MONTREAL — The team behind the Rogers Cup had pulled out all the stops to ensure Serena Williams’ stay in Montreal would be as easy and comfortable as possible.
Plans were in place to ensure her 11-month-old daughter, Alexis, would get top treatment.
But Eugene Lapierre, tournament director of the women’s side of the Rogers Cup, awoke Saturday morning to an email announcing some disappointing news: Williams, possibly the greatest player in the history of women’s tennis, would not be coming.
Tennis Canada announced less than 48 hours before the tournament’s start that the former world No. 1 had withdrawn, citing personal reasons.
The message, transferred via press release, did not offer any further explanation or contain a personal statement from the 23-time Grand Slam winner.
Lapierre, who likewise received no further details, was left resorting to guesswork to try to explain Williams’ absence.
"This is nothing but speculation on my part, but I think it can’t be easy to continue on the circuit every day with a young child," he told The Canadian Press in a phone interview.
"And I saw all the hassle it can take to organize a trip with a whole team. Because we tried to accommodate it as best we could, and everything was in place. I used to joke that we had diapers to distribute, but that was okay. Her coach had us rent an SUV to lug everyone. The SUV was here in the parking lot."
Williams had been expected to arrive in Montreal on Saturday after accepting a wild card into the Rogers Cup.
She will be replaced by Germany’s Tatjana Maria, who will bypass the qualifying tournament that began Saturday morning, taking Williams’ spot in the main draw. Maria will face France’s Alize Cornet in the first round.
Had Williams played and defeated Cornet, Quebec tennis fans would have been treated to a finals-level matchup between the American star and Germany’s Angelique Kerber in the second round.
The two faced off in the Wimbledon final three weeks ago, with Kerber prevailing 6-3, 6-3.
Despite his disappointment at Williams’ withdrawal, Lapierre stressed that the competition level at the Rogers Cup remains "incredible."
"There’s not an easy round in this tournament, and that’s a bit the message I also wanted to send," he said.
"Once you move past the disappointment, you look at the board and say ‘Wow, there are incredible matches here from beginning to end."’
Williams was No. 1 on the WTA world rankings after beating her sister Venus to win the 2017 Australian Open. Shortly after the win, she announced that she was pregnant and didn’t play for the rest of the season.
Since returning to action at this year’s French Open, Williams has risen to 26th in the WTA rankings.
The 36-year-old Williams was the runner-up at Wimbledon last month. That was just her fourth tournament since returning to the tour after having a baby in September and dealing with a health scare related to blood clots.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion is coming off the most lopsided defeat of her career, a 6-1, 6-0 loss to Johanna Konta in San Jose, Calif., on Tuesday.
The year’s final Grand Slam, the U.S. Open, starts on Aug. 27.