A ri­valry that’s all in her mind

Maria Shara­pova is ob­sessed with Ser­ena Wil­liams and it’s un­healthy, writes Buhle Mbonambi

Sunday Tribune - - BOOKS -

GOOGLE de­fines ob­ses­sion as: “an idea or thought that con­tin­u­ally pre­oc­cu­pies or in­trudes on a per­son’s mind”, and boy, is Maria Shara­pova ob­sessed with Ser­ena Wil­liams.

Shara­pova, the Rus­sian ten­nis player who has won five Grand Slam ti­tles, in­clud­ing a ca­reer slam, has been har­bour­ing thoughts of “com­ing to get” Wil­liams – ar­guably the great­est ten­nis player of all time, with 23 Grand Slam ti­tles and the long­est reign on top of the women’s rank­ings – since she was 12.

In her new book, iron­i­cally ti­tled Un­stop­pable: My Life So Far, Shara­pova shows her clear dis­like for her fel­low WTA player.

In 1999, when Shara­pova was 12, the Wil­liams sis­ters were at an open prac­tice ses­sion at an academy in Florida, where the Rus­sian star trained. While the other play­ers watched the sis­ters, she re­fused to watch them train. “I’d never put my­self in the po­si­tion of wor­ship­ping them, look­ing up, be­ing a fan,” Shara­pova writes.

In­stead, she watched them through a shed.

“I could watch through a kind of knot­hole – just me alone, in the dark, see­ing the next 20 years of my life.”

Three years later at the 2002 Wim­ble­don win­ners ball, Shara­pova would not stand up when Ser­ena, the women’s cham­pion that year, walked in.

“I wanted to get up, but my body just would not let me,” she writes. “It was as if I were stuck in that chair, star­ing at Ser­ena through the crowd of peo­ple, with a sin­gle thought in my head: ‘I am go­ing to get you’.”

And get her she did, two years later at the 2004 Wim­ble­don fi­nals, where she won her first Grand Slam at 17. It ob­vi­ously gave her sat­is­fac­tion – she had fi­nally ac­com­plished her great­est dream, de­feat­ing Ser­ena Wil­liams. It was that vic­tory that would start the ri­valry be­tween them.

“I think Ser­ena hated me for be­ing the kid who beat her, against all odds, at Wim­ble­don,” she writes about the af­ter­math of the 2004 fi­nal. “I think she hated me for tak­ing some­thing that she be­lieved be­longed to her. I think she hated me for see­ing her at her low­est mo­ment. But mostly I think she hated me for hear­ing her cry. She’s never for­given me for it.”

It’s pretty dis­turb­ing how she has ba­si­cally planned her life on how she can de­feat Wil­liams on the court. It didn’t help that ten­nis fans were lap­ping it up.

Sud­denly Shara­pova was the saviour of ten­nis, the bright, tall, pretty, blonde star the game needed to break the reign of the Wil­liams sis­ters.

I re­mem­ber watch­ing that 2004 fi­nal. I was at a tour­na­ment and was one of three black play­ers in a sea of white play­ers. We all crowded into the TV room to watch. The three of us rooted for Ser­ena and when she lost, it felt like we were at Loftus Vers­feld and the Bulls had won the Cur­rie Cup.

Such was the glee of our peers, that I couldn’t help but walk out the room, take my ten­nis bag and go knock a few balls around. I won my last three matches for Ser­ena.

These ex­cerpts from the book have alarmed me. I’m start­ing to think it’s in Shara­pova’s head. She sim­ply can­not han­dle that in the 21 matches she has played against Wil­liams, she has only won two.

She sim­ply can­not rec­on­cile how medi­ocre she is com­pared to Wil­liams. Shara­pova was given a 15-month ban from play­ing ten­nis for us­ing mel­do­nium,a banned sub­stance. It was sup­posed to give her a boost. De­spite us­ing it, she just couldn’t win. She was sim­ply not good enough.

I will never un­der­stand why Shara­pova tar­geted Wil­liams from a young age. And the delu­sion to think that the only rea­son Wil­liams has beaten her time and again, is be­cause Shara­pova heard her cry.

Some­one needs to tell Shara­pova that the rea­son she keeps los­ing against Wil­liams is sim­ply be­cause Ser­ena is the best to have ever played the game.

The only claim to great­ness Shara­pova has, is win­ning a ca­reer slam (mostly dur­ing the time when the Wil­liams sis­ters were in­jured).

Now that she can play ten­nis again (she did quite well at the US Open), maybe it is time she lets go of her ob­ses­sion.

It’s time she for­gives her­self for not be­ing good enough

She is five years younger than Wil­liams and we all know how much of a fac­tor age plays in sport, which is why the Wil­liams sis­ters are sports leg­ends for play­ing and win­ning long af­ter oth­ers have re­tired.

If only Shara­pova had spent these past 15 months im­prov­ing, and fo­cus­ing her sights on com­peti­tors like Si­mona Halep and Caro­line Woz­ni­acki, who she can eas­ily beat.

In­stead she has spent so much time writ­ing about a ri­valry that doesn’t ex­ist.

But be­cause she sim­ply isn’t good enough, she has de­cided to do the one thing she knows she can do very well: bash Ser­ena Wil­liams.

Un­stop­pable: My Life So Far by Maria Shara­pova, is avail­able for R389 on Loot.co.za

Maria Shara­pova, left, and Ser­ena Wil­liams.

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