World no. 8 Serena Williams has played only seven tournaments so far in 2019 and Cincinnati will not be the eighth, withdrawing from the Western & Southern Open due to a back injury suffered in Toronto. Returning to the court for the first time since losing the final at Wimbledon to Simona Halep, Serena played on a high level again in Canada, defeating Elise Mertens, Ekaterina Alexandrova, Naomi Osaka and Marie Bouzkova to advance into the final against a teenager Bianca Andreescu where she had to retire after the fourth game.
As was expected, Serena had no time to recover for Cincinnati, withdrawing before the second-round clash with Zarina Diyas that was scheduled last on the Center court after Roger Federer. Williams made a debut in Cincinnati only in 2006, losing to Vera Zvonareva in the semi-final and not returning until 2009 when Sybille Bammer stunned her in the fourth round, followed by an even earlier exit in 2011, withdrawing before the clash against Sam Stosur.
A year later, Angelique Kerber prevailed against Serena 6-4, 6-4 in the quarters, raising the level 12 months later to reach the final, losing to Victoria Azarenka after a thrilling battle that lasted until the deciding tie break.
Finally, Serena went all the way in Ohio in 2014, beating Stosur, Pennetta, Jankovic, Wozniacki and Ivanovic and repeating that in 2015 when she proved to be too strong for the names like Ivanovic, Svitolina and Halep. A year ago, Petra Kvitova overpowered Serena in the third round and the crowd in Cincinnati will have to wait for 2020 to maybe see her in action again at this Premier 5 event.
"I came to Mason on Sunday and have tried everything to be ready to play tonight, and was still hopeful after my practice this morning. But unfortunately, my back is still not right."