Williams moves to diffuse spat

Serena Williams of the U.S.
Serena Williams of the U.S.

Serena Williams thought she had put the lid on the prospect of a Wimbledon feud with Maria Sharapova when they held face-to-face talks at the pre-Wimbledon party.

But Williams was driven to publicly repeat an apology she says was first given to the Russian and attempted to defuse their sparky conflict, which became apparent after Sharapova, still incensed by words from the world No.1 in a magazine article, returned fire.

Williams, in a Rolling Stone magazine feature, was quoted as taking a swipe at a rival player while in conversation with sister Venus.

Sharapova believed Williams was talking about her, as the article’s author speculated.

In the American 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 aimed at Grigor Dimitrov, the Bulgarian player who is dating Sharapova and had previously been close to Williams.

Williams is now said to be an item with her French coach Patrick Mouratoglou, and the nature of that relationship came under scrutiny both in Sharapova’s press conference at Wimbledon yesterday, and yesterday when defending champion Williams spoke.

Williams, who is due to begin the defence of her title at 1pm on Centre Court tomorrow, did not confirm they are a couple, and gave assured if not revealing responses to a range of questions surrounding her comments that may have alluded to Sharapova.

It was revealed the two most celebrated players in women’s tennis discussed the Rolling Stone article when attending Thursday night’s WTA Tour party in Kensington.

“I made it a point to reach out to Maria. She was inadvertently brought into the situation by assumptions made by the (Rolling Stone) reporter,” Williams said.

“I personally talked to Maria at the player party. I said, ‘Look, I want to personally apologise to you if you are offended by being brought into my situation. I want to take this moment to just pour myself, be open, say I’m very sorry for this whole situation’.

“We always have great conversations, so I believe that she definitely did accept it. I have the most respect for Maria on and off the court.

“I just feel like she was brought into the situation, inadvertently, a situation she never should have been brought into.”

Williams added: “I know she also said that I should definitely focus on the tennis here, and I feel like that is another thing I can definitely take her advice on.

“Maybe I wasn’t focused enough in the past on tennis. I’m definitely going to try to focus on that for the next two weeks.”

Williams is clearly affronted that a conversation with Venus, that she believed would remain private, has reached the public domain.

But she said: “I’ve been in the business for a little over 20 years, so I should definitely, definitely know better. I should know better to always have my guard up.”

Sharapova said yesterday that if Williams wished to speak of personal issues, “maybe she should talk about her relationship and her boyfriend that was married and is getting a divorce and has kids”.

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

Williams said today: “I definitely like to keep my personal life personal. I think it would be inappropriate for me to comment on it. In the past I’ve kept my personal and professional life very private. I’m going to continue to do that.”