American great Serena Williams broke down in tears as her latest attempt for an elusive record-equalling 24th Grand Slam title was cruelly ended by injury.
Williams started against Belarusian world number 100 Aliaksandra Sasnovich with heavy strapping on her right thigh and then slipped in the fifth game.
“I’m so sad for Serena. She is a great champion,” said Sasnovich.
“It happens sometimes in tennis, but all the best to her.”
Williams, seeded sixth, seemed to do the damage when she rocked backwards on the baseline before unleashing a forehand back to her opponent.
After going off court for treatment, the seven-time SW19 champion returned with a heavy limp and tried to continue before it soon became apparent she would be unable to.
Tears filled her eyes as Williams thanked the crowd, who had been trying to encourage her, for their support.
At 15-15 on her service game, Williams buckled as she prepared to receive a return and spent a few moments kneeled on the court.
The umpire came down off her chair as Williams slowly managed to climb to her feet.
Fans on Centre Court rose in unison to give a heartfelt standing ovation as Williams waved goodbye – with everyone hoping this would not be the final one at SW19 for a player who turns 40 in September.
The retirement came less than an hour after Centre Court watched France’s Adrian Mannarino also have to retire from his match against Roger Federer.
The 33-year-old slipped on the same baseline, leading to Britain’s Andy Murray – who had played there on Monday – tweeting about the surface.
It was a cruel blow for Williams, who had broken for a 3-1 lead.
After losing to Simona Halep in the 2019 final – and finishing runner-up to Germany’s Angelique Kerber the year before – Williams was hoping this would finally be the time that she won her 24th Grand Slam.
Matching the number won by Australian Margaret Court has so far proved beyond her, having lost four major finals since returning from maternity leave three years ago.
The Wimbledon grass seemed the place most likely to yield another major but it will not be this year, at least.