TENNIS fans have grown wearily accustomed to being deprived the match ups they crave. But even still there was the mother of all disappointments for Philippe Chatrier ticket holders in Paris yesterday when they found out Serena Williams had withdrawn from her fourth-round French Open encounter with Maria Sharapova due to a pectoral injury.

This wasn’t just a heavyweight contest – the first between two of the sport’s most famous names for two years – it was a grudge match in the making too.

Where the 36-year-old Williams’ pursuit of a record-equalling 24th Grand Slam singles title (she already holds the Open Era record), just eight months since the birth of her first child Olympia, was becoming one of those epic personal narratives which makes this sport tick, Maria Sharapova was cast as the classic anti-hero.

The Russian, questing for redemption after 15 months out with a doping ban, actually returned from that ban in time to compete here 12 months previously, only for tournament organisers refused to offer her a wild card.

If you believed the statistics, there would have only been one winner. Williams had won 19 of the pair’s 21 career meetings, the last of which came in the 2016 Australian Open quarter finals, just a matter of weeks before Sharapova announced to the world that she had been taking meldonium for years and had just tested positive for using the drug.

Prior to today walkover win, both of Sharapova’s triumphs against Williams had come in 2004 -including that year’s Wimbledon final, a match which has subsequently become a source of intrigue.

In her recent autobiography, Sharapova revealed the scene in the locker room afterwards. “Guttural sobs, the sort that make you heave for air, the sort that scares you,” Sharapova wrote. “It went on and on. I got out as quickly as I could but she knew I was there. I think Serena hated me for being the skinny kid who beat her, against all the odds, at Wimbledon. Not long after the tournament I heard Serena told a friend – who then told me – ‘I will never lose to that little bitch again’.”

With Serena expressing surprise that she featured so heavily in the volume – “I didn’t expect to be reading a book about me … that wasn’t necessarily true,” she said – no wonder so many were licking their lips about this match-up.

And you can throw all that backstory into the mix after the younger Williams sister pulled out of this match too, catching Sharapova unaware shortly before the pair were due to go on court. Calling an impromptu press conference, she complained that her pectoral injury meant she was unable to uncork that fearsome serve. While the problem had flared up against Julia Goerges in the previous round, it was during her doubles match with her sister Venus on Sunday night, the final set of which was lost 6-0, that she was rolling slow serves into court.

There was nothing else for it but hanging around for a while in Paris to undergo an MRI scan on the problem area before committing to playing at Wimbledon or not. Six matches in six days - after just four in the previous 16 months – had clearly taken a toll.

“I’ve had issues with the right pectoral muscle to the point where I can’t serve,” said the 36-year-old. “I’ll have a scan. I won’t know about Wimbledon until I get the results.

“I tried lots of taping and support to see how it felt in match circumstances,” Williams said. “It is hard to play when I can’t physically serve. I’ve never had this injury before, I’ve never felt it in my life and it was so painful.”

Sharapova, who merely said she was disappointed the match didn’t take place, goes on to face Garbine Muguruza, another former winner of this title who benefited from an injury-enforced withdrawal yesterday. The Spaniard moved on came whilst leading Ukraine’s Lenia Tsurenko 2-0 in the first set.

The winner of that match will face a high-powered semi-final against either Simona Halep or Germany’s Angelique Kerber after both made it through fourth round matches at Roland Garros yesterday.