Play at Wimbledon doesn’t start until Monday but Maria Sharapova delivered the first stinging forehand Saturday when she pointedly criticized the off-court conduct of one of her chief rivals, top-seeded Serena Williams.
Speaking at a pre-tournament news conference, Sharapova praised Williams’ tennis feats but suggested that Williams should limit her public comments to the sport. Williams was the subject of a recent Rolling Stone story in which author Stephen Rodrick described a phone conversation between Williams and her sister, Venus. Rodrick interpreted Serena’s remarks about “a top-five player” who “wants to be with the guy with a black heart” as being about Sharapova. The Russian star is dating Bulgarian tennis pro Grigor Dimitrov, who reportedly used to date Serena Williams.
In the same story, Williams was quoted as saying a teenage girl who had been assaulted by two high school football players in Steubenville, Ohio, “shouldn't have put herself in that position.” The two football players were convicted of raping the girl, who had been drunk. Williams later said she hadn’t intended to “say or insinuate that she was at all to blame,” and she spoke to the girl by phone.
Neither comment sat well with Sharapova, the No. 3 seed at Wimbledon.
“At the end of the day, we have a tremendous amount of respect for what we do on the court. I just think she should be talking about her accomplishments, her achievements, rather than everything else that's just getting attention and controversy," Sharapova said.
“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. 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.”
Williams, the overwhelming favorite, has been coached by Frenchman Patrick Mouratoglou for the past year. They’ve been reported to be romantically involved.
This is far from over. Williams is scheduled to hold her pre-Wimbledon news conference on Sunday and someone is sure to ask about Sharapova’s comments. It will be a relief when play begins.