As the world’s top two players prepare to face-off in the Australian Open final today, we’re reminded of the paradox that is the so-called “rivalry” between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova.
Should a rivalry that is so lopsided still be called a rivalry? The pair have played each other 18 times. Williams has won 16 of them.
What started off as a promising tug of war 11 years ago, when Sharapova beat Williams twice in 2004 – in the Wimbledon final and the season-ending championships final – has evolved into a one-woman show starring the American diva.
People never lost interest in the Serena-Maria showdown, but they also stopped looking forward to it. The narrative surrounding their matches went from, ‘who is going to win?’ to ‘how easily is Serena going to win?’.
Yet we still find ourselves intrigued by the prospect of their final today. The result on court may be predictable but in reality, their rivalry was never just about tennis.
When it comes to Williams and Sharapova, it is also about status, endorsements, personal relationships and a lot more.
Williams may be the more decorated tennis player in terms of trophies but Sharapova is the higher earner. The Russian attracts more endorsement deals than any other female athlete on the planet and is a highly-successful entrepreneur.
For every cool Beats ad Williams features in, Sharapova sells a bunch of her Sugarpova candy, designs a new line for Nike, gets a new Porsche to drive around town and fronts a magazine cover or two.
The fact that the pair never really got along has always added spice to the mix. A year and a half ago, they were engaged in a war of words when an article came out that quoted Williams supposedly bashing Sharapova for dating Grigor Dimitrov, which the American referred to as the “man with a black heart”. Williams and Dimitrov were rumoured to be in a relationship the year before.
Sharapova responded by pointing out that Williams was going out with “a married man with kids” referring to the world No1’s coach Patrick Mouratoglou.
It’s true that all this seems like ancient history right now, but it also gave us an insight into the kind of animosity the two ladies share.
Each one is a superstar in her own right but which one can outshine the other? That’s the heart of the Serena-Maria rivalry. Going back to the tennis, the question making the rounds here in Melbourne is: Is there anything Sharapova can do to beat Williams?
In truth, Williams serves better, moves slightly better, sports a better backhand and has more variety on her forehand. The only thing Sharapova does not lack in comparison to the 33-year-old is her ability to fight. They are two of the fiercest competitors in sport.
Williams must have an awful day and Sharapova must have a phenomenal one if the world No2 is to finally pull off the upset. The top seed has been struggling with the flu all week, and appeared sick during her practice yesterday, but that could probably mean that she will try to keep today’s win short and sweet.
While many are craving a Sharapova win to jolt some life into this rivalry, it’s hard looking past a Williams straight sets victory.