Venus Williams departed the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center on Wednesday with downcast eyes, staring at an uncertain future after revealing she had received a diagnosis of Sjogren’s Syndrome, an autoimmune disease that causes fatigue and joint pain.
Venus Williams was coming off an impressive first-round victory before she pulled out of the tournament. Williams, who missed the hardcourt season with what had been described as a viral illness, withdrew from theUnited States Open minutes before she was due on court at Arthur Ashe Stadium for her second-round match against No. 22 Sabine Lisicki .
Williams, 31, was unseeded for the first time since 1997, when she advanced to the final in her Open debut. Appearing in her 13th Open, she had pulled the curtain back on a game that looked robust, if a tad rusty, in her 6-4, 6-3 victory over Vesna Dolonts on Monday. She had aspired to become the first Open women’s singles champion over 30 since Martina Navratilova in 1987.
For Williams, the withdrawal brought the end to a Grand Slam season that began with a hip injury and third-round exit at the Australian Open.
She was in her match clothes when she emerged from one private room in the bowels of Ashe Stadium and, trailed by a security escort, disappeared behind a closed door of another room with restricted access.
As she left the grounds, a statement was distributed in the press room in which Williams expressed disappointment over having to withdraw. “I enjoyed playing my first match here,” she said, “and wish I could continue, but right now I am unable to. I am thankful I finally have a diagnosis and am now focused on getting better and returning to the court soon.”
Some people with Sjogren’ s Syndrome develop rheumatoid arthritis, which can render the simplest daily tasks, like opening the lid of a jar, impossible. Those stricken by the disease are predominantly female and typically receive a diagnosis in their 40s, said Dr. Joanne F. Shen, an ophthalmologist at the Mayo Clinic in Arizona who treats patients with the disease because dry eyes are among the symptoms. The fatigue that characterizes the disease can be debilitating, Shen said. “It would certainly interfere with my ability to do my job,” she said, adding, “I see patients really not getting back to their previous level because of the fatigue.”