MASON, Ohio — Serena Williams withdrew shortly before her first-round match at the Cincinnati Masters was set to begin on Tuesday evening, citing the back problems that had forced her to abandon the Rogers Cup final in Toronto last weekend after just four games.
“I came to Mason on Sunday and have tried everything to be ready to play tonight, and was still hopeful after my practice this morning,” Williams said in a statement. “But unfortunately my back is still not right, and I know I should not take to the court.”
The withdrawal from what was to be her final buildup tournament for the United States Open will leave Williams less prepared for another attempt at a record-tying 24th Grand Slam title than she had hoped.
Williams won four matches to reach the final of the Rogers Cup, but tearfully halted the final on Sunday after just four games, trailing Bianca Andreescu, 3-1, in the first set.
The organizers of the Cincinnati Masters had given Williams as much time as possible to recuperate from the back spasms that sidelined her in Toronto, scheduling her opening match against Zarina Diyas for the second slot on Tuesday’s night session, the latest available opening for a first-round match.
Williams’s decision to withdraw came after Roger Federer had already begun the first match of Tuesday’s night session. On Twitter two hours earlier, Williams’s coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, had shared a video of her practice on Tuesday morning, saying she was “getting ready for tonight’s match.”
Williams — whose No. 8 world ranking is her best since she returned to the tour after her daughter, Olympia, was born two years ago — was replaced in the draw by Jessica Pegula, who won her first WTA title nine days ago in Washington.
“I promise I’ll do my best to be back here next year,” Williams said.