Had she reached the final, it would have equalled her two previous best streaks of 18 wins, achieved in 2002 and 2011.
She came to Rome with back-to-back titles in Charleston and Madrid plus two Fed Cup wins to compile a 17-0 run on clay, the longest streak on this surface since Justine Henin achieved 27 in 2006.
She was asked when the problem had started: “What happened was, earlier in the week I had some trouble with my lower back, it was a little stiff; I was out there practising and thinking, right, is this the right movement?”
Inevitably, given that she was the beneficiary of a retirement from the home favourite, Flavia Pennetta, yesterday—the Italian was forced to stop with a wrist injury after Williams had won the first four games in their quarter-final—she was asked whether she had felt fit to complete that match.
“I felt I should play to see how I felt during the match, so I can’t say—hopefully I would have been able to finish.”
Williams was also quick to dismiss the notion that the problem was a result of the blue clay in Madrid:
“No, I just think I’ve been playing a lot: It’s just life more than anything. I was playing a lot of matches in the end, so maybe next time, I’ll leave a little longer each time.”
The biggest concern for the woman who will return to the top five next week is her form ahead of the French Open, which begins next week.
“Yes, I have a huge schedule coming up, and with a little bit of ache and pain, you don’t want to start compensating and then eventually hurt something else. I’ve had a long last couple of months, and I need to relax and get ready for the next few months.
“The French Open is on the eve of coming up, I’ve had a good week and I’m confident that I’ll be 100 per cent.
“I feel like my form is good and hopefully I’ll do OK in the next couple of months. But I’m just living for the moment right now, and I think I’ll be able to sustain the form.”
Williams has won five clay trophies in her 41 career titles. In 2002 she won Rome and Roland Garros, has won in Charleston twice and took Madrid last week.
By coincidence, Li is the reigning French Open champion and had not played Williams since 2010—and never on clay.
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