Sharapova returns fire on Williams

Maria Sharapova took a swipe at Wimbledon champion Serena Williams on Saturday as she warned the American not to drag personal issues into the public domain.

Maria Sharapova of Russia

Williams, in an interview published in Rolling Stone magazine this week, made a veiled swipe at a rival player, and it was evident on Saturday that Sharapova agrees with the article's author that she was the probable target.

Russian Sharapova, who landed the 2004 Wimbledon title and starts as the third seed in London this year, could not resist the temptation to return fire as what began with a loose comment from Williams looked in danger of becoming a full-blown locker-room feud between the best-known players in the women's game.

In the US magazine, Williams said of the unnamed player: "She begins every interview with 'I'm so happy. I'm so lucky' - it's so boring. She's still not going to be invited to the cool parties. And, hey, if she wants to be with the guy with a black heart, go for it."

The latter reference has been widely taken to be pointed at Grigor Dimitrov, the Bulgarian player who is dating Sharapova and had previously been close to Williams.

In turn, Williams is now said to be an item with her French coach, Patrick Mouratoglou. And the nature of that relationship came under scrutiny on Saturday in Sharapova's press conference at Wimbledon.

"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," Sharapova said.

"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.

"(She should) 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."

Mouratoglou and Williams have not spoken about the nature of their relationship, and there has been no confirmation that his marriage has ended.

Evidently irked by the comments from Williams, Sharapova's inability to keep a lid on her own feelings about the private life of the American, who will be returning to defend her fifth Wimbledon title over the next fortnight, might be perceived as double standards.

"I obviously have many opinions about different things in life," Sharapova added.

"But what I do on the court and what I talk about in my press conference is strictly about my career. I'm sure people want to know more, but yet I try to keep my personal life private.

"If I speak to my friends, that's one thing. But I don't go out and try to create things that shouldn't be really talked about."

Sharapova was directly replying to being asked whether she had ever been prompted to issue an apology about any remarks in her past, as Williams was this week.

In the Rolling Stone interview, she was quoted discussing a high-profile rape case in the United States from last August, involving pupils of Steubenville High School.

Two male students, both school football players, were sentenced in March of this year to juvenile detention for their part in the attack on an intoxicated 16-year-old girl.

Williams said in the interview: "I'm not blaming the girl, but if you're a 16-year-old and you're drunk like that, your parents should teach you: Don't take drinks from other people. She's 16, why was she that drunk where she doesn't remember. It could have been much worse. She's lucky. Obviously, I don't know, maybe she wasn't a virgin, but she shouldn't have put herself in that position, unless they slipped her something, then that's different."

After facing criticism for the remarks, Williams wrote on her website this week: "I am currently reaching out to the girl's family to let her know that I am deeply sorry for what was written in the Rolling Stone article. What was written - what I supposedly said - is insensitive and hurtful, and I by no means would say or insinuate that she was at all to blame.

"My prayers and support always goes out to the rape victim. In this case, most especially, to an innocent sixteen year old child."

Sharapova and Williams cannot face each other across the net before the Wimbledon final in two weeks' time, however it may be hard to avoid each other off court.

Regardless of any feuding, it would suit Sharapova if she could reach the final with Williams already beaten, given she has lost each of the last 13 matches they have played. Her last win over Williams came in 2004, when she followed up her Wimbledon triumph at the American's expense by repeating the feat in the final of the Tour Championships.

Victoria Azarenka holds Williams and world number three Sharapova apart in the rankings, slotting in at number two on the WTA list.

The 23-year-old from Belarus was also asked today about Williams' controversial interview, which she confirmed she too had read.

"I think it's kind of difficult to avoid that. It's all over the place," Azarenka said.

"I have read her comments. I don't have any comments on that, though, because I think there is always a benefit of a doubt to a person. Only two people really know what happened.

"I know what it's like to be misunderstood sometimes. If I need some explanation from somebody, I'll go ask them directly."

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