This time sorry not hardest word: Behind the Serena-Sharapova spat

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Serena: ‘I want to take this moment to just pour myself, be open, say I’m very sorry ‘

Williams said she apologized to Maria, but that was 2 days before Sharapova criticized her

By Matt Cronin

WIMBLEDON – What if players existed in a tennis world like many journalists do, where you publish what you mean to say and stand by it through thick and thin. That is not the pro athlete world though, and certainly not all of the tennis world, when statements that are termed “controversial” somehow get turned into eye-popping words that must apologized for.

Some statements like Serena’s Williams ill-advised comments about the Steubenville rape case do immediate demand explanations, but did Serena really have to come out and apologize to Maria Sharapova for telling (at least partly) Rolling Stone that a top-five player now allegedly in love “begins every interview with ‘I’m so happy. I’m so lucky’ — it’s so boring. 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.”

Perhaps, but perhaps not.  Clearly, she and Sharapova are far from friends, even if they respect each other on court. So that Serena said those statements to Venus on the phone and the Rolling Stone writer decided to publish them is only a big deal because it got out in public. Highly opinionated players have opinions about lots of things, including other players, it’s just that many of those opinions do not reach the public’s ears.

Is this about Dimitrov, tennis or something else?

Serena is super competitive with other high-profile women players, be it Sharapova, or Victoria Azarenka, or now Sloane Stephens. That’s how she is. Even at 31, she’s still to some degree the baby sister of her family and does not like to get upstaged. Serena and Sharapova have a young man in common now, the charming Grigor Dimitrov, whom Sharapova is now dating and Serena once had a some kind of relationship with, whether it was just a friendship, or something more involved. When Serena was hanging around with Dimitrov, he was still being coached by Patrick Mouratoglou, who is now Serena’s coach and by all indications, her boyfriend.

Right around the time that Dimitrov left Mouratoglou and hired Magus Norman’s Swedish team, he began dating Sharapova. Is that why Serena’s allegedly tagged him as having a black heart, because he’s now dating her rival, or is it because something else occurred in their relationship prior to that? That’s unclear for now but if Serena wants to call her [or possibly Azarenka] boring, or say that they both have bad taste in men, so what? Serena has chided herself about having bad taste in men. People everywhere say that type of thing everyday, so why such a hullabaloo? I’ll tell you why: because they are the two highest profile women athletes in the world and when they mix it up, it’s news. It’s Connors vs. McEnroe all over again, but this time in skirts.

“At the end of the day, we have a tremendous amount of respect for what we do on the court,” Sharapova said. “I just think she should be talking about her accomplishments, her achievements, rather than everything else that’s just getting attention and controversy. If she wants to talk about something personal, maybe she should talk about her relationship and her boyfriend that was married and is getting a divorce and has kids,” Sharapova said.  “Talk about other things, but not draw attention to other things. She has so much in her life, many positives, and I think that’s what it should be about.”

Sharapova clearly thinks at least a couple of those comments were directed at her, but sources also say that Azarenka thinks one or two of them might have been directed at her, which would make sense given that the “she’s still not going to be invited to the cool parties” comment doesn’t seem to fit with Sharapova, who does get invited to cool parties, but more to Azarenka, who has been dating the pop star Redfoo but still is not yet as famous as Serena or Sharapova, so getting invited to A-List parties still might be a challenge for her, whether she cares to go or not.

But is that comment really scandalous or over the top? Not so much, but what it does do is add spice to their rivalries and there is nothing wrong with competitors having digs at each other, as long as they aren’t mean-spirited. Serena’s comment about the woman wanting to be with a guy with a black heart and Sharapova’s about being with a man with kids getting divorced both qualify as below the belt, so perhaps apologies are in order for both. Serena approached  Sharapova at the Wimbledon player party on Thursday.

Serena’s apology

“I feel like Maria, unfortunately, was inadvertently brought into a situation she should have never been brought into,” said Serena. “I want to personally apologize to you if you are offended by being brought into my situation. I want to take this moment to just pour myself, be open, say I’m very sorry for this whole situation.”

In that discussion, Serena was said to have told Sharapova that she didn’t remember which player she was talking about during the interview. So while she apologized for the article having drawn Sharapova into the discussion, she allegedly did not cop to saying it about Sharapova to Sharapova’s face at the party, which is why Sharapova had little trouble publicly going at Serena two days later in her press conference.

But Serena said that she is taking full responsibility for what she said and is willing to admit a wrong, even though there have been occasions in her career (i.e. her two US Open meltdowns) where she refused to say that she was sorry.

“I’m the first person to apologize,” said Williams, who also apologized for making Steubenville comments without having her facts lined up.  “I’m the first person to reach out to individuals and people if I feel that something may have hurt them or something may have been misconstrued. That’s another reason why, being a woman, I wanted to reach out to [Sharapova] and say, ‘Look, this is this, this is this, sorry…. Well, we always have great conversations, so I believe that she definitely did accept [my apology].”

It appears that Sharapova did not on Saturday, but maybe when she reads  Williams’ comments on Monday before or after her match, she will.

Taking big shots

One of the key things to understand about Serena, Sharapova and Azarenka is that regardless as how much certain people want to handle them and soften their image, if they feel strongly about something, eventually they  are just going to say it and damn the consequences. They don’t want to be filtered. They are not afraid to go for big shots on court or off. I like that quality in all of them, even if on occasion they put their feet in their mouths. People do that all the time, even tennis journalists.

Serena mentioned that because she is largely covered by the tennis media and has a good relationships with many of them, and that she didn’t anticipate that some of the things she said around the Rolling Stone reporter would be used. She should know better and admitted as much. But let’s hope that in a sport that some officials seek to sterilize to the point of boring fans to tears, that she stays the real and uncut Serena Williams. The same with Sharapova, Azarenka and every other  player who isn’t afraid to tell the world what they think and stand by it.

“I’ve been spoiled dealing with professionalism here in the tennis world,” Serena said.  “I’m used to dealing with professional reporters. I have people come to my home.  I have great conversations. I’m used to dealing with these people not writing or commenting on a private conversation that I may have or kind of listening in or eavesdropping and then reporting on it.  You guys have completely spoiled me.  With that being said, I’ve been in the business for a little over 200 years, so I should definitely, definitely know better.”

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