French Open: Serena – Sharapova ‘Rivalry’ – the Weakest Narrative
Serena – Sharapova ‘Rivalry’ – the Weakest Narrative
Serena Williams pulls out with injury before Maria Sharapova match. Serena Williams pulled out of the French Open before her fourth-round match with Maria Sharapova because of an injury that affected her serve.
The 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams recently returned to tennis after giving birth to her first child, but looked in good form in her opening matches.
It was supposed to be their 22nd meeting.
“I’ve had issues with the right pectoral muscle to the point where I can’t serve,” said the 36-year-old.
“I’ll have a scan. I won’t know about Wimbledon until I get the results.”
Williams said she first felt the problem during her third-round win over German 11th seed Julia Gorges on Saturday.
She played in a doubles match with sister Venus on Sunday, saying she wanted to try to manage the problem before her match with Sharapova.
“I tried lots of taping and support to see how it felt in match circumstances,” Williams said.
“It is hard to play when I can’t physically serve. I’ve never had this injury before, I’ve never felt it in my life and it was so painful.
“I don’t know how to manage it.”
Sharapova said she was “looking forward” to playing Williams and “disappointed” the American had to withdraw.
“I wish her a speedy recovery and hope she returns to the tour soon,” she added.
The 31-year-old Russian, a two-time winner at Roland Garros, will play 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza. The Spaniard was 2-0 up in the opening set of her match against Lesia Tsurenko when the Ukrainian retired hurt.
Rivalry was set to be renewed
The possibility of Williams facing Sharapova had been grabbing attention since the draw was made at Roland Garros 10 days ago.
And the meeting of the two former champions, both making comebacks at Roland Garros this year, was set up when Williams beat Gorges shortly after Sharapova beat Czech sixth seed Karolina Pliskova.
Williams has recently returned after giving birth to daughter Olympia in September, while 28th seed Sharapova is back in the draw after being refused a wildcard last year as she returned from a 15-month drugs ban.
The pair have had a frosty relationship since they first met on court in 2003, although Williams said in her pre-match news conference on Saturday that she did not have any “negative feelings” towards the Russian.
There has not been much of a rivalry on court in recent years, Williams having won 19 of their 21 meetings. Both of Sharapova’s wins came in 2004 – including that year’s Wimbledon final.
Six matches in six days takes its toll – analysis
Williams had been in astoundingly good form in the first week, but footage of the final set of Sunday’s doubles – which she and sister Venus lost 6-0 – showed Serena rolling in a number of slow first serves.
The three-time champion chose to play doubles as well as singles because she knew she needed matches under her belt. But six matches in six days – after just four in the previous 16 months – appears to have taken its toll. A pectoral injury is most commonly associated with overuse.
Tuesday’s MRI scan will reveal more, but if there is no serious damage, then Wimbledon may still be very much within Williams’ sights. There are still four weeks to go, and not being able to play a grass-court warm-up event beforehand should not be a concern: only twice in her career has she done so.
And if we’re being honest, Monday’s Round of 16 matchup at the French Open would have been the 20th time that Serena Williams defeated Maria Sharapova, giving her 19 consecutive wins over the Russian.
But a pectoral muscle injury forced Williams out of the match that had become the most anticipated contest in women’s tennis.
“Unfortunately I’m having some issues with my pec muscle. Right now I can’t actually serve so it’s kind of hard to play,” Williams said Monday morning during a press conference at Roland-Garros.
“I love playing Maria. It’s a match I always get up for. Her game matches up so well against mine.”
“I’m beyond disappointed. I gave up so much from time with my daughter and time with my family all for this moment. So it’s really difficult to be in this situation.”
As much as the sports world wanted to see Williams and Sharapova face each other, it’s hard not to feel as if we knew what the outcome was going to be even before the match ever began.
Because when you dominate a single opponent the way Williams has over the years, it isn’t a rivalry.
It’s reoccurring annihilation.
Rivalries are Michigan vs. Ohio State, Duke vs. North Carolina, Yankees vs. Red Sox, Alabama vs. Auburn, Army vs. Navy, Celtics vs. Lakers, Cowboys vs. that football team in D.C.
But the thing that makes rivalries so great, is that no matter how good or bad one side may be at the time of the contest, you know there’s a chance that the unthinkable can happen. All great rivalries have upsets, or at the very least, the feeling that the weaker opponent always has a shot.
That feeling doesn’t exist with Williams and Sharapova. Because when you lose 18 straight to someone, all hopes of an upset tend to evaporate.
However, there is something intriguing about this matchup that’s viewed as the crown jewel of women’s tennis, and race and society’s flawed views of what grace and beauty truly are lay at the center of it.
In the case of Williams, she’s bold, confident, curvaceous, and a fearless black woman who is also one of the greatest tennis players to ever pick up a racket.
She’s also a celebrity, a new mom and a fashion icon.
“I love the catsuit,” said German tennis player Andrea Petkovic about Williams’ new black bodysuit that she calls “Catsuit 2.0.” “I might copy her catsuit and walk with it, but probably only in New York, because that’s, I guess, the only city where you can actually pull it off.”
From the pink dress she recently wore to the Royal Wedding to her ever-evolving on-court fashion choices, Williams has always done more to fit the narrative of being a model.
But since she isn’t rail thin with long blonde hair, that label gets assigned to Sharapova.
At the age of 35, Williams became the only tennis player — man or woman — to win 23 Grand Slam singles titles in the Open Era.
Yet people want to ask her if she’s intimidated by a person she’s 19-2 against because she has “nice shoulders.”
That’s funny, and racist, as hell.
“What I find interesting is not the athletic element of it, because this isn’t close at all, really. It’s that, Maria Sharapova is supposed to be the beauty. The supermodel-esque beauty, and Serena Williams is supposed to be the brawn,” said ESPN’s Pablo Torre on Monday’s premiere episode of “High Noon.”
“We have seen complications on that rivalry for years now, and yet somehow that is the narrative that sticks.”
Torre brings up a good point, because across the landscape of sports media, the “rivalry” narrative has endured over time although the results prove that one has never existed.
But this thing is less about sports and more about culture. Sharapova serves as the last “Great White Hype” in a sport that was created by, and played by, white athletes for decades. But since the arrival of the Williams Sisters, and particularly Serena, the women’s game has been dominated by women of color.
Women’s tennis began as a very dainty sport in which women played in long dresses, as it was viewed as more of a social event than an athletic contest.
Fast forward to today, and the face of the sport is a dark-skinned muscular black woman who grunts every time she hits the ball.
And some people aren’t happy about that, which is why they can’t get over the fact that Sharapova will never be the game’s white savior.
Williams is so much better than Sharapova at tennis, that Sharapova is coming off a doping suspension in which she used meldonium as a means to enhance her performance because Williams puts that much fear in her heart.
“First of all, her physical presence is much stronger and bigger than you realize watching TV,” wrote Sharapova in her book “Unstoppable: My Life So Far.”
“She has thick arms and thick legs and is so intimidating and strong. It’s the whole thing — her presence, her confidence, her personality.”
“Even now, she can make me feel like a little girl.”
But according to one tennis coach, it’s not so much of Williams’ “physical attributes” that make her great. It’s her work ethic and desire.
“Serena has great tennis talent, but above all she has this fire,” Belgian coach Philippe Dehaes told the New York Times. “And when I watch the other young players coming up now, I just don’t see it. It’s the whole package with Serena: the confidence, the desire to win — or more refusing to lose as if losing were an illness. I honestly didn’t think she’d beat (Ash) Barty, who is 17th in the world.
“But when I see Serena winning, I am angry in a way,” he continued, making quotation marks in the air with his fingers as he said “angry.” “I am happy to see her win of course because I have a lot of respect for her, but I’m angry when I think of the others. I say, ‘Wake up, girls. Serena is nearly 37 years old. What does it take for you to wake up?’”
Dehaes is right, because from Martina Hingis to Sloane Stephens to Sharapova, Serena has never truly had a rival. In fact, the closest anyone has ever come to that is her sister Venus, who has beaten her 12 times.
Whenever a great athlete or team arrives on the scene, we look for somebody to compare them to. A challenger to serve as a barometer for their greatness.
Maria Sharapova has never been and will never be that for Serena Williams, which is why this lazy narrative needs to stop.
Because when you really think about it, Serena has always been battling her true rival in front of us this entire time.
Source: bbc.com, nydailynews.com