Venus Williams' season ended abruptly when a leg injury forced her out in the first set of a semi-final against Kim Clijsters in the WTA Championships yesterday.
Clijsters, the fifth seed from Belgium, led 5–0 when Williams called for a trainer. After a brief discussion, Williams approached the umpire to say she was done.
Wearing a white wrap on her left calf and heavy tape on her left ankle, Williams walked over to Clijsters, hugged her and then waved to the fans as she left the court to applause at Staples Center.
Clijsters will play either No. 1 Serena Williams or third–seeded Jennifer Capriati in the final of the $3 million tournament.
Williams said she twisted her left ankle in a 7–5, 6–4 victory over Monica Seles on Friday night, but didn't feel the effects until Saturday night. The official diagnosis was a lower leg strain.
"I wasn't really able to move or get on my toes or change direction," Williams said. "I was taped to the max. Things were already going pretty bad. I was trying to end the points quickly."
Williams' quick exit brought back memories of her controversial departure from the Tennis Masters Series at Indian Wells, California, in 2001. She pulled out of her semi-final against younger sister Serena at the last minute with tendinitis in her right knee, triggering massive booing by the crowd.
Serena was booed heavily when she beat Clijsters for the title, causing the sisters' father, Richard Williams, to level racial accusations. Serena has said she will not play at Indian Wells again. "I'll never forget that," Venus said. "It was a pretty intense moment to go through."
A year ago at the WTA Championships in Germany, Clijsters lost a three–set semifinal to Lindsay Davenport, who injured herself and pulled out of the final against Serena Williams. "Maybe it's because of me," Clijsters said, grinning.
It was the fourth time in five years that Williams has pulled out from the season–ending championships that determine the WTA Tour's final rankings.
Three of her previous withdrawals came before she even played a match. Last year, she injured her left wrist practicing at home in Florida. In 2000, she had anemia and in 1998 she had left knee tendinitis. In 1999, she reached the semifinals before losing to Martina Hingis.
Clijsters' groundstrokes painted the lines and she won a game with a 111–mph ace as Williams barely moved off the service line. Clijsters broke Williams in the second game, then served a 40–love game for a 5–0 lead before the match ended.
"I saw she wasn't moving as well as she normally does," Clijsters said. "I was telling myself, 'Just focus on the ball and don't look at whether she's moving."'
Williams won just six points and had seven errors in her brief time on court. Clijsters hit 21 winners. "I just wanted to try to see what I could do," Williams said. "I was a lot more disappointed than what I thought I'd be." A surprised Clijsters remained on court and hit balls with some fans.
Williams was playing her first tournament in a month and only her second since losing to Serena in the U.S. Open final in September. She finished the year with a 62–9 match record in 16 tournaments.
Williams withdrew from the Italian Open in May before her opening match with an injured right wrist.
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