Serena Williams said she was “beyond disappointed” at pulling out of her match with Maria Sharapova at Roland Garros.
Their French Open fourth-round showdown was billed as a grudge match – the chance for Williams to hit back at Sharapova’s comments about her in her autobiography and an opportunity for Sharapova to end an 18-match, 14-year losing streak against the American.
Yet less than an hour before they were likely to be on court, Williams called an impromptu press conference to announce she would have to withdraw.
The 36-year-old, playing in her first grand slam since giving birth to her daughter in September, said she had a pectoral muscle problem, which meant she could not serve.
She first felt the ailment against third-round opponent Julia Goerges on Saturday but still played doubles with sister Venus on Sunday. Evidently the problem remained as the two of them do not often lose a deciding set 6-0.
“I really felt I needed to (play in the doubles) because I’m never going to know how I feel under match play if I didn’t have that match,” she explained.
“(In doubles) I’m not serving that often, I’m serving once every four games. So I thought it was a perfect opportunity for me to kind of see how I would be and how I would go in that.”
Williams admitted it was painful to walk away from a first match against Sharapova since the 2016 Australia Open, after which the Russian was given a 15-month doping ban.
“You know, it’s just a match I always get up for. It’s just her game matches so well against mine.
“I have made every sacrifice that I could. So it’s extremely disappointing. But also, I made a promise to myself and to my coach and to my team that if I’m not at least 60 per cent or 50 per cent, then I probably shouldn’t play.
“I’m beyond disappointed. You know, 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.”
Sharapova will now face Garbine Muguruza in the last eight after the Wimbledon champion’s opponent Lesia Tsurenko pulled up injured early in the first set of their match.
Top seed Simona Halep made short work of Elise Mertens, 6-2 6-1, to set up a meeting with Germany’s Angelique Kerber, who knocked out home favourite Caroline Garcia 6-2 6-3.
Second seed Caroline Wozniacki was knocked out by Russian youngster Daria Kasatkina, who now meets American 10th seed Sloane Stephens.