PARIS — Serena Williams withdrew from the French Open with a pectoral injury just hours before she was set to face No. 28 Maria Sharapova in the fourth round. Williams was playing in her first Slam since the 2017 Australian Open and first since she gave birth to her daughter in September.
Here are three takeaways from the surprise withdrawal.
If she’s healthy by Wimbledon, this French Open can still be looked at as a success
The big question here is whether Williams will be ready by Wimbledon, which presents her best chance to win what would be a record-tying 24th major. Wimbledon starts exactly four weeks from today, and the best medicine for a pectoral injury is rest, so it’s a race against the clock.
If she is ready to compete by the All-England Club, Serena can look at the 2018 French Open as a success. After a 16-month absence from Slam tennis, and at the age of 36, Williams won her first three matches and looked to be a real contender in Paris before this pectoral injury truncated her tournament. That will please her immensely. But if she has to miss Wimbledon, she might rue the decision to play her doubles match on Sunday, which brings us to our next point…
Good idea to enter the doubles tournament, bad idea to play Sunday
Some have suggested that Serena shouldn’t have entered the doubles competition with her sister. The logic there is that she shouldn’t “overdo” it in her return to tennis, and that she isn’t fit enough after the long absence to handle the extra workload that doubles requires. To that I say: Serena needed all the match play she could get. Doubles isn’t the same as singles, obviously, but it’s still under-the-gun competition with real umpires and real opponents and a real score. After any extended absence, the importance of getting matches under your belt cannot be overstated. Playing doubles was the right move.
That being said, if she began to feel the injury before Sunday’s doubles loss (as she stated in her press conference), then it was a mistake to take the court on Sunday. Perhaps she felt she could play her way through the injury, or maybe she felt some obligation because her partner is her sister Venus, who lost in the first round in singles. Whatever the reason, Williams has to prioritize her own health and longevity, and pushing to play that doubles match might not have been her best decision.
Not ideal circumstances, but great week for Maria Sharapova
Sharapova certainly would have preferred to beat Serena on the court, something she hasn’t done since George W. Bush’s first term, but she’ll be thrilled with this result nonetheless. Earlier this year, we were wondering if this might be Sharapova’s last summer of tennis. Now she’s into her first Slam quarterfinal since the 2016 Australian Open, and this is probably her best tournament since the return from the doping ban—no matter how you look at it, that is some serious progress.