Serena's return ends prematurely

ByHOWARD BRYANT via <a href="http://espn.go.com/" title="ESPN" class="espn_sc_byline">ESPN </a>
March 21, 2015, 1:50 AM

&#151; -- INDIAN WELLS, Calif. -- The storybook ending of   Serena Williams  hoisting the championship trophy in her return to Indian Wells ended with a needle and a thud Friday night after she withdrew before her semifinal match with   Simona Halep  due to a right knee injury.

Williams said her knee had been bothering her for several days, and after an injection, it did not improve and prohibited her from playing. Halep will play   Jelena Jankovic  in the final on Sunday.

"Literally, the last two minutes of practice I went for a serve and felt a super sharp pain in my knee," Williams said. "I was like 'OK,' and I served again. I felt it again. I just came off, and it hasn't been the same since. I have done everything. ... I even did an injection. I have never done an injection before."

The simple story is that players get injured all the time.

Last year in Miami,   Kei Nishikori and Tomas Berdych both withdrew before their semifinal matches. Bernard Tomic withdrew from his quarterfinal night match with Novak Djokovic here two days ago. Before the finals of the Barclays ATP World Tour Finals, Roger Federer withdrew against Djokovic, handing Djokovic the title without playing a point.

Nothing, however, is allowed to be as clean with Williams.

As Federer did in London at Barclays, she addressed the crowd. The buzz that Williams would not be playing began circulating during the early stages of the third set between Jankovic and   Sabine Lisicki. When Williams' withdrawal   was confirmed, tournament officials prepared to have her address the crowd directly. But the announcement never explicitly said that Williams would not be playing, causing momentary pauses of confusion, and more than a few conspiracy theories. The coincidence that the entire Indian Wells affair with the Williams family occurred on a Friday night with sister Venus withdrawing from her semifinal match with Serena 14 years ago was not lost on the crowd.

"I don't make anything of it," she said. "I feel that was 14 years ago and this is now. I did the best I could at this event and am really happy to have put a lot of that behind me."

As for the rest of the season, Miami will essentially be a game-time decision for her. Her game -- after beating Monica Niculescu, Zarina Diyas, Sloane Stephens and Timea Bacsinszky -- was fair but always good enough when it needed to be, and the player who challenged her top ranking, Maria Sharapova, lost to Flavia Pennetta and did not gain any ground on Williams.

So Williams' return remains unsullied, even with the unhappy ending. The Indian Wells chapter is over, and in its place is something different -- not quite clean but far less messy.

Williams said her return next year to Indian Wells is now "a must." The reconciliation narrative was never quite true in the first place, as the tournament did not reach out to   Venus or Richard Williams to return. What was true   was that Serena said she wanted to return; she did, and put on a good show while she was here.

That it ended the way it did could only be filed under the header, "more stuff you can't make up."

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