'I'm sorry – I was out of line' says Serena Williams over Maria Sharapova spat
IF matches at the All England Club overrun this week and the BBC has to delay EastEnders, soap opera addicts need not worry. Wimbledon 2013 is poised to provide enough storylines about love lives, misunderstandings, apologies and faux pas to last the rest of the summer.
The tournament does not start until Monday, but when Maria Sharapova walks into the interview room after her opening match here this afternoon against Kristina Mladenovic, prepare for another instalment of the Serena and Maria Show. After Sharapova's barbed comments on Saturday about Serena Williams' relationship with her coach, the American revealed on Sunday that she had apologised to the Russian for a magazine article to which Sharapova appeared to have taken offence.
"I personally talked to Maria at the player party [on Thursday]," Williams said: "I said: 'Look, I want to personally apologise 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'."
The saga revolves around a web of relationships – some of them unconfirmed – involving Williams, Sharapova, Patrick Mouratoglou, who is Williams' coach, and Grigor Dimitrov, a 22-year-old Bulgarian player who is dating Sharapova.
Dimitrov used to be coached by Mouratoglou at the Frenchman's academy in Paris, where he was said to have had a relationship with Williams, the American having started to train there after last year's French Open. Williams, according to the rumour mill, then switched her affections to Mouratoglou, who is now said to be divorcing his wife, with whom he has two children. Dimitrov, supposedly upset by the turn of events, left the academy and started going out with Sharapova later in the year.
Although the relationships have been a major source of gossip within tennis for several months, they did not make it into the wider public domain until last week's publication of a major interview with Williams in Rolling Stone magazine. At first the focus was on the world No 1's controversial comments about a teenage rape case in the United States. Williams later issued an apology to the 16-year-old victim after suggesting in the interview that she "shouldn't have put herself in that position".
However, Williams was also quoted talking about a top-five woman player who is currently in love. "She begins every interview with: 'I'm so happy, I'm so lucky'," Williams was reported to have told the magazine. "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."
Rolling Stone speculated that this was a reference to Sharapova and Dimitrov. When asked at her Saturday pre-tournament press conference about Williams' comments, 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."
The Russian added: "I just think she should be talking about her accomplishments, rather than everything else that's just getting attention and controversy. 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 was asked at the All England Club yesterday what she thought about Sharapova's comments on her private life. "I definitely like to keep my personal life personal," replied Williams. "It would be inappropriate for me to comment on it."
The American, who said that she had given the Rolling Stone interview in February, claimed that Sharapova had been "inadvertently brought into the situation by assumptions made by the reporter". However, when asked whether Sharapova was the top-five player to whom she had been referring, Williams did not take the opportunity to deny it.
Williams, whose agent was listening intently in the front row of the press conference, said she took full responsibility for all the comments she had made, particularly with regard to the rape case. "I apologise for everything that was said in that article," she said. "I feel like you say things without having all the information. It's really important before you make certain comments to have a full list, have all the information, all the facts.
"I reached out to the family immediately once the article came out, and I had a really productive, sincere conversation with the mother and the daughter. I definitely wanted to apologise to the family. They've been through so much. In talking to them and learning the whole story, you just learn how strong the young girl is, how strong she's been able to make me through this process, which I think is incredible. I really take pride. I'm glad that I've got a chance to get to know the family."
Williams said that the comment about another top-five player had not been meant for publication. "I was involved in a private conversation that he even wrote in the article that he said he was listening to," she said. "I take full blame and responsibility for that because I've been in the business for years and years and I should always in a way have my guard up. I've been spoiled dealing with professionalism here in the tennis world. 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."
When asked about her personal and professional relationship with Mouratoglou, Williams said he meant a lot to her. "I appreciate that we can definitely continue to motivate each other," she said, adding that she had become "a more intense person" as a result of the relationship.
"But I think the intensity being all towards the game, like all towards when I play, all towards hitting the ball," she said. "I think I take more pride into every stroke, into every tournament that I play, into every match that I play. I think that's one big change that has happened."
Asked whether she was disturbed by Sharapova's comments, given that she had made her apology, Williams said: "I'm not really going to comment on that, whether I'm disturbed or not. I know she also said that I should definitely focus on the tennis here, and I feel like that is another thing I can definitely take her advice on. Maybe I wasn't focused enough in the past on tennis. I'm definitely going to try to focus on that for the next two weeks."
Did Williams believe that Sharapova's comments, as well as critical remarks made recently by Sloane Stephens, were a way of other players attacking her because they cannot match her on the court? "That can be one way to look at it. I don't think about that. When I'm on the court I just think about playing my match. I do the best I can. If I happen to lose, then I go home and I try to work harder."
Williams said she thought Sharapova had accepted her apology and that she always had "great conversations" with her. We should learn today what Sharapova makes of that.
*Tennis feuds: little love across the net
Anna Kournikova and Martina Hingis, 2000
Hingis made Kournikova cry on court over a line call in a match in Chile, with the dispute spilling into the dressing room. Hingis screamed: "Do you think you are the queen? I am the real queen!"
Billie Jean King and Jennifer Capriati, 2002
A dispute over practice sessions during the US team's Fed Cup match led to King kicking the No 2-ranked Capriati off the team. "I didn't do anything wrong," said Capriati, and the fight ran on.
Juan Ignacio Chela and Lleyton Hewitt, 2005
Hewitt made a point of celebrating very loudly after Chela (above) made an unforced error at the Australian Open. Chela appeared to hit his next serve directly at Hewitt and proceeded to spit at the Australian.
Stefan Koubek and Daniel Köllerer, 2010
Koubek was disqualified from an Austrian league match after grabbing Köllerer by the throat during a changeover. Koubek was insulted during the match, and took matters into his own hands.
Paul Newman, Independent.co.uk
Independent News Service