Serena Williams ready for mother-of-all battles with Maria Sharapova

The 28th seed against a player ranked 451 in the world would not usually command a place on the prestigious Philippe-Chatrier Court at Roland Garros.

But today the French Open will stage a grudge match the like of which grand slam tennis has not seen in a long time.

Maria Sharapova faces Serena Williams for the first time since the 2016 Australian Open, which was the Russian’s last game before a 15-month doping ban.

Williams’ dramatic drop down the rankings is due to her maternity leave; she is playing in her first major tournament since having a baby girl in September.

“We are both on a comeback, for two totally different reasons,” Williams said, diplomatically, after beating Julia Goerges on Saturday evening.

“She’s been on her journey for over a year and I just started mine a couple months ago. So, you know, it’s just something new and different. I don’t know what else to say.”

Except she did know what to say. Williams branded Sharapova’s autobiography, in which the Russian described how she heard the American sobbing loudly in the locker room after beating her in the 2004 Wimbledon final, as “100% hearsay”. She went on: “You know, I have cried in the locker room many times after a loss, and that’s what I have seen a lot of people do. I think it’s normal.

“I think, if anything, it shows the passion and the desire and the will that you have to want to the best.

“It’s a Wimbledon final, you know. So it would be more shocking if I wasn’t in tears… think what happens there should definitely maybe stay there and not necessarily talk about it in a not-so-positive way in a book.”

Sharapova claimed that defeat was the reason behind the American’s dominant record over her since — overall Sharapova has beaten her fierce rival just twice in 21 matches and not for 14 years.

The Russian who dropped just three games as she knocked out sixth seed Karolina Pliskova, knows only too well what she is up against.

“You know the challenge that is upon you,” she said. “You know, despite the record that I have against her, I always look forward to coming out on the court and competing against the best player.”

Meanwhile Novak Djokovic eased into the quarter-finals of the French Open in straight sets against Fernando Verdasco 6-3 6-4 6-2.

The 2016 Paris champion is still not at his dynamic best following a long absence due to an elbow problem, but he did not have to be to get past the 30th seed.

Djokovic took the first set, a slugfest of deuces which lasted almost an hour, with a solitary break of serve.

He repeated the trick in the second, taking eight points in a row on the way, but not without complaining to the umpire about the slippery court.

Meanwhile, Verdasco had slipped off a trainer to reveal toes heavily covered in plasters while receiving treatment for a blister on the sole of his foot.

The Spaniard grimaced his way through the third set as Djokovic broke twice to run out 6-3 6-4 6-2 winner.

Djokovic will face Marco Cecchinato after the Italian pulled off a shock win over David Goffin 7-5 4-6 6-0 6-3.

Alexander Zverev came through another five-setter to book his place in the quarter-final beating Karen Khachanov. 4-6 7-6 (7/4) 2-6 6-3 6-3.

Zverev’s opponent in the last eight will be Austrian seventh seed Dominic Thiem, who overcame Kei Nishikori of Japan 6-2 6-0 5-7 6-4.

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