The last time Maria Sharapova defeated Serena Williams was during the ‘Pre-Raphaelite’ era of tennis, i.e., before Rafael Nadal won his first Major.The lopsided, still surprisingly riveting rivalry of the two leading ladies of tennis dates back to 2004, and it all started at the Miami Masters, with Serena defeating Sharapova.
The Russian teen soon avenged for that loss in the Wimbledon final the same year -- the win that catapulted her to stardom. Unlike her predecessor Anna Kournikova, also a Russian and an alumna of the prestigious Nick Bollettieri Academy, it wasn’t her looks alone that made Sharapova a talk of the town; she had the grit of a true champion, and the world witnessed it when she came back from the brink of defeat against Lindsay Davenport in the semi-final of Wimbledon 2004 (2-6 7-6 6-1).
In the final, she defeated none other than Serena, a 6-time Grand Slam winner then, that too in straight sets. Sharapova moved up into the celebrity stratosphere afterwards. The same year, at the WTA Tour, she once again humbled Serena, proving that her Wimbledon win wasn’t a fluke.
Incidentally, she had defeated Venus Williams too the very year. People then thought the 17-year-old could challenge the dominance of the Williams sisters. But things turned out differently. In the next 18 encounters spanning a decade that followed, Serena turned the tables on her rival, winning all of them, taking their head-to-head to 19-2, one of the most asymmetrical status between two players who have been hovering the top zone for years.
Even when it comes to their Grand Slam wins, Serena is far above her rival, with whopping 21 against the latter’s 5. While Serena and Sharapova have mutual respect, it is a known fact that they don’t share a good rapport on tour.
There had been wordy duels in the past, especially when the leggy Russian was dating Grigor Dimitrov, who allegedly had a relationship with Serena before.
Serena, although without giving a name, dissed Sharapova for dating Dimitrov in an interview to Rolling Stone magazine, saying: “If she wants to be with the guy with a black heart, go for it.” Sharapova had a cutting retort to that, questioning why Serena has to resort to talking about the personal lives of fellow players, when she has ample accomplishments to her credit to talk about.
But not without adding this: “'If Serena wants to talk about something personal, she should talk about her relationship and her boyfriend that was married and is getting a divorce and has kids and talk about other things, not draw attention to other things.” All these off-court feuds are supposed to fuel their on-court rivalry, but the Serena-Sharapova rivalry can hardly be called so for its lopsidedness.
Once Michael Chang, while referring to his protege Kei Nishikori’s awe for Roger Federer, remarked that admiration can do more harm than good, for that will abate a player’s killer instinct. If that is the case, Sharapova should have won at least a few times in the last decade.
However, Serena remains humble about her dominance, and during the post-match press conference, she said that while taking on Sharapova, she automatically steps up her game, and she is forced to play better. Sharapova as well, has never been insecure about being overshadowed by one of the best players ever in the history of the game, and has always spoken with respect when it comes to Serena’s game.
“She's at a different level. She makes you go back to the drawing board, not just for me, but for many other players.She makes you work, that’s inspiring,” Sharapova said. Serena being so good with her returns makes it difficult for Sharapova to put pressure on her opponent, and of course there is no denying that the pressure mars her acuity.
19-2 isn’t something Sharapova would want to remember while reflecting on her career, given that she belongs to the top 5 squad. Can she turn things around next time? A win after 18 straight loss will still be a win, no less, if at all that happens. Or else, she would be haunted by those ghosts of losses past.