Serena Williams has been on the brink of her 24th Grand Slam title since 2018, and with defending champion Simona Halep out of the picture, Wimbledon could finally break her runner-up streak.
Halep announced that she would not be competing at the 2021 Wimbledon Championships on June 25, just three days before competition is scheduled to begin. She sustained a serious calf injury during the Italian Open in May, and the injury also forced her to withdraw from the 2021 French Open several weeks ago.
"I gave it everything I had in order to be ready to play Wimbledon and after having such special memories from 2 years ago, I was excited and honored to step back on these beautiful courts as defending champion," Halep wrote in an Instagram post. "Unfortunately, my body didn’t cooperate and I’ll have to save that feeling for next year."
Halep is not the first big name to pull out of Wimbledon this year. World No. 2 Naomi Osaka will also be on the sidelines because of mental health concerns, and world No. 3 Rafael Nadal is sitting out on the men's side after a surprising loss at the French Open.
Williams lost to Halep in the 2019 Wimbledon final, so the Romanian's absence certainly helps Williams' odds to to bring home the elusive 24th victory that would tie Margaret Court's record for most career Grand Slam single titles. She would also become the second-oldest Grand Slam champion ever at 39 years old.
Williams' biggest remaining challenger will be Australia's Ashleigh Barty, who is currently ranked No. 1 in the world for women's singles. Barty is particularly strong on grass, having won more than 78% of her matches on the surface since 2010. However, Williams has an even better record on grass with an 88.4% win rate over the course of her career. Barty is also recovering from a hip injury that kept her out of the French Open.
World No. 4 Aryna Sabalenka is in the field, but the Belarusian has never won a Grand Slam title and has her worst record on grass — just 18 wins in 31 games. Williams will also need to get past 22-year old Elena Rybakina, who pulled off a stunning upset over her at the French Open.
Williams finished as the runner-up at Wimbledon in both 2018 and 2019, and she came up short in the U.S. Open finals in both years as well. Her 23rd Grand Slam victory was in 2017 at the Australian Open, where she defeated her sister, Venus while in the early stages of her pregnancy with her daughter, Alexis. She will face Belarus' Aliaksandra Sasnovich in the opening round of the tournament June 28.
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This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Wimbledon: Simona Halep's withdrawal bodes well for Serena Williams