Serena Williams has been on a tear this year. Unfortunately, this tear may be tearing her down.
Last week, Williams won the China Open, her 10th title of the year. She's won 73 matches this year. That accounts for the most matches won on the WTA tour since Kim Clijsters won 90 and Justin Henin won 75 in 2003. Williams will finish the year ranked No. 1 for the first time since 2009.
Once criticized for skipping tournaments, Williams beefed up her schedule this season. She played from Bastad (Sweden) to Bejing.
But has the hectic schedule started taking its toll?
Williams appeared to be in pain during her last three matches at the China Open. Cameras caught her grimacing between points. She even tried to fight back tears. During her semifinal match against Agnieszka Radwanska, Williams had to take a medical timeout. She later complained about a sore back. The pain resurfaced during the final against Jelena Jankovic.
In an interview following the final, Williams addressed her back issues and told reporters (h/t ASAP Sports) she felt fortunate to win. "I've been a little tight all week. It's been a long year, so I was really happy," she said.
Rafael Nadal has been a vocal critic of the increasing number of hard-court events and the toll this takes on a player's body. He expressed his stance in an interview with the Associated Press (h/t ESPN.com):
I say because it's something that I think is going to be fair for the next generations if they are able to play (on) an easier surface for the body, to try to have a longer career, to try to be more healthy when they finish (their) careers.
Williams has suffered a number of injuries throughout her career. They range from the odd "bling blister" to a serious foot injury that led to a pulmonary embolism. She's always managed to bounce back, but this back situation is different. It seemed to flare up out of nowhere.
Williams, 32, is the oldest woman to ever hold the No. 1 ranking. At that age, flare-ups can turn into a chronic condition. The amount of time spent on the court could be a factor in Williams' pursuit of more Grand Slam titles.
She withdrew from the Pan Pacific Open in Tokyo. ”Unfortunately, with the number of matches I have played throughout the summer, I need more time to properly recover,” she told SI.com.
Williams is in France preparing for the WTA Championships. Her back will be something to keep an eye on. It may be the only thing that stands in the way of more Slams.