Ahead of a fourth-round French Open clash between the two biggest names in women’s tennis, Serena Williams has rubbished claims published in Maria Sharapova’s book as “100 per cent hearsay” and “disappointing”.
Sharapova’s Unstoppable: My Life So Far, released during her doping ban last year, claimed Williams hated her following the Russian’s surprise win at the Wimbledon final in 2004.
She wrote that Williams was “bawling” in the locker room after losing and had “never forgiven” her for witnessing the tearful outburst, adding: “Not long after the tournament, I heard Serena told a friend – who then told me: ‘I will never lose to that little b—h again.'”
The pair’s fierce rivalry has been dominated ever since by Williams, who has won the past 18 matches against Sharapova. But that winning streak could end in the fourth round at Roland Garros.
Both players recorded straight-sets wins on Saturday (local time) and after toppling German Julia Goerges, Williams hit back at several of the claims in Sharapova’s book.
“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,” she 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 … I think it would be more shocking if I wasn’t in tears.”
Williams said she was stunned so much of Sharapova’s book had focused on her.
“The book was a lot about me. I was surprised about that, to be honest,” she said.
“You know, I was, like, ‘Oh, OK’. I didn’t expect to be reading a book about me that wasn’t necessarily true.
“I didn’t know she looked up to me that much or was so involved in my career.”
The 23-time grand slam singles winner then rejected Sharapova’s suggestion that she hated her rival.
“I don’t have any negative feelings towards her which, again, was a little disappointing to see in that hearsay book,” she added.
“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.”
Williams won the first meeting between the pair, in Miami in 2004, but Sharapova triumphed in the next two – including that famous 2004 final at the All England Club.
Williams has won the past 18 clashes, though, dropping just three sets in the process.
Both players have traded barbs in the press over the course of the rivalry, some of which were extremely personal.
Sharapova famously hinted Williams was dating her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, while in an open letter posted to Reddit last year, Williams wrote: “It has been said that that [sic] I use drugs. No, I have always had far too much integrity to behave dishonestly in order to gain an advantage.”
The letter was published during Sharapova’s doping ban.
‘The best player’
Sharapova said she was looking forward to her latest clash against Williams after making light work of Kristyna Pliskova.
“Any time you play against Serena, you know what you’re up against,” Sharapova said.
“You know that the challenge 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.”
Williams tried to play down the tag of favourite, given her lengthy absence after giving birth.
“Quite frankly, she’s probably a favourite in this match, for sure,” she said.
“She’s been playing for over a year now. I just started. But I think this will be another test. 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 two will meet at Roland Garros on Monday (local time).