'Not friends': Maria Sharapova's 16-year feud with Serena Williams

Sam Goodwin
Sports Editor

Immediately after Maria Sharapova announced her retirement last week, Serena Williams was trending on Twitter.

Perhaps unfairly, hoards of tennis fans chose to remember Sharapova as the woman Serena beat 20 times rather than for any of her achievements.

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Unlike in other sports, when a retirement announcement sees a flood of tweets from former teammates and competitors, Sharapova’s official goodbye didn’t lead to an outpouring of memories on social media, at least not from many of her peers.

And especially not from Serena.

Here’s everything we know about their long-running feud:

Sharapova’s 16-year battle with Serena

Sharapova and Serena had a very frosty relationship during the 16 years in which they both played on the WTA tour, with Sharapova infamously saying they’d ‘never be friends’ in 2017.

When Sharapova won her first grand slam by beating Serena at Wimbledon in 2004, the sport thought it had its new princess and a budding rivalry.

But that rivalry never materialised, at least not on court. 

Serena and Sharapova met 22 times, and Serena won 20 of those matches - a 90.9 winning percentage for Serena.

Serena Williams beat Maria Sharapova in the 2015 Australian Open final. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Yet Sharapova has a thinly veiled dislike of Serena, and the feeling is mutual.

In her 2016 memoir, Sharapova wrote fairly extensively about her opponent, admitting that at the 2002 Wimbledon champions ball her “body just would not let me” stand to salute that year’s winner, even as the rest of the room welcomed Serena, who had just won the singles title over Venus and the doubles title with Venus, with an ovation.

Somewhat bizarrely, Serena shows up on the second page of the prologue in Sharapova’s memoir.

“Serena Williams has marked the heights and limits of my career,” Sharapova wrote.

“Our stories are intertwined. I approach every match against her with trepidation and respect … I’ve beaten all the players who have beaten Serena, but it’s been nearly impossible for me to beat Serena herself.”

Why Sharapova thinks Serena hates her

The first time they played one another, in Miami in 2004, Sharapova described Serena thusly: “Her physical appearance is much stronger and bigger than you realise watching TV. She has thick arms and thick legs and is so intimidating and strong. And tall, really tall.”

In reality, Sharapova is about five inches taller than Serena, but clearly she had a picture to paint. And it’s not a nice one.

According to Sharapova, in the locker room after her win against Serena in the 2004 final, Serena collapsed into “guttural, heaving sobs.”

“It went on and on. I got out as quickly as I could, but she knew I was there,” she wrote.

“People often wonder why I have had so much trouble beating Serena; she’s owned me in the past ten years. My record against her is 2-19.

Maria Sharapova shocked the world by beating Serena Williams to win Wimbledon in 2004. (Photo by Mike Hewitt/Getty Images)

“In analysing this, people talk about Serena’s strength, her serve and confidence, how her particular game matches up to my particular game, and, sure there is truth to all of that; but, to me, the real answer was there, in this locker room, where I was changing and she was bawling.

“I think Serena hated me for being the skinny kid who beat her, against all odds, at Wimbledon.

“But mostly I think she hated me for hearing her cry. She’s never forgiven me for it.

“Not long after the tournament, I heard that Serena told a friend, who then told me, ‘I will never lose to that little b*tch again.”

Serena’s name appeared 106 different times in the course of the autobiography, but they’re not even close to being friends.

“Serena and I should be friends: we love the same thing, we have the same passion,” Sharapova said in 2017.

“But we are not friends—not at all. I think, to some extent, we have driven each other.

“Maybe that’s better than being friends. Maybe that’s what it takes to fire up the proper fury … Someday, when all this is in our past, maybe we’ll become friends. Or not.”

Serena Williams also beat Maria Sharapova in the 2013 French Open final. (Photo by Clive Brunskill/Getty Images)

Serena’s husband even joined in

The feud has reared its ugly head on a number of occasions since, most notably when Serena’s husband appeared to sledge Sharapova from the stands at the 2019 US Open.

Alexis Ohanian was in attendance as Serena blitzed Sharapova 6-1, 6-1 in their first-round clash last August, a thrashing which Sharapova recently admitted was one of the sparks for her retirement.

Watching on from the stands, Ohanian appeared to reference Sharapova’s drugs ban with the t-shirt he was wearing.

Ohanian wore a shirt with ‘D.A.R.E’ on the front - short for Drug Abuse Resistance Education.

Many took it as a dig at Sharapova, who was infamously banned from tennis in 2016 after testing positive to banned substance Meldonium.

Serena-Sharapova feud also got personal

In an interview with Rolling Stone in 2013, Serena seemed to reference the fact that Sharapova was dating fellow tennis player Grigor Dimitrov - who Serena was also rumoured to be dating before that.

“She begins every interview with 'I'm so happy. I'm so lucky' – it's so boring,” said Serena.

“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.”

Sharapova then responded by suggesting Serena was dating her coach Patrick Mouratoglou.

“At the end of the day, 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.

“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.”