for receiving an injection, infusion, or supplemental oxygen," the rules state.
For instance, 19-time Grand Slam singles title winner Novak Djokovic was defaulted from his fourth-round US Open match last year and, subsequently, the entire tournament for hitting the line judge with a ball. His opponent, Pablo Carreño Busta, advanced to the next round, and the USTA said at the time that Djokovic would lose all ranking points earned at the US Open and be fined the prize money won at the tournament, plus any of the fines from the incident itself.
Does a Walkover Count as a Loss?
Though the phrase "won by walkover" is used - for example, Naomi Osaka withdrew from the Western & Southern Open final in August 2020 because of a hamstring injury, and Belarus's Victoria Azarenka was crowned champion by walkover - a WTA spokesperson told POPSUGAR that a walkover does not count as a match win or a match loss for either player, meaning it does not affect their win-loss record. (A spokesperson working for the French Open further confirmed that Williams's tournament withdrawal, and subsequent walkover, at last year's French Open was not considered a defeat.)
Retirements, though, do count as a match win or loss for the players. Williams's retirement from 2021 Wimbledon therefore counted as a match loss for her, and it will impact her WTA ranking. She is currently ranked No. 8, but, according to the WTA spokesperson, she'll drop out of the Top 10. The spokesperson predicts that she will drop to at least No. 16 after Wimbledon pending results from other players.