You have to go back a little ways, and know that this Serena Williams-Maria Sharapova feud is not new, and not just about some catty remarks about boyfriends.
It is incredible timing that just as Wimbledon is about to begin, the two best tennis players in the world are having it out this way. Williams said that Sharapova is boring and won’t be invited to “the cool parties.’’ Sharapova responded that Williams is a homewrecker, breaking up the marriage of a man with kids.
Let’s just say that this isn’t the usual guy-feud you see in sports.
But this rivalry has been around for a while, usually bubbling hot under the surface. Think of it this way: Williams represents breaking down doors in tennis, an African-American without the traditional tennis body type. And Sharapova? She represents the door.
The idyllic stereotype for tennis: tall, blonde, skinny, white, beautiful.
Sharapova gets more endorsement money than Williams does, and that has always rankled Williams, and particularly her fans. There is a feeling that Williams doesn’t get the public love that Sharapova does.
That’s why it doesn’t seem like a coincidence that Williams did her Crip Walk last year on the hallowed grounds of Wimbledon after beating Sharapova there 6-0, 6-1 to win the Olympic gold medal.
So now they are back at Wimbledon, and the feud is in the open. For tennis, it’s the perfect time for this. Williams-Sharapova should be a great rivalry. Instead, Williams crushes her every time. Something had to make this thing interesting.
What a change this is going to be for tennis. Tennis is a game of ladies and gentlemen. Of grace and elegance. Of civility and manners. Of …
The sport, on the men’s side anyway, is reaching historical highs on the court. But something has been missing. A few weeks ago, player Ernests Gulbis said that the whole Rafael Nadal-Roger Federer nice-guy, friends forever bit has played out. Time for blood and guts, boxing-like press conferences. Or Connors and McEnroe.
Right on, Ernests. And it turns out, Williams and Sharapova were listening. As we move to the start of Wimbledon Monday, they are already fighting it out off-court.
And while a sport says tsk, tsk to bad manners, just wait to see what happens to Wimbledon’s ratings in the U.S.
Let’s just be blunt and honest here: For tennis fanatics, this won’t matter. But if Williams plays Sharapova in the final — and I think that’s what will happen — you’re going to see a lot of mainstream male sports fans turning on the match for the possibility of seeing two attractive women in short dresses in a fight.
You know, typical Wimbledon.
Look, I know it probably sounds like I’m kidding, but I’m not. This is a great thing for the sport. The only storyline going into Wimbledon on the women’s side was that Serena is completely dominating the game. Nobody can beat her, especially on the fast grass at Wimbledon.
She is 31, and back on top again, seemingly more focused than ever. Why?
Kind of a mystery, really. But I think it has something to do with her injuries and illnesses. She seriously cut her foot somehow, and missed months following surgery. That led to blood clots that traveled up to her lungs and threatened her life.
Before that, Williams seemed to be losing interest in the game at times. And I think the time away, with the threat of never coming back, might have woken something up in her, made her realize that her time in this game is not permanent.
Now, she lost in the first round at the French Open last year, and said that had angered her, and motivated her, too. Nothing is that simple, really. She also has changed to a mix of modern strings in her racquet. And the depth in the women’s game, her competition, is fading.
But that doesn’t explain why Williams is more fit now than she had been. More focused, too.
So that’s a decent story. But Williams has been the great American tennis story for years. At some point, you can’t keep celebrating the same thing no matter what it is.
She has always had the rivalry with Sharapova, but it doesn’t bubble over this way. Last week in Rolling Stone magazine, Williams made a big mistake in seeming to assess some blame to the 16-year old rape victim in the Steubenville, Ohio case. Two boys were convicted of the rape.
But in the same article, Williams took a catty shot seemingly at Sharapova. She talked about a top-five player who starts press conferences with how happy she is, how lucky. Williams said that was boring. And then she added:
“She’s still not going to be invited to the cool parties. And hey, if she wants to be with the guy with a black heart, go for it.’’
That was tied up in Sharapova dating Williams’ ex-boyfriend. And on Saturday, in the pre-Wimbledon press conferences, Sharapova said that there was nothing personal in Williams’ comments, that they respect each other on the court, that everyone always wants to make it sound as if they have a heated rivalry.
She was taking the high road all the way.
Until she didn’t.
She said that Williams should stick to her tennis in interviews, and if she wants to talk about personal things, maybe it should be “her boyfriend that was married and getting a divorce and has kids …’’
At least, finally, this rivalry is out in the open.
I always suspected that that’s why Williams always crushes Sharapova. She has been known to lose her focus, but it NEVER happens against Sharapova.
This rivalry means plenty. But it’s going to supercharge interest at Wimbledon, and will even carry on past that, too, particularly if Sharapova can find a way to beat Williams every once in a while.