SERENA WILLIAMS crashed out of the US Open after suffering a cruel Achilles injury in the Mother of all Matches.
The American injured herself early in the third set of her semi-final against fellow-mum Victoria Azarenka on the Arthur Ashe Stadium in New York.
The 38-year-old required a medical time-out and the physical disadvantage clearly hindered her chances.
Especially as her brilliant Belarus opponent started to improve her game before coming from behind to win 1-6 6-3 6-3.
This is only the second time in Williams’s major career that she lost a match after winning the opening set either 6-1 or 6-0.
And while the injury should not take anything away from Azarenka’s impressive performance, this was another sad blow for Williams in her quest for sporting immortality.
It means Williams, three years since she gave birth to daughter Alexis Olympia, has lost another chance to equal the long-standing tally of 24 majors held by Australian Margaret Court.
Williams, who turns 39 later this month, offered no excuses for the exit. She said: “It’s obviously disappointing. At the same time, I did what I could today.
“I feel like other times I’ve been close and I could have done better. Today I felt like I gave a lot.
“I just was stretching. I ran for a shot. Off that first step that I took, it was a long point – it wasn’t my ankle, it was actually my Achilles. It just overstretched. It was pretty intense. Then that was that.”
It was all going so smoothly for Williams. She had raced into a first-set lead, dropping just one game along the way.
However the cracks in her game started to show in the second set as Williams won NO points on her second serve.
After dropping just her second set all fortnight, Azarenka crucially broke in the sixth game and then drew level in the contest.
In the third set, the injury demons resurfaced for Williams. After squandering a 40-0 lead in her service game, Williams innocuously hurt herself during a rally.
She took a medical time-out and the trainer diligently re-taped the foot and ankle region.
For Williams, it brought back nightmares of the 2019 Australian Open quarter-final exit when she injured her left ankle on the first of four match points.
To the credit of Azarenka, she maintained her focus and refused to be distracted by the drama on the other side of the net.
She increased the intensity and then sealed the victory thanks to a stunning ace inside two hours.
This is her first Slam final appearance since losing to Williams in the 2013 US Open final.
The 31-year-old will now face Naomi Osaka in Saturday’s final after the Japanese No4 seed beat American Jennifer Brady 7-6 3-6 6-3.
The pair were supposed to have met in the final of last month’s Western & Southern Open but Osaka pulled out through injury at the last minute.
Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion, who gave birth to son Leo in December 2016, said: “Is it really seven years? Wow.
“Seven is clearly my favourite number. I guess it’s meant to be.
“I’m very grateful for this opportunity, I’m grateful to play such a champion, the road to the final has to be the best players.
“I knew it was never over until I had another chance.”