What is it about a Grand Slam event that brings out the feisty retorts and more or less trash talk among tennis pros?
Unless they've been living under a grass-court tarp lately, all followers of the sport know that Serena Williams remarked to a Rolling Stone reporter about the sordid Steubenville rape case. Controversy ensued, and Serena released a statement backtracking from the comments (or what was written as her comments, anyway), then reached out to the family of the victim. Now Maria Sharapova, admittedly asked about that midweek kerfuffle by a reporter and not lashing out of her own volition, has weighed in: "At the end of the day, we have a tremendous amount of respect for what we do on the court. I just think she should be talking about her accomplishments, her achievements, rather than everything else that's just getting attention and controversy."
All right, well and good. No one would really take issue with that. But then she continued: "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. 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."
In all seriousness, wow. The proverbial gauntlet has been thrown. Sharapova's response to Serena opining about a sad situation, saying that she should keep those thoughts to herself, is to not at all keep her own opinions to herself. Instead, she launches a hyper-personal attack on Serena's coach and is-he-or-isn't-he boyfriend, Patrick Mouratoglou, that seeks to shed light (in a negative way) on his own family matters. In saying that Serena should avoid controversy, Sharapova shamelessly has courted it herself, has prolonged the life of this sorrowful, nearly week-long tale. It's only going to be perpetuated into the first week of actual main-draw play at Wimbledon, which is most unfortunate.
One has to think that Sharapova chose to get more combative with her response in part because of that article, in which Serena criticizes another WTA top-5 player for taking up with a boyfriend with a "black heart." Serena was once rumored to be seeing Grigor Dimitrov, now Sharapova's arm candy.
Memo to Sharapova: It may only get worse for you. You haven't beaten Serena in nine years, and what all of this ballyhoo amounts to appears to be little more than sour grapes. Should you both make the Wimbledon singles final, you and Serena, it will be most interesting to see how you comport yourselves. And I sincerely doubt that you forget the last time you two champions met on grass, in the 2012 Olympic final. You won but one game.
In short, this budding war of words is beneath two great winners who, between them, share scads of talent and 20 Grand Slam singles titles. Serena would be wise to avoid taking the bait, just as she did weeks ago when Sloane Stephens's derisive comments arrived on the scene. As Sports Illustrated's Jon Wertheim said then, "Come at The Queen, you best not miss."
EDITOR'S NOTE: It has been confirmed that Williams apologized to Sharapova at the Wimbledon player party on Thursday, before Maria criticized her. Mouratoglou, responds to Sharapova's suggestions about his personal life here.
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