PARIS (AFP) ‒Serena Williams’ latest quest for a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title ended in the French Open last 16 on Sunday, hours after Roger Federer pulled out of what was possibly his last appearance at Roland Garros.
The 39-year-old Williams, still one short of Margaret Court’s all-time record for most Grand Slam singles titles, lost 6-3, 7-5 to Kazakh 21st seed Elena Rybakina, while Federer withdrew as a precaution to protect his body for Wimbledon.
The American won the last of her three Roland Garros titles in 2015, and has not gone beyond the fourth round in Paris since losing the 2016 final.
“It was definitely close. I’m so close. There is literally a point here, a point there, that could change the whole course of the match,” said Williams.
“I’m not winning those points. That like literally could just change everything.”
Her exit leaves just two of the women’s top 10 seeds in the competition, reigning champion Iga Swiatek and last year’s runner-up Sofia Kenin.
Williams, who despite arriving here with just one win on clay this season, had seen her title hopes of boosted by the absence of Simona Halep, and early exits of Ashleigh Barty and Naomi Osaka.
Instead, she remains without a Grand Slam title since winning the 2017 Australian Open in the early stages of her pregnancy.
“I’m in a much better place than when I got here,” Williams said.
“You know, (I was) just literally trying to win a match, because it had been a really difficult season for me on the clay.”
Williams, who debuted at Roland Garros in 1998, refused to be drawn on whether this was her last French Open.
“I’m definitely not thinking about it at all. I’m definitely thinking just about other things but not about that,” she said.
Russian-born Rybakina, 21, extended her best run at a major as she advanced to her first quarter-final, where she will face Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova for a spot in the last four.
“I am so happy with my match, it was amazing,” said Rybakina, who at 22 is the highest-ranked player left in her half of the draw.
– ‘Listening to my body’ –
Earlier, Federer made the decision to withdraw from what was possibly his last French Open, unwilling to risk his troublesome knee after an injury-plagued past 18 months.
Federer, a 20-time Grand Slam title winner, who will be 40 in August, had battled over three and a half hours until 12.45am Sunday morning to reach the last 16.