As reporters focused on their last-minute research before the Serena Williams vs. Maria Sharapova fourth-round battle – the most anticipated mid-tournament match in memory – there came a weird announcement: “Serena Williams is on her way to the interview room.”
Wow – what’s this?
Reporters from dozens of countries scrambled from the press room, some 35 yards away, to get to their interview room seats in front of the player podium. How odd, they thought, a press conference before the match. Ironically, this would be the most dramatic tennis press conference since Sharapova announced in an LA hotel room – one she noted had an ugly rug – that she’d been suspended for drug use.
A silence gripped the Parisian interview room. Worst case – would Serena, with all her new-found passion for mothering, be announcing her retirement? Or would she be “just” withdrawing from the most anticipated mid-tournament match in years?
After a hefty and dramatic delay, Serena, wearing all black and with long braids down to her waist, came into the packed room.
“Unfortunately,” she began, “I have been having some issues with my pec muscle, and [it] has…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.”
Her Monday meeting with the Russian was going to be many things. For some it was a battle of the thirty-something elders. Serena is 36, Maria’s 31. Others made the risky claim that this would be the best-ever match between the No. 451 player in the world vs. the No. 30. The Times of London called it the “Epic Paris Grudge Match.” The Telegraph noted that Serena had beaten Maria 18 straight times and dubbed the matchup “Tennis’ Great Un-rivalry.”
Now it was tennis’ “great non-match.” Roland Garros was shaken. Fans were stunned. A reporter who flew in from Iceland for the match wondered, Why?
Serena explained that she first began to feel her injury in her previous match against German Julia Goerges. “It was really painful and I didn’t know what it was,” she explained.
“In my doubles yesterday,” she explained, “I tried a lot of different tapings, and different types of support to see how it would feel under match circumstances, [but] it didn’t really get a lot better. So I’m going to get an MRI…I’m going to stay here and see some of the doctors – see as many specialists as I can. And I won’t know [the diagnosis] until I get those results…I’m beyond disappointed. 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…[But] I just always try to think positive and just think of the bigger picture and hopefully the next events.”
Serena went on to explain, “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’m coming up on hopefully surfaces that are my absolute favorite to play on and that I do best on…It’s very difficult, because I love playing Maria. It’s a match I always get up for…Her game matches so well against mine.”
Serena continued, saying, “There are times where I’m on court 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. I have made every sacrifice I could…But I made a promise to myself and…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 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…It was a great effort to come back…[It just] showed all the hard work I put in for fitness and training and just doing something that I love so much. I love tennis and I love being out here, and especially for the Grand Slams…I have never felt this in my life. Like, this is so painful.
“I don’t really know how to manage it yet…I’m clueless as to what to do.”
Sharapova, who has won five Slam titles and two French titles, is now into the quarterfinals, where she will meet Spaniard Garbine Muguruza or Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko.
Years ago, the young and promising Sharapova said, “Wait until I get muscles.” Today she advanced to her first slam quarterfinal in 28 months because of a muscle – Serena’s pec.