She was way above and beyond my level at the time. Sharapova isn’t in her class.
Sharapova first played Williams in Miami in 2004. Sharapova’s last big win was at the 2014 French Open. Her memoir-the hilariously titled Unstoppable-has been roundly panned for Sharapova’s cluelessness and willingness to employ racially tinged language when reflecting on her one-sided rivalry with Serena Williams.
A then 17-year-old Sharapova was the darling of the tennis and larger sports media world, a 6-foot-2 slender, blonde-haired, green-eyed image of Eurocentric beauty; the exact opposite of Serena Williams, a attractive dark-skinned queen with hips, boobs, ass and muscles. This was the foil for Williams the white media needed and wanted. Sharapova was hailed as the reigning queen of tennis and began the next year ranked No. 1 in the world. While many gathered to watch, Sharapova did not want to give the sisters the satisfaction of seeing her in the stands – even though they would have had no idea who she was at that point. To my delight, I found that when I took her advice, my swing was a little bit more controlled. She has thick arms and thick legs and is so intimidating and strong. It’s the whole thing – her presence, her confidence, her personality. I got out as quickly as I could, but she knew I was there. Nor is Williams’ sister, Venus, against whom Sharapova is 5-3.
Still, she writes one thought rang loud and clear when she encountered the younger Serena back in the early 2000s: “I am going to get you”. With each successive grunt, she bludgeons the ball and attempts to hit it harder and heavier than Williams, to no avail. “That’s on me”, she said when I failed to return a shot over the net.
Sharapova beat Williams in that match, but believes its aftermath has cost her every match since. She carried that feat with her as motivation throughout her career. Although I wasn’t sure what, exactly, he hoped his son would glean from the experience of watching his dad play tennis with Sharapova – I’m the mother of a 7-month-old, and he can barely recognize his own feet, let alone willowy Russian bottled water spokesmodels – I appreciated his commitment to parenting by example nonetheless.
The two players have had public spats in the years since, and Sharapova is also not known as a super popular player on tour. Many great players have this mentality.
At the end of the clinic, Sharapova teamed up with another tennis pro and I teamed up with another player to play doubles. Magic and Bird faced each other four times with a championship on the line; once in the famed 1979 NCAA Championship Game and three times in the NBA Finals, 1984, 1985 and 1987. Magic was victorious three of those times in convincing fashion. The NCAA Championship was a blowout win for Magic and his Michigan State Spartans, while the Lakers beat the Celtics in six games in both ’85 and ’87.
Sharapova gets philosophical about her relationship with Williams, and doesn’t hold back: “Serena and I should be friends: we love the same thing, we have the same passion”, she writes. The only way the two should be discussed is as contemporaries to an extent. What was this, golf? – but I figured she probably knew what she was talking about just a little bit more than I did.
And today, as Serena introduced the world toAlexis Olympia Ohanian Jr. -her 2-week-old daughter-Sharapova has to deal with the torment of seeing the baby that’s gonna beat her ass, too, 16 years from now when they play each other. I think she hated me for taking something that she believed belonged to her. I was told that had she made it further, she would likely have been replaced by another athlete at the clinic. (Thanks, but it most certainly was not, Maria.) She seemed to realize that I was not comfortable on the court, so she tried to put me at ease by complimenting me on my intense “focus”, which I appreciated, because frankly, I was. “She’s never forgiven me for it”.
No, Maria. Serena didn’t hate you for beating her.