PARIS (CBSMiami/CNN) – Serena Williams’ Grand Slam comeback is over, for now.
When her day was done Monday at the French Open, Maria Sharapova found herself in the quarterfinals instead of Williams.
No, the Russian didn’t end a demoralizing 14-year losing streak against the American.
Rather, Sharapova didn’t have to face Williams after the new mom pulled out with a pectoral injury at the last minute.
The 23-time grand slam winner played herself into form through three rounds in her grand slam comeback but she took to the main interview room Monday to announce her withdrawal just minutes before the clash between two of the highest profile athletes in the world was about to start on Philippe-Chatrier court in Paris. It was her first grand slam withdrawal mid tournament.
The 36-year-old said she couldn’t “physically serve” due to the pectoral problem, adding she first felt the injury in the third round against Julia Goerges on Saturday and then again in Sunday’s doubles tussle with older sister Venus. She has never had that type of injury, Serena said.
The siblings — one of the finest doubles teams ever — lost 6-0 in the third set to third seeds Andreja Klepac and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez, with Serena’s serve speed visibly declining.
She’ll have an MRI scan Tuesday to discover the extent of the injury and the results will no doubt determine her availability for Wimbledon, which begins in exactly four weeks.
“I unfortunately been having some issues with my pec muscle … right now I can’t actually serve so it’s actually hard to play when I can’t physically serve,” said Williams. “This is so painful.”
The French Open marked only her third tournament of 2018 — and first since March — after Williams gave birth to daughter Olympia in September.
Williams told CNN she almost died in the aftermath due to complications stemming from a pulmonary embolism, a condition that left her on her “death bed” in 2011.
Her departure means Sharapova, who held a 2-19 record against Williams, moved into the last eight against 2016 winner Garbine Muguruza. Muguruza didn’t get a walkover but almost: The Spaniard progressed when Lesia Tsurenko retired with a leg injury losing 2-0 in the first set.
“I was looking forward to my match against Serena today and am disappointed that she had to withdraw,” Sharapova told the WTA. “I wish her a speedy recovery and hope she returns to the tour soon.”
Williams had added extra spice to the contest beforehand, slamming Sharapova’s “hearsay” autobiography. In it, Sharapova described hearing “guttural sobs” from Williams after defeating her in the 2004 Wimbledon final.
Williams appeared to dispute Sharapova’s account and said anything that happens in the locker room should stay there.
‘Back to the drawing board’
“It’s very difficult, because I love playing Maria,” said Williams. “It’s just a match I always get up for. Just her game matches so well against mine. It is difficult, because … I have given up so much to be here.
“There are times where I’m on the court and I’m practicing, and I look on the monitor and I see my daughter and she’s playing and I want to be there, but I know that these are the sacrifices you have to make to live out your dream.
“And 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% or 50%, then I probably shouldn’t play.
“The fact that I physically can’t serve at all is a good indication that maybe I should just go back to the drawing board and stay positive and try to get better and not get it to a point where it could be a lot worse.”
So why did Williams play in the doubles Sunday in the first place?
“I really felt like I needed to because I’m never going to know how I feel under match play if I didn’t have that match,” said Williams.
“Plus I wanted to try different tapings and different strappings and lots of different stuff to see what’s helping and what can help and what I could try in my singles match.”
Wozniacki out, Nadal still in
Williams’ good friend, second-seed Caroline Wozniacki, also exited the French Open. Resuming her encounter against Daria Kasatkina after darkness halted play Sunday, the Russian won all three games for a 7-6 (7-5) 6-3 victory and a spot in a maiden grand slam quarterfinal.
Since losing her first set of the tournament, world No. 1 Simona Halep has cruised. Last year’s finalist thumped Australian Open semifinalist Elise Mertens — who had been 16-1 on clay this season — 6-2 6-1 to set up a clash with Angelique Kerber. The twice grand slam winner knocked out the last remaining French player in singles, Caroline Garcia, 6-2 6-3.
When Kerber and Halep met in the Australian Open semifinals, Halep saved two match points and prevailed 9-7 in the third set. No wonder Kerber, looking ahead to the quarterfinal, said: “I think it will be a long match.”
Rafael Nadal, meanwhile, advanced to a 12th quarterfinal and has now won 37 straight sets at Roland Garros after defeating the spirited Maximilian Marterer of Germany 6-3 6-2 7-6 (7-4). In his first grand slam fourth round, the free-swinging 22-year-old led Nadal by a break in the first and third sets.
Nadal turned 32 Sunday but said he didn’t feel old.
“I am here around since 2003, so it’s a long way, a lot of years,” he said. “I started very young. That’s a real thing. But, no, I feel happy to be here. Being honest, I am enjoying the day by day on the tour and I hope to keep doing this for a while.”
The 10-time winner will next face a familiar foe, 11th-seed Diego Schwartzman, who rallied from two sets down to beat Kevin Anderson 1-6 2-6 7-5 7-6 (7-0) 6-2. Anderson — defeated by Nadal in the US Open final — twice couldn’t serve the match out, ending his bid to become the first South African man to make the French Open quarterfinals since Cliff Drysdale in 1967.
Asked how he maintained belief when trailing the 6-foot-8 Anderson, the 5-foot-7 Schwartzman replied: “Did you read David and Goliath?”
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Nadal leads Schwartzman 5-0 in their series but the ever improving Argentine took a set off the Mallorcan at the Australian Open in January.
Juan Martin del Potro, the injury hit 2009 US Open champion, reached his first French Open quarterfinal since 2012 by dispatching John Isner 6-4 6-4 6-4 and meets fellow US Open winner Marin Cilic, who held off clay-court danger man Fabio Fognini 6-4 6-1 3-6 6-7 (4-7) 6-3.
(© Copyright 2018 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Cable News Network, Inc., a Time Warner Company, contributed to this report)