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French Open

Williams pulls out of Sharapova clash in French Open anti-climax

Pierre René-Worms, FRANCE 24 | Serena Williams was forced to pull out of the French Open with a chest injury.

Serena Williams’s audacious Grand Slam comeback ended in crushing disappointment on Monday, but it was a famous day for Argentine tennis as Juan Martin del Potro and Diego Schwartzman pulled off a one-two in the men’s draw.

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It was the most eagerly awaited match of the tournament, but the grudge (and grunt) match between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova never materialised.

Just minutes before the scheduled fourth-round tie between the former French Open champions, Williams announced she was pulling out of the contest, her voice quivering as she said she "can't serve at all" because of a pectoral muscle injury sustained during her win over Julia Goerges on Saturday.

"I'm beyond disappointed," said the three-time Roland Garros champion Williams, who was playing in her first Grand Slam since winning the 2017 Australian Open and giving birth to daughter Olympia in September. She added: "I gave up so much from time with my daughter and time with my family all for this moment. So it's really difficult to be in this situation."

The 23-time Grand Slam champion added that she would stay in Paris for scans to find out how long she will be out of action. She said it was too early to know whether or not she would be fit for the start of Wimbledon in four weeks' time.

Williams had worked hard to get back into shape and, after a slow start to the tournament, actually looked capable of going all the way. Her clash with old foe Sharapova, herself making a comeback at Roland Garros after missing two editions due to a doping ban, had assumed top billing not least after Williams blasted Sharapova's autobiography for being "100 percent hearsay" when it came to references about her.

The shock withdrawal means Sharapova moved straight into the quarter-finals. As it turns out, her next opponent, Garbine Muguruza, will be just as rested after her challenger, Lesia Tsurenko, was also forced to retire because of an injury after only two games.

In Monday’s other results, two-times Grand Slam champion Angelique Kerber swatted aside local favourite Caroline Garcia 6-2 6-3 to storm into the quarter-finals, ending France’s feeble challenge at Roland Garros two days after the last male players were booted out. The German next faces top seed Simona Halep, who made even shorter work of her Belgian opponent Elise Mertens, cruising to a 6-2, 6-1 win. Kerber and Halep last at the semi-finals of the Australian Open earlier this year, when the Romanian prevailed.

Coupled with the day’s injuries, the swift victories meant the women’s four matches produced a total of just 34 games on Monday – as opposed to the 153 games, and three tie breaks, served up by the four matches in the men’s draw.

In a memorable day for Argentine tennis, the towering Juan-Martin del Potro and diminutive Diego Schwartzman both battled past big servers to book a place in the quarter-finals. Schwartzman staged the biggest upset, fighting back from two sets down to beat South Africa’s Kevin Anderson 1-6, 2-6, 7-5, 7-6 (0), 6-2.

Pierre René-Worms, FRANCE 24 | In the absence of French players, Juan Martin del Potro is already the fans' favourite.

Del Potro later completed Argentina’s one-two with a comfortable 6-4, 6-4, 6-4 victory over America’s John Isner. Always a favourite of the crowd, Del Potro at one point silenced a noisy spectator who kept shouting “USA, USA” by singing “Allez les Bleus”, a staple of French fans.

Next up for Del Potro is a quarter-final tie with the number 3 seed, Croatia’s Marin Cilic, who survived an almighty scare when Italy’s flamboyant Fabio Fognini also came back from two sets down to level the tie on Court Philippe Chatrier, before Cilic wrapped up the contest 6-4 6-1 3-6 6-7(4) 6-3.

While del Potro hasn’t lost against Cilic since 2011 (and has a 10-2 record against the Croation overall), Schwartzman has never defeated his next opponent, Rafael Nadal. The title holder, who beat Germany’s Maximilian Marterer 6-3, 6-2, 7-6 (4) on Monday, is yet to drop a set at this year’s tournament and is looking as favourite as ever to lift the Coupe des Mousquetaires on Sunday – for the 11th time.

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