TWO DAYS AFTER playing her first match in two months, Venus Williams suddenly pulled out of the US Open last night, revealing she recently was diagnosed with Sjogren’s syndrome, an autoimmune disease that can cause joint pain.
The 31-year-old American has won seven Grand Slam titles, including at Flushing Meadows in 2000 and 2001.
“I enjoyed playing my first match here, and wish I could continue but right now I am unable to,” Williams said in a statement released by the tournament.
“I am thankful I finally have a diagnosis and am now focused on getting better and returning to the court soon.”
She was supposed to face 22nd-seeded Sabine Lisicki in the second round last night.
Williams cited a virus when withdrawing from hard-court tune-up tournaments since losing in the fourth round at Wimbledon in late June.
She returned to action Monday, beating Vesna Dolonts 6-4, 6-3 in the first round in New York, then said: “No one is more in one-match-at-a-time mode than me now at this tournament. It will just be one match at a time, for sure.”
According to the Sjogren’s Syndrome Foundation website, the disease is a chronic autoimmune illness in which people’s white blood cells attack their moisture-producing glands. Common symptoms include dry eyes and dry mouth. As many as four million Americans have the disease.
In rare cases, it can cause arthritis and joint pain, said Dr John Fitzgerald, director of clinical rheumatology at UCLA. Fitzgerald is not involved in treating Williams and does not know her symptoms or medical history. But, he said, if Williams has the typical symptoms, “it does not seem life-threatening or career-ending.”
Williams arrived at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center yesterday hours before her match was scheduled to begin and tried warming up by hitting balls.
When Williams left the site shortly before 5 pm, wearing a white sweater and purple shorts, she was asked by reporters whether she would say anything. She smiled and waved and shook her head to indicate, “No,” then climbed into the back of a tournament transportation car and rode away.
Despite all of her past success, including a brief stint at No. 1 in the rankings, Williams was unseeded in New York, because she has fallen to 36th after a year of little action. Since reaching the semifinals at last year’s US Open, Williams has played only 11 matches, and the WTA projects that her ranking now will slide out of the top 100.
Her younger sister, Serena, a 13-time Grand Slam champion, is scheduled to play her second-round match today.