Rivalries in sports aren’t uncommon. However, personal beef that extends beyond the playing field and plays out in front of the media’s eyes is a rarity. Twitter beefs don’t count, either. They typically blow over in 140 characters. Most of the time, athletes don’t put their competitors out on front street until they’ve written a tell-all in retirement.
For two players at the top of their sports, it goes against the grain – at least in America. Back in January of 2010, British tabloids ran with rumors that controversial English captain John Terry was having an extramarital affair with the girlfriend of England teammate Wayne Bridge.
A month later, their first Premier League meeting of the 2010 campaign led to the most widely-covered handshake snub in recent history. Bridge didn’t fake for the cameras by taking the same high road that Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia took. He turned his head when Terry walked by in the customary handshake line before their match. Unfortunately, soccer isn’t an individual sport like tennis.
For some reason, Serena Williams inspires vitriol and contempt among her peers, as Terry did throughout his career. Her bluntness, habitual line-stepping and killer competitiveness may be the reasons for that. Williams has already been double-faulted on this year. Up-and-comer Sloane Stephens dug into Williams for her intimidating use of mind games.
In an excerpt from Tuesday’s Rolling Stone, Serena Williams exposed the salacious details that have iced over her already frosty relationship with the second-ranked Maria Sharapova. Terry would be proud.
Here’s the excerpt in full via Deadspin:
"There are people who live, breathe and dress tennis. I mean, seriously, give it a rest." Serena exits the car and the conversation moves on to a top-five player who is now in love. "She begins every interview with 'I'm so happy. I'm so lucky' – it's so boring," says Serena in a loud voice. "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." (An educated guess is she's talking about Sharapova, who is now dating Grigor Dimitrov, one of Serena's rumored exes.)
Sharapova can’t beat Williams on the court, but she has no problem volleying barbs back and forth. During her pre-Wimbledon press conference on Sunday, Sharapova shot back at Serena by airing Williams’ dirty laundry out on front street.
"Obviously I have a tremendous amount of respect for Serena and what she's achieved on the court," 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 is a killer competitor who has an explosive temper and a long memory. Because of that intensity, Williams has no equal with a racket. Williams and Sharapova are yin and yang. While Sharapova rarely steps away from the court, Williams’ commitment to the game has been questioned throughout her career because of her fitness and the breaks she’s taken to pursue fashion and entertainment ventures.
Sharapova’s annual endorsement money is also double what Williams rakes in. That probably irks her, as well.
So many athletes these days are chummy in public; it’s refreshing to find two elite athletes with clashing personalities in the same sport who despise one another and don’t sugarcoat it.
At some point, if they meet in the Wimbledon Final, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova’s palms and fingers will walk to midcourt after the match and quickly join hands for the customary act of tennis sportsmanship. It will also be one of the most inauthentic handshakes of this decade.
It’ll appease the television cameras and the stodgy Wimbledon crowd, but they should embrace their animosity, skip the formalities and continue keeping it real with us. This one is personal. They don’t like each other and there’s nothing wrong with that. Contempt is a powerful motivator and it’s good for ratings.