For the second year in a row, Serena Williams’ bid to make history ended with a shocking loss in the U.S. Open to big-serving Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic on Thursday night.
A seventh title at Flushing Meadows, which would have been an Open-era record, will have to wait. So will a 23rd Grand Slam championship, another record. And her 3½-year reign at number one in the WTA rankings is over, too, one week shy of what would have been yet another mark.
A bad left knee visibly hampered her late in the second set. Coach Patrick Mouratoglou said they had worked all day to get it ready. Williams said it was on her mind throughout the 85-minute defeat.
“I don’t remember having seen her move so slowly ever,” Mouratoglou said. “As soon as she started, it was terrible.”
While Pliskova, a 24-year-old from the Czech Republic, advances to her maiden major final, Williams is stopped short of winning a record 23rd Grand Slam.
She is halted there for now, tied with Steffi Graf for the record of Open era Slams at 22. She loses her world No. 1 ranking, as well, gone from the top for the first time in 186 weeks — another record she now must share with Graf.
With her mind on the injury, Williams’ game went awry. She hit 31 unforced errors in the match, broken three times and double faulting six, including on match point down.
Afterward, Williams dismissed the notion she was fatigued from a grueling three-set quarterfinal against Simona Halep that concluded less than 22 hours before the semifinal started (Pliskova, whose quarterfinal was earlier Wednesday, watched, then slept in until 1 p.m. on Thursday).
Instead, Williams and her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, pointed to the left leg that she repeatedly clutched.
“When you’re hampered, you’re thinking of other things. Like, I was making errors that I never make, and definitely I didn’t make in this tournament in particular. So many simple, simple shots that I easily could have made,” Williams said. “I just blame that on just mentally thinking about my leg and just not thinking about the shot.”