Nate Chura is senior tennis pro at the Heights Casino in Brooklyn and covers the U.S. Open for WNYC.
The announcement halted the clack of computer keyboards in the media room: “Attention, press: Venus Williams has withdrawn from the U.S. Open tournament due to an unspecified illness.”
The public address announcer added one more detail.
“That’s all the information we have at this time.”
Less than an hour later, Williams, a former world No. 1 and a two-time winner of the U.S. Open, issued a statement saying she had been recently diagnosed with Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease which causes fatigue and joint pain.
“I enjoyed playing my first match here and wish I could continue,” Williams said in a statement, “but right now I am unable to. I am thankful I finally have a diagnosis and am now focused on getting better and returning to the court soon.”
William’s default from the tournament comes at the end of a disappointing season. The 31-year-old is currently ranked No. 33 in the world in singles and has been plagued by injuries for at least the past two years.
Last season, it was tendonitis in her knee. This year it was a right hip injury. This summer she pulled out of two US Open tune-up tournaments, citing a virus. The last time Venus won a major title was at Wimbledon in 2008.
Nevertheless, fans were sad to hear the news.
“I’m disappointed cause I like her as a player,” said Mallory Porter of Freeport, New York. “I’ve seen her play a lot over the years since I was little and I like her as a player.”
Suzanne Davidson of New York City agreed.
“It is really tragic,” she said. “I mean, she’s such a spectacular player and how terrible that she has this illness.”
But in the wake of Venus’s announcement, American tennis fans may still have reason to cheer: three U.S. upstarts defied all odds yesterday when Jack Sock, Christine McHale and Irina Falconi all advanced in the last major tournament of the year. After her upset over the 14th seed, Falconi, a 21-year-old Manhattanite, waved the American flag on Arthur Ashe Stadium.
“I’ve heard so much media talking about American tennis,” Falconi said, “and I really wanted to portray that there is a huge wave of American players. I strongly believe in all that is USA and I wanted to represent it and show the world that it’s coming. No need to wait any longer.”