Serena Williams’ fierce rivalry with Maria Sharapova underscored her career as the pair froze each other out during their glory days.
We wonder what the tribute from Maria Sharapova will look like.
Serena Williams dropped a bomb on the tennis world on Tuesday night, announcing she will retire after the US Open as she looks to have more children and focus her energy on her burgeoning business career.
The 23-time grand slam champion broke the news in a revealing piece for Vogue Magazine, as she reflected on her career and looked ahead to the next phase of her life away from the court.
The most dominant player women’s tennis has seen — definitely in the Open era, and perhaps of all time — opened up on hitting the dizzying heights she did because of a desire to prove her doubters wrong.
“There were so many matches I won because something made me angry or someone counted me out. That drove me,” Williams wrote. “I’ve built a career on channelling anger and negativity and turning it into something good.”
Williams’ intense resolve to be the best pitted her directly against five-time major winner Sharapova for much of her career. The Russian too was driven by a cold-blooded thirst for silverware, admitting she didn’t have many friends on tour because she viewed all players as competitors to be beaten.
A teenage Sharapova stunned Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final to win her first grand slam, lighting the fire for the pair’s fierce rivalry. The Russian defeated Williams in their next meeting at the WTA Championships later that year too but Williams was determined that’s where her losing streak would end as she set about turning the tide.
Incredibly, for two players who both sat at the pointiest end of the rankings for much of their careers, Williams would never lose to Sharapova again. Their last meeting — a 6-1 6-1 demolition job at the 2019 US Open — sealed Williams’ remarkable 20-2 head-to-head record over Sharapova.
Another layer was added to the rivalry when Sharapova wrote in her 2017 memoir, Unstoppable: My Life So Far, that a devastated Williams was inspired to dominate her following the 2004 Wimbledon final.
Sharapova lifted the lid on her opponent’s reaction in the locker room after the match, saying Williams “hated” her from that moment on.
“Guttural sobs, the sort that make you heave for air, the sort that scares you,” Sharapova wrote.
“It went on and on. I got out as quickly as I could, but she knew I was there. People often wonder why I have had so much trouble beating Serena; she’s owned me in the past 10 years. My record against her is 2-19.
“In analysing this, people talk about Serena’s strength, her serve and confidence, how her particular game matches up to my particular game, and, sure there is truth to all of that; but, to me, the real answer was there, in this locker room, where I was changing and she was bawling. I think Serena hated me for being the skinny kid who beat her, against all odds, at Wimbledon.”
Williams responded to those claims in 2018 after Sharapova’s book was officially released, slamming them as “hearsay”.
“I think the book was 100 per cent hearsay, at least all the stuff I read and the quotes that I read, which was a little bit disappointing,” Williams said.
“I have cried in the locker room many times after a loss, and that’s what I have seen a lot of people do. I think it’s normal.
“It’s a Wimbledon final, you know. So it’s just, like, I think it would be more shocking if I wasn’t in tears.”
Williams was shocked to find out how significant a role she played in Sharapova’s career and was upset she was portrayed as disliking the Russian, which she said wasn’t close to the truth.
“The book was a lot about me. I was surprised about that, to be honest. You know, I was, like, ‘Oh, OK.’ I didn’t expect to be reading a book about me, that wasn’t necessarily true,” Williams said.
“I didn’t know she looked up to me that much or was so involved in my career.
“I don’t have any negative feelings towards her, which again, was a little disappointing to see in that hearsay book.
“Especially having a daughter, I feel like negativity is taught. One of the things I always say, I feel like women, especially, should bring each other up.
“A lot of people always assume that I feel a different way and it’s not true.
“If anything, I feel like we should encourage each other, and the success of one female should be the inspiration to another, and I have said that 1000 times.”
The 2019 Flushing Meadows clash between Williams and Sharapova — their first since the 2016 Australian Open and first since the Russian returned from a 15-month doping ban after testing positive to meldonium — also provided plenty of spice and suggested the tension between them hadn’t cooled.
Williams’ husband Alexis Ohanian watched the match from the stands, where he was wearing a T-shirt that attracted plenty of attention.
On it was written: “D.A.R.E. keeping kids off drugs”. The acronym stands for Drug Abuse Resistance Education and many interpreted the fashion choice as a direct slight on Sharapova following her doping suspension.
But time heals all wounds and if photos of Sharapova and Williams at last year’s Met Gala are anything to go by, the pair are playing nice these days.
Tennis fans were shocked the see the pair — along with Williams’ sister Venus — posing for happy snaps together in New York and uploading the pictures to social media.