Paris: Serena Williams turned up the heat ahead of her French Open clash with bitter rival Maria Sharapova, saying the claims about her in the Russian’s book were “hearsay” and not “necessarily true”.
Sharapova, who Williams has beaten 18 times in a row, claimed in her recent memoir ‘Unstoppable’ that Serena “hated” her for hearing her cry after the 2004 Wimbledon final.
The fourth-round match at Roland Garros on Monday will be the first time the two have faced off since the American’s win in the 2016 Australian Open quarter-finals — Sharapova’s last match before serving a 15-month doping ban.
“I think the book was 100% hearsay, at least all the stuff I read and the quotes that I read, which was a little bit disappointing,” said Williams after her 6-3, 6-4 third-round win over Julia Goerges.
“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… The book was a lot about me. I was surprised about that, to be honest. You know, I was, like, ‘oh, okay. I didn’t expect to be reading a book about me, that wasn’t necessarily true’,” Williams told AFP.
The 23-time Grand Slam champion, who holds a 19-2 record over Sharapova, is playing her first major tournament, after giving birth to her daughter Olympia.
Williams’s only two losses to fellow former world number one Sharapova came 14 years ago — in the 2004 Wimbledon final and at the WTA Tour Championships — even before Twitter and YouTube came into being.
But both the players are back towards the top of the sport after their recent absences. Williams had played only four matches since taking time off due to pregnancy before arriving at Roland Garros.
Sharapova is seeded for the first time at a Grand Slam since her suspension for using meldonium, and is playing her first French Open since 2015 after being refused a wildcard by tournament organisers in 2017.
But the 36-year-old thinks the Russian should be the favourite on Monday as she lacks playing time, while Sharapova produced her best tennis since returning to the court in dismantling former world number one Karolina Pliskova 6-2, 6-1.
“Quite frankly, she’s probably a favourite in this match, for sure,” added Serena. “She’s been playing for over a year now. I just started. So I’m just really trying to get my bearings and trying to feel out where I am and see where I can go.”
The rivalry between the two has been quite bitter since the Russian’s shock victory over Williams as a 17-year-old at Wimbledon, but she admitted that the “numbers don’t lie”.
Sharapova has lost their last seven meetings in straight sets and has managed to take only three sets in those 18 straight losses.
“Any time you play against Serena you know what you’re up against,” said the 31-year-old.
“You know the challenge that is upon you. You know, despite the record that I have against her, I always look forward to coming out on the court and competing against the best player.
“I think there is a lot of things in her game that she’s done much better than I have… Numbers don’t lie.” But for all the bad blood between the two over the years — often involving claims and counter-claims over their private lives — Sharapova added in her book that reconciliation may come once the on-court battles are over.
“Serena and I should be friends; we have the same passion. But we are not. I think, to some extent, we have driven each other. Maybe that’s what it takes,” she wrote.
“Only when you have that intense antagonism can you find the strength to finish her off. Who knows? Some day, when all this is in our past, maybe we’ll become friends.”
(With inputs from AFP)