French Open | The big confrontation is postponed
Just as Rafael Nadal was playing out his match against the talented young German, Maxmillian Marterer, on Court Phillipe Chatrier on Monday, Serena Williams pulled out of her French Open last-16 tie with Maria Sharapova due to an arm injury.
The much-anticipated contest was to be the highlight of the day but, instead, a press conference was called at which she announced, voice quivering, that she was disappointed after being forced to withdraw because of a pectoral muscle injury that won’t allow her to serve.
“Unfortunately, I’m having some issues with my pec muscle. Unfortunately, right now, I can’t actually serve so it’s kind of hard to play,” she told the media.
The pectoral injury is very painful. I started to feel before the last match [against Goerges] and playing doubles didn’t get better. I'm going to have MRI tomorrow and will see than when I can start playing again Serena Wlliams
“The pectoral injury is very painful. I started to feel before the last match [against Goerges] and playing doubles didn’t get better.
“I’m going to have MRI tomorrow and will see than when I can start playing again”.
In the next days, she added, she will decide if she will play at Wimbledon or not.
“In my doubles yesterday I tried a lot of different tapings, and I tried lots of different types of support to see how it would feel under match circumstance,” Serena explained. “It didn’t really get a lot better.
“So I’m going to get an MRI tomorrow. I’m going to stay here and see some of the doctors here, see as many specialists as I can. And I won’t know that until I get those results.
“I’ve been doing so good, I will continue to fight in order to play on my best surface.
“My promise to my team was to retire if I was under 60% of my possibility. I can’t serve” Serena admitted.
“I love tennis, I never had this injury before and there are various theories about why now I have it.”
It is the first time Williams has withdrawn from singles play during a Grand Slam in her 67 career starts, and the first time dealing with this kind of injury.
The 23-time Grand Slam singles champion won her first three singles matches, and played three doubles matches, including the one Sunday, at her first Grand Slam since capturing the 2017 Australian Open title while eight weeks pregnant.
Williams came into Roland Garros having played four WTA Tour matches, all in March, since giving birth to daughter Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. on 1 September.
“I’m beyond disappointed,” she said. “I gave up so much from time with my daughter, to time with my family. I put everything on the court, you know? All for this moment. So, it’s really difficult to be in this situation.”
Williams was favoured against the two-time French Open champion Sharapova, whom Williams has beaten 18 straight times since 2005.
“It’s difficult because I love playing Maria,” Williams said. “It’s a match I always get up for. Her game matches so well against mine.”
Williams, the current world No 451, had been playing doubles alongside her sister Venus and was serving slower during their exit on Sunday.
The 36-year-old has withdrawn mid-tournament 15 times in her career and she later posted on Instagram: “You always live to fight for another chance. I’ve done a lot of fighting and this is just the beginning. Thank you for the support. I love you.”.
So, without going on court, Maria Sharapova has qualified for a 25th Grand Slam quarter-final, her ninth at Roland Garros, where she will face either 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza or Lesia Tsurenko.
Williams, the former world No 1 has an impeccable record against Sharapova and, try as they might to dismiss feelings of bad blood between them, the rivalry has continued to bubble under the surface of all their encounters, the latest of which was to have been this last 16 match-up at the French Open for a place in the quarter-finals.
Serena, fired up to tighten her 14-year grip on Sharapova, earlier had confessed to a sense of betrayal as the two icons lined up play out the latest chapter of their bitter feud at Roland Garros on Monday.
Sharapova had not defeated her fellow former World No 1 since 2004, the same year she made her breakthrough at Wimbledon as a slender teenager prone to fits of giggles, and subsequently suffered a streak of 18 match losses.
The 22nd match of their one-sided rivalry was, once again, to be played out against a familiar soundtrack of suspicion and rivalry.
Williams, the three-time French Open champion and 23-time major winner, had vented her anger at Sharapova’s claims that she had wept after losing that 2004 Wimbledon title match.
The 36-year-old American described references to her as ‘100 percent hearsay’ while other revelations in Sharapova’s memoir, ‘Unstoppable’, she dismissed as ‘not necessarily true’.
Williams was particularly irked as Sharapova’s claims came just months after the American had hailed her for the manner in which she announced her failed drugs test at the 2016 Australian Open.
“I was one of the few people that said that she was brave to say something,” said Williams referring to Sharapova’s ‘drug incident’. “I didn’t have anything negative to say about Maria.”
Sharapova’s test for meldonium led to a 15-month ban and, ironically, the Russian’s last match before her suspension was against Williams in the quarter-finals in Melbourne.
Serena has monopolised their on-court clashes for the last 14 years, so much so that Sharapova has taken just one set in a decade.
Despite that, the Russian, with five Grand Slam titles to her name, still brings in the serious money.
Her net worth was valued at $285 million by Forbes last year while, according The Richlist, Williams’ financial assets were estimated at $170 million.
Elsewhere, as she rebuilt her reputation, Sharapova featured in a no-warts at all Netflix documentary ‘The Point’.
Not to be outdone, Serena opened the doors to HBO for a four-part mini-series, ‘Being Serena’, focusing on her home life and return to action after the birth of daughter Olympia.
As well as vying for commercial and PR supremacy, the two have fought very public battles over their private lives.
On the eve of Wimbledon in 2013, Williams gave an explosive interview to Rolling Stone magazine in which she left nobody in any doubt as to her target.
“She begins every interview with ‘I’m so happy. I’m so lucky’? it’s so boring,” said Williams without actually naming the Russian.
“She’s still not going to be invited to the cool parties. And, hey, if she wants to be with the guy with a black heart, go for it.”
The ‘black heart’ was a not so subtle reference to Bulgarian tennis player Grigor Dimitrov, a rumoured former boyfriend of Williams, who was then dating Sharapova.
A few days later, at a Wimbledon news conference, Sharapova aimed a trademark icy riposte.
“I just think she should be talking about her accomplishments, her achievements, rather than everything else that’s just getting attention and controversy.”
Adding a little more spice to Monday’s duel on the clay of Court Philippe Chatrier was Williams’s assertion that Sharapova is almost obsessed by the American, who is named more than 100 times in ‘Unstoppable’.
“I was, like, this is really interesting…I didn’t know she looked up to me that much or was so involved in my career.”
After all the words, it was time for the rackets to do the talking, but the anticipated roar ended in a whimper of disappointment in what many will view as a climbdown when Serena blinked first.
For Sharapova, it must have been sheer relief.