Serena Williams’ (mostly) classy response to Maria Sharapova’s failed drug test

(Photo by Hannah Peters/Getty Images)

Hannah Peters/Getty Images

There’s no love lost between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova. Between the sniping in the media, backhanded compliments and one-sided rivalry, it’s not hard to imagine that a sly smile crept upon the lips of the world No. 1 when Sharapova announced Monday she’d failed a drug test. Not gloating, per se, but a wry sense of (even more) superiority.

But when asked about the situation before a Tuesday night exhibition match at Madison Square Garden, Serena stayed firmly upon the high road, praising Sharapova for coming out and taking responsibility, if perhaps including a little dig or two in the first part of the statement:

There was no hint of malice and only the subtlest of jabs ("most people" and "what she had neglected to look at," for instance.) For a relationship that has been frosty for years, this was a kind response from the woman who has dominated their on-court "rivalry" for more than a decade. Serena, of course, has defeated her should-be rival 18 times in a row spanning back to 2005. But their competiveness is healthier off the court, especially with Sharapova bringing in more money in endorsements and thus laying claim to being the biggest female athlete in the world. (For now.)

The public beef started when Sharapova stunned Serena in the 2004 Wimbledon final, after which Serena offered little praise, saying she beat herself. (Which is usually true these days when Serena loses, but not as much that afternoon.) Then, later that year, after the 17-year-old Sharapova beat Serena again at the WTA Finals, she posted a Facebook message gloating over the back-to-back wins which she was celebrating at famed L.A. restaurant Spago.

(Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

There were a few back-and-forths over the year, but things heated up in 2013 when Serena took a major swipe at Maria in a Rolling Stone piece, dissing her personality and then-boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov:

Sharapova hit back, basically saying Serena was a home-wrecker for her rumored relationship with her married coach Patrick Mouratoglou. Tensions eventually cooled with half-apologies, but Team Serena wasn’t done. Last year, Mouratoglou offered this withering, but reasonable, take on Sharapova’s play to The New York Times:


But rather than continue the beef on Tuesday night, Serena offered not just words of encouragement, but words that didn’t have any of the snideness that often typifies quotes from tennis players about other tennis players, whether on the ATP or WTA. 

Like I said though, there was at least one wink-wink, nudge-nudge moment in Serena’s response, to which she’s fully entitled. Because, hey, if Serena derived a little enjoyment for the self-inflicted troubles of the woman to whomshe’s so often linked with, then who could blame her?