Serena faces Wimbledon fight as Paris party falls flat
Serena Williams admits her dream of an eighth Wimbledon title could either be saved or shattered in a Paris doctor’s office this week.
The 36-year-old American stunned the French Open on Monday by withdrawing from her eagerly-anticipated last-16 grudge match with bitter rival Maria Sharapova just minutes before the two icons of the women’s game were due to clash on Court Philippe Chatrier.
A pectoral muscle injury had slammed the brakes on the ruthless Williams’s serving arm so she decided not to take up the opportunity to extend her 14-year, 18-match win streak over the Russian.
“So I’m going to get an MRI tomorrow (Tuesday). I’m going to stay here and see some of the doctors, see as many specialists as I can,” said the 23-time Grand Slam title winner.
“And I won’t know that (her Wimbledon status) until I get those results.”
In Paris, Williams was playing her first Grand Slam since winning the 2017 Australian Open when she was two months pregnant and first since she gave birth to daughter Olympia in September.
However, in the end, her Paris schedule caught up with her.
Since Tuesday last week, she had played six matches in six days, with her singles duties alternating with doubles alongside sister Venus.
That compared to just four matches — in Indian Wells and Miami this year — since her 2017 Australian Open win.
“I have made every sacrifice that I could. So it’s extremely disappointing,” she added.
“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 to a point where it could be a lot worse.”
With Wimbledon not starting until July 2, Williams has a degree of time on her side in which to get healthy.
A rematch with Sharapova at the All England Club could have even greater significance as it was there in 2004 that the Russian, then a slender 17-year-old, stunned Williams to lift the title.
It also lit the fuse on a relationship which has generally been close to explosive ever since.
Monday’s scheduled match was due to take place just two days after Williams had blasted Sharapova’s autobiography for being “100 percent hearsay” when it came to references about the aftermath of that 2004 Wimbledon final.
“I think Serena hated me for being the skinny kid who beat her, against all odds, at Wimbledon,” Sharapova wrote in ‘Unstoppable’.
“Not long after I heard Serena told a friend, who then told me, ‘I’ll never lose to that little bitch again’.”
Sharapova, the champion in Paris in 2012 and 2014, goes on to play a first quarter-final at the Slams since losing to Williams at the same stage at the 2016 Australian Open.
It was in Melbourne that Sharapova tested positive for meldonium after which she served a 15-month doping ban.
“I was looking forward to my match against Serena and am disappointed that she had to withdraw,” said Sharapova in a statement.
“I wish her a speedy recovery and hope she returns to the tour soon.”
It was not the greatest day for women’s tennis on Monday.
As well as Serena’s withdrawal, the match featuring third seed Garbine Muguruza, the 2016 champion, and Lesia Tsurenko last just two games.
Ukrainian world 39 Tsurenko retired at 0-2 down due to a leg injury which required an on-court medical assessment as well as lengthy off-court treatment — after the first game.
World number one Simona Halep needed just 59 minutes to beat Belgium’s Elise Mertens for the loss of only three games.
She next plays Angelique Kerber who saw off Caroline Garcia, the last home player in the draw, also in straight sets.
Fourth round losers in the men’s and women’s tournaments all receive 222,000 euros ($260,000), a fact not lost on Italy’s Fabio Fognini whose five-set defeat to Marin Cilic occupied 3hr and 37min.
Women’s tennis “is another sport,” he said mischievously.
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