Chris Evert has told Serena Williams to get fitter if she wants to win her 24th Grand Slam at the age of 39 and warned that her fellow American must work twice as hard to compete physically with her rivals – though hailed her work ethic and spirit to continue battling for major titles.
Williams was forced to pull out of the French Open on Thursday with the Achilles injury she suffered at the US Open.
She said: “Just two weeks of sitting down and doing nothing and, after that, I’ve been told I need to do a little training. But, doing the math on that, more than likely – I don’t know if I’ll be able play another tournament this year. It will mean a lot of time to fully recover for the future.
“I feel like my body is willing. This is not a nagging injury. This is an acute injury. If it was my knee, that would be more devastating for me, but this is something that just happened, and it’s super acute. That’s totally different.
“So, I think my body is doing really, really well. I just ran into, for lack of a better word, bad timing and bad luck in New York. It happened but my body is doing really well. And I can never do too much sitting because I’ve been working for over 20-something years.
“I love playing tennis. I love competing and I love being out here. It’s my job – and I’m pretty good at it still. So, until I feel like I’m not good at it, I’ll be OK. And I’m so close to some things. Like, I’m almost there. That’s what keeps me going.”
But Williams is now out for the rest of the season before her next bid to equal Margaret Court’s record at the Australian Open in January.
And Evert, who won 18 Grand Slam titles, said Williams must now return to Florida and decide if she still has the motivation to continue her quest against a new generation of top players.
The Eurosport analyst said: “Serena is a force of nature – you just can’t predict what she is going to do. But this was not a tournament she was going to win even if she were healthy.
“I just think with the conditions this heavy, she wasn’t going to sit out there and hit 10-12 balls against Simona Halep and just run down everything.
“Her power would have been a little diffused. She needs that power. This was not the one. What she does now is really the determining factor.
“It sounds like her next big one will be Australia. And what does she do for October, November, December? For the next three months?
“Does she go home and think about: ‘Do I really want this? How much do I really want this? How much am I willing to work for this?’
“Because the women are only getting better and there are some really impressive players out there now that, before the pandemic, we didn’t even know their names.
“And they are not intimidated playing Serena anymore. Serena has to work twice as hard because of her age because she is 39.
“She has to work a little harder on her fitness. In saying that, to see the passion and the commitment that she had up to 39 is very inspiring.
“Kudos to her – I give her so much credit for still being in the game, still trying, still believing in herself. But it is just going to take a little more hard work because of her age and because of the competition.
“The competition is not the competition that was there four or five years ago when she was dominating. It is so much better now.”
Evert, who backed Wimbledon champion Halep to win her second French Open title, added: “Very much like Andy Murray, I don’t think anyone should criticise Serena for still being in the same.
“If this is what she wants, she is the greatest women’s player that has ever lived.
“She deserves our respect and she has earned our respect and she has earned the right to play as long as she wants to play.”
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