Serena Williams was in the grip of a health scare on Tuesday night following a surreal doubles performance in which she struggled to pick up the ball. It was later confirmed that she would not continue in the tournament because of a bout of viral illness which is said to have caused her unprecedented display.
In an uncomfortable few minutes alongside her sister Venus, Serena fumbled the ball and served four double faults against Germany's Kristina Barrois and Switzerland's Stefanie Voegele.
Serena Williams quits match
Tennis ace quits Wimbledon with a suspected virus after losing her coordination during a doubles match.
The Williams sisters, who have won five Wimbledon doubles titles, visibly alarmed their opponents with their performance after losing both of their service games. The Williams sisters won four points to their opponents' 13 during the No 1 Court encounter.
By that point, concerned Wimbledon officials had begun to discuss what to do about the unfolding spectacle.
Williams was entirely listless as she wafted her racket through thin air and even struggled to coordinate her exchanges with the court's ball boys.
At all times the crowds remained supportive, cheering the Williams sisters on. But Serena was clearly unable to continue. Her agent and hitting partner left their seats and made toward the court to intervene.
Serena had earlier struggled through the warm-up and called on her trainer. Prior to the game she also underwent an unusual 10-minute medical check on the sidelines in which her blood pressure was taken. Despite the checks she was still certified as fit to play.
Despite her eventual defeat, Serena had made a passionate case against Alize Cornet on Saturday and shown no signs of illness.
Once the burden of play had become too much, Serena consulted with the chair umpire who had earlier come down from his chair to ask about the difficulties. The game was abandoned 11 minutes after it began.
Serena left the court in tears, flanked by her sister and their entourage. Ninety minutes later she was escorted to a people carrier by her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, as she chewed her nails and looked forlorn.
The Williams camp would not confirm if she was being taken hospital.
Serena said later: "I am heartbroken I'm not able to continue. I thought I could rally this morning, because I really wanted to compete, but this bug just got the best of me.
"I want to thank my sister, Kristina, Stefanie and our teams for their support. We were all looking forward to a great match. From the bottom of my heart, I thank all of the fans for their cheers and understanding."
Serena, 32, went on to pre-empt speculation about her tournament career, by vowing to return to the All England Club. "I look forward to returning to Wimbledon next year."
Venus Williams said: "Unfortunately Serena has been feeling unwell for the past few days and she just couldn't play to her potential. I'm really proud of her for trying because we just love playing doubles together. We are looking forward to coming back to Wimbledon next year."
One spectator who declined to give her name but witnessed Serena's shock exit said: "It looked like she was drunk I would say. People worried I think. She couldn't see the ball to scoop it up so she was trying to kick it up with her foot. But she actually couldn't focus on it enough to scoop it up with her foot. It could be the story of the day. It took quite a long time to bring the doctor on.
"She was serving double faults the whole time on her service game. And halfway through that, the umpire spoke to her to say 'hurry up, you're taking quite a long time', then at the end of that she withdrew."
Serena has previously grappled with serious medical issues. An operation on her left knee put her career on hold for eight months in 2003 after having won four consecutive titles. A string of incidents including lacerations to her feet days after winning the Wimbledon title in 2010 and blood clots in her lungs saw her leave the tour for 10 months, returning in 2011.
Yesterday's events crown what has been a tumultuous tournament for the ageing sisters. The pair have each won five Wimbledon titles each but failed to advance beyond the third round of the singles contest, having both been ejected last week.
The Telegraph, London