Serena Williams pulls out of French Open before facing Maria Sharapova

Serena Williams of The United States reacts during the ladies singles third round match against Julia Georges of Germany during day seven of the 2018 French Open at Roland Garros on June 2, 2018 in Paris, France. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

PARIS – Serena Williams’ much anticipated clash with Maria Sharapova at the French Open won’t happen after all, the 36-year-old American pulling out because of a muscle injury.

The 23-time grand slam winner had 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.

Williams said she couldn’t physically serve with the pectoral injury, adding she felt the injury during her third-round singles match against Julia Goerges.

The US star will have an MRI scan on Tuesday.

“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.

The French Open marked Williams’ third tournament of 2018 — and first since March — after she gave birth to daughter Olympia in September. None of those tournaments came on clay.

“You always live to fight for another chance, Williams posted on Instagram. “I’ve done a lot of fighting and this is just the beginning. Thank you for the support. I love you.”

It means Sharapova, who held a 2-19 record against Williams and last beat her 14 years ago, moves into the quarterfinals against either Garbine Muguruza or Lesia Tsurenko.

Developing story … more to follow.

PREVIOUS STORY

Serena Williams to face Maria Sharapova at French Open

Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova meeting in the second week of a grand slam wouldn’t have come as a surprise a few years ago.

But when the world-famous duo landed in the same quarter of the draw at this year’s French Open, there was no guarantee they would clash in the fourth round.

Williams was playing her first grand slam in 16 months and only her third tournament of 2018 after giving birth to daughter Olympia in September, while Sharapova dealt with an arm injury this year and still sought top form after returning from a drug suspension in April 2017.

Yet the pair will face off indeed for the 22nd time after both won Saturday at Roland Garros.

“We are both on a comeback for two totally different reasons, and she’s been on her journey for over a year and I just started mine a couple months ago,” said Williams. “So it’s just something new and different.”

Struggling somewhat in the opening two rounds, both put in their best performances of the fortnight on a sunny, warm day in Paris that was a complete contrast to Friday’s wet, heavy conditions.

On paper, anyway, they were upset victories.

Williams — her ranking down to 451st due to a lack of matches since winning the 2017 Australian Open in the early stages of pregnancy — defeated 11th-seed Julia Goerges 6-3 6-4 Saturday evening.

The 23-time grand slam champ faced a mere one break point and tallied 85% of her first-serve points.

“I feel like every match I play I’m getting better and I’m playing tougher opponents and I’m hanging in there, and I feel like it’s going to hopefully keep going,” said Williams.

Sharapova thumped sixth-seed Karolina Pliskova 6-2 6-1 in the afternoon, winning nearly 60% of her return points versus last year’s women’s ace leader and Roland Garros semifinalist.

Monday, though, comes the hard part for 28th-seed Sharapova, no doubt the toughest challenge of her career — trying to beat Williams.

Lopsided record

Sharapova trails the series 19-2 and last overcame the American in 2004.

Sixteen straight sets have gone against her, including in the quarterfinals at the 2016 Australian Open, Sharapova’s last match prior to serving the ban for taking meldonium.

“I think any time you play against Serena you know what you’re up against,” the five-time grand slam winner told reporters. “You know the challenge that is upon you.

“Despite the record that I have against her, I always look forward to coming out on the court and competing against the best player.”

They wouldn’t be considered pals but Sharapova admitted to being “inspired” by her on-court tormentor. Their path to stardom from humble beginnings is also inspiring, according to Sharapova.

Born in Siberia, Russia, Sharapova moved to the US aged six to chase her tennis dream. Williams and older sister Venus grew up in Compton in the 1980s at a time when gang warfare was not uncommon in the Los Angeles suburb.

Williams, however, wasn’t inspired by Sharapova’s autobiography, ‘Unstoppable: My Life So Far,’ published last year.

‘Hearsay book’

In the book, Sharapova said Williams was devastated after losing their final at Wimbledon in 2004, a win that truly put the Russian on the tennis map. She described hearing “guttural sobs” in the locker room.

“I think Serena hated me for being the skinny kid who beat her, against all odds, at Wimbledon,” wrote Sharapova.

And, hypothesized Sharapova, it’s the reason why Williams wracked up that 19-2 record against her. But Williams hit back.

“I think the book was 100% hearsay, at least all the stuff I read and the quotes that I read, which was a little bit disappointing,” said Williams. “I have cried in the locker room many times after a loss, and that’s what I have seen a lot of people do. I think it’s normal. I think if anything, it shows the passion and the desire and the will that you have to want to go out there and do the best.

“I think what happens there should definitely maybe stay there, and not necessarily talk about it in a not so positive way in a book,” added Williams.

Williams, though, said she harbored no “negative feelings” towards Sharapova.

Twice Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova joined her Czech Fed Cup teammate Pliskova on the sidelines, losing to Anett Kontaveit 7-6 (8-6) 7-6 (7-4) in a match originally scheduled for Friday.

Kvitova entered the French Open as a contender after winning clay titles in Prague and Madrid and holding a 13-match winning streak. A year ago in Paris, she made her return to tennis after being attacked in her home and suffering nerve damage to her left, playing hand.

The 25th-seeded Kontaveit had a fruitful clay swing — beating Venus Williams twice — herself and a breakthrough win at a grand slam had been coming after several near misses.

“Of course, I’m pretty sad, but, on the other hand, I’m very happy about everything in the life,” said Kvitova.

Rafael Nadal, meanwhile, achieved yet another milestone on clay.

When the Spaniard again crushed France’s Richard Gasquet, 6-3 6-2 6-2 — he is now 16-0 against his friend — he claimed a 34th straight set at Roland Garros to eclipse his previous best of 32.

Nadal is now not far behind Bjorn Borg’s record of 41 set from 1979-81.