Serena announced her exit from the tournament yesterday Image: AFP
Serena Williams announced her shocking withdrawal from the French Open due to an injury on Monday just minutes before her scheduled fourth-round clash against long-time rival and fellow Grand Slam icon Maria Sharapova.
The 36-year-old said she had suffered a pectoral muscle injury in her third-round win over Julia Goerges and "can't serve at all".
The 23-time Grand Slam champion added that she would stay in Paris for scans on the injury to find out how long she will be out of action.
"I, unfortunately, have been having some issues with my pec muscle, and (it) has unfortunately been getting worse to the point where right now I can't actually serve. It's kind of hard to play when I can't physically serve," she explained.
She was unable to say whether or not she would be fit for Wimbledon which gets underway in four weeks' time.
"I'm beyond disappointed," added three-time Roland Garros champion Williams who was playing in her first Grand Slam since winning the 2017 Australian Open while two months pregnant.
She was also in just her third tournament of the year after giving birth to daughter Olympia in September.
"I gave up so much time with my daughter and time with my family all for this moment. So it's really difficult to be in this situation," she added.
I unfortunately have been having some issues with my pec muscle, and (it) has unfortunately been getting worse to the point where right now I can't actually serve. Serena Williams
The shock withdrawal came just minutes before she was due on Court Philippe Chatrier to face Sharapova.
Williams has not lost to the Russian since 2004, winning the last 18 matches. It was the most eagerly-awaited match of the tournament, coming just two days after Williams blasted Sharapova's autobiography for being "100 per cent hearsay" when it came to references about her.
Meanwhile Sharapova said in a statement, "I was looking forward to my match against Serena and am disappointed that she had to withdraw... I wish her a speedy recovery and hope she returns to the tour soon."
Monday's bombshell announcement was the first time in her 20-year career that Williams had pulled out of a Grand Slam event.
Despite her well-documented fall-outs with Sharapova, Williams, too, insisted she had been looking forward to the match.
"I love playing Maria — it's just a match I always get up for. Her game matches so well against mine," she said.
I was looking forward to my match against Serena and am disappointed that she had to withdraw. Maria Sharapova
Despite playing just four matches in 2018 before Roland Garros, Williams played doubles in Paris with sister Venus.
They had been knocked out on Sunday by Andreja Klepac and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez with the American sisters getting a 6-0 bagel in the final set. Serena had gone into that match wearing her striking all-black catsuit but she admitted she had to tape her serving arm to try and protect the injury.
"Every match has been getting better for me. Physically I'm doing great. I sacrificed so much to be at this event. I can only take solace in the fact I'm going to continue to get better. And I had such a wonderful performance in my first Grand Slam back. I just feel like it's only going to do better," added Williams. However, her status for Wimbledon where she has been champion seven times, will only become clear once she has had an MRI.
"I made a promise that if I'm not at least 60 per cent or 50 per cent, then I probably shouldn't play," she said, adding, "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."
(Inputs from PTI)