THE truth existing at the heart of Serena Williams’ coach Patrick Mouratoglou’s wounding comment that “there isn’t a rivalry” between the world No 1 and Maria Sharapova was mercilessly underlined yesterday.
The catty Mourataglou has a point. Can it really be considered a rivalry if one foe so clearly has the upper hand over the other?
Williams triumphed for the 17th time in succession against Sharapova to reach another Wimbledon final, where she will meet the No 20 seed Gabine Mugaruza. This was an oh-so-straightforward 6-2, 6-4 victory against someone who should really be running her much more closely than this.
This, however, was Sharapova’s 17th loss in succession against Williams, who was still refusing to answer questions about the prospect of the calendar Grand Slam afterwards. When someone attempted to bring up the subject later, she smiled and slowly drew her hand across her throat. Point taken.
Sharapova, too, was given short shrift yesterday. The last time she managed to beat Williams, Britney Spears was at the top of the charts and Tony Blair was still British Prime Minister. Sharapova expected to dominate the tennis world after beating Williams twice in 2004, including in the Wimbledon final where Sharapova announced her arrival as a 17-year-old. The Russian continues to be made to suffer for her high-profile victory on Centre Court 11 years ago. Williams has been exacting joyful revenge ever since, it seems.
Williams could afford to be gracious afterwards when asked why she thinks she continues to enjoy such a hold over her opponent.
Whenever you play someone that has beaten you before, you get focusedSerena Williams
“Well, it’s never easy to beat such a great player who’s had such a wonderful career, so I don’t know,” she said. “Whenever you play someone that has beaten you before, you really get really focused. That’s what I do.”
Williams didn’t allow Sharapova any reason to think that things might work out differently at long last yesterday. But then Sharapova was doing a lot of the work for her.
She produced two double faults to gift the top seed an immediate break of serve in the match. Williams then pulled out two aces to hold serve, before breaking Sharapova again with ease and then seeing out the set.
Sharapova improved slightly in the second set but was still no match for Williams, whose single service break in the second set was more than enough.
It meant Sharapova was not able to re-heat that delicious line from Vitas Gerulaitis after he had stemmed a run of losses against Jimmy Connors that had extended to 16 matches: “No one beats Vitas Gerulaitis 17 times in a row,” he said. Unfortunately for Sharapova, someone does beat her 17 times in a row. Worse, it happens to be the last person in the world she wants to be humiliated by.
Their long-running feud was intensified by a fall-out over Grigor Dimitrov, the Bulgarian tennis player. Two years ago Williams appeared to brand Dimitrov “the guy with the black heart” after their relationship broke down.
Sharapova responded by questioning Williams’ coupling up with Mouratoglou, who as well as being her coach is now her boyfriend. “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,” said Sharapova.
Now Dimitrov dates Sharapova. There was already precious little love between the Russian and the American but these circumstances have caused the rift to deepen. Sharapova could barely look at Williams at the net cord as they went through the motions of greeting each other at the end.
Later in their post-match press interview, Sharapova was asked about another inflammatory comment made by Mouratoglou, who described Viktoria Azarenka as a much better player than the Russian earlier this week. This was after Williams had defeated the world No 23 in the quarter-finals. “I don’t think you are going to hear nice words from him about me,” said Sharapova. “I don’t expect that and I am sure you don’t expect that either.”
Why do you think that is, she was asked? “I’m sure you know,” she answered. “You don’t need to ask me that.”
She was, though, complimentary about Williams, who she conceded “always comes up with great tennis”. But Sharapova could not resist a swipe at the British press, who have delighted in covering every detail of her on-going spat with Williams.
“It’s never easy to be the one that’s on the losing end of an event, especially at Wimbledon,” she said. “But to look at things in perspective, to see where I was just a few weeks ago, I had no idea what my result would be here.
“Maybe if I was British, a semi-final would be incredible. I’d be on the front page of the paper, I know that.
“But I expect myself to be a champion of these events. It’s disappointing to come out as a loser because I know my level can be there, holding these championship trophies. I know that that’s what keeps me going forward.”