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Maria Sharapova and Success in the Shadow of Serena

The mid-90s in tennis was maligned as an era known as “Steffi & the Seven Dwarfs.” The modern day has done much to leap over the (admittedly low) bar Graf et al set in terms of parity. The last decade in particular has seen also-rans and underdogs alike climb to major triumph, with enough Cinderella stories to fill a book by the Brothers Grimm.

And yet, it cannot be denied that the WTA Tour remains dictated by a Serenocracy.

When Serena Williams is at her best, she is the best. She is one of the most naturally gifted athletes of all time (in any sport), with a tennis mind that has only become more expansive and all-encompassing with age and experience. Once criticized for her commitment, the American has outlasted all who ever doubted her, playing full schedules well into her 30s and showing little signs of stopping. Throughout her career, she has exhibited the uncanny ability to make ostensibly close competition look like amateurs, patently unfit to be spoken of in the same breath as the seventeen-time Grand Slam Champion.

Conversely, this presents a problem when the No. 1 falls decidedly below her best. Though she has maintained her domination of the world’s top 10 – five wins over four different players, including a decimation of Li Na in the finals of Miami – the best player on Tour has found it increasingly difficult to get up for the matches that don’t matter. Ana Ivanovic, Alizé Cornet, Jana Cepelova, and Garbiñe Muguruza are more believable as a semifinal line-up in Monterrey than as a list of the four women to have beaten Williams in a single season. But all four have done so, three of them in straight sets.

The American came to Paris as the defending champion with a title in Rome and a seemingly unassailable draw. The younger Williams was healthy and determined to reaffirm her domination of the sport with an eighteenth major title, one that would tie her with Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. But before anyone had the chance to place bets on how many games last year’s finalist Maria Sharapova would earn against her nemesis in the quarterfinals, Williams was bundled out of the tournament by dangerous floater Garbiñe Muguruza. The Spaniard played an excellent match and parlayed the win into a maiden French Open second week. By contrast, Williams was, for all intents and purposes, a no-show. The mid-match revelation that there would be no comeback from this era’s most unshakeable competitor stunned Court Suzanne Lenglen into virtual silence.

Gone, but not forgotten. The fall of one who transcends not only her generation but also her sport can cast a shadow impressive in its ominousness. The success of others becomes inexorably linked to her failure. In a matter of days, Maria Sharapova went from favorite to cannon fodder after the announcement of the draw, and back to favorite again upon Williams’s untimely early-round dismissal. Because it didn’t matter that the Russian had won two clay tournaments to the American’s one. Because it didn’t matter that she had adapted her once immobile game to the slippery dirt of the terre battue and won the title in 2012.

Because when it comes to tennis, Serena Williams is just better. Everyone else becomes the beneficiary of the American’s charitable misfortune.


Should this emphatic inference follow an otherwise undisputed conclusion? It is true that, more often than not, Williams is just better. But part of what makes any superhero compelling is his or her humanity. Humans cannot gift Grand Slams, but they can face adversity with grace and fortitude, even if they do not always overcome it. The American’s vulnerability has been on display numerous times in her career, and that has only served to accentuate the many moments when her tennis becomes immortal.

Jokes about Maria Sharapova owing Williams a fruit basket for her early exit are to be expected given her comically long losing streak. But her clay court record speaks for itself; combine that with her tenacity over seven matches and the Russian is a worthy champion. Could she have gotten the elusive win over the American last week? Does it even matter when the latter failed to win the requisite matches to play her in the first place?

Serena has given us plenty to celebrate over a career that has spanned nearly two decades. There is nothing she could do that could take away from all she has achieved. At the same time, the success of others should not, and can never be, an affront to her legacy.

Yes, Serena will be back. But that’s only because Serena never left.

About David Kane (137 Articles)
23-year-old tennis writer. Long Island raised me, @Twitter made me. My hindrances are deliberate; my whole life is thunder. @DKTNNS

30 Comments on Maria Sharapova and Success in the Shadow of Serena

  1. Serena is phony. She beats Maria every time but loses to players who aren’t even in her class. That tells you all you need to know about her. She is obviously jealous of Maria. Maria doesn’t just care about beating Serena like Serena does her.. she has no reason to. The ONLY thing Serena has over Maria is her serve.. and only because of Maria’s injury.

    That Maria has as many French open titles as Serena even with her bum shoulder should tell you all you need to know as well. Maria has more heart than Serena could ever hope to dream of. More talent too.


    • Hahaha you act like Serena only beats Maria. She’s won 17 majors, so it’s not exactly like she doesn’t win most of her matches. Serena also has a better return, movement, and defense than Maria. Instead of their French Open numbers being all you need to know, I would say that the fact that Serena has 4 more of every other slam is all you need to know.


    • eo's de scylla // June 10, 2014 at 5:16 pm // Reply

      Jealous of what? She’s rich,serena’s also. She’s popular,serena’s also. She desirable,serena’s also. She’s a career grand slam champion,serena’s… BITCH,PLEASE! She went to work on her like the rent was due tomorrow but payday wasn’t until next week.


      • Serena is desirable?! Oh yeah, you must mean her millions. Other than that, OMG!! Ah, I got it…you’re blind, right?


    • It’s amazing how blind ignorance can make a person. The simple truth is this Maria is a great player, except when she faces Serena Williams. Hatred is such a blinding energy, before Maria’s shoulder injury she wasn’t beating Serena, and the truth be told, Maria has nothing that can hurt Serena except Serena herself. And as for her not caring about beating Serena, you must be a jackass. Acourse she’s hungry, all most desparate to beat Serena, because until she does, and does it convincingly, she is just a runnerup. Last point, there is an easier blueprint to beat Maria, What clay does for Maria is slow the ball down if you are willing to not move Maria forward. During the French, most of Maria opponents with lesser weapons made the mistake of trying to outhit Maria from the baseline, instead of using the whole court. Maria is always going to give you a chance off her serve games somewhere in the set. Not having the one player at the end, who can outhit, out serve, out return Maria, namely, Serena, was a blessing in disguise. The key to beating Maria, other than Serena, is longer rallies, and movement..


    • Charlie, you are an idiot!!!


    • Please Charlie Boy, JUST SAY NO, because obviously you have been doing some serious “crack”, Miss Serena OWNS Screamapova and just like her daddy Yuri said, Maria only wins, when Serena loses.


  2. Franchise // June 9, 2014 at 7:18 pm // Reply

    haha poor stupid Sharapova fan. Serena is better than that overrated blonde girl that you stan for. Kedep getting pressed; Serena will keep kicking her ass, kiddo


  3. Franchise // June 9, 2014 at 7:25 pm // Reply

    Sharapova will always be Serena’s punchbag. Those idiot fans for hers shoud get addicted to it. The poster below is the proof of it: huge delusion. The day Shriekapova wins 17 slams, 60+titles, is number one for more than 200 weeks and stops being humiliated by Serena and Vika on big matches, we can talk. That overhyped and untalented blonde and her fans can dream having a career ala Serena’s. And poor her and her poor shoulder. Please, like she’s the only player to have had serious injuries. Bunch of childsih whiners those fans of hers.


    • Wow, what has Sharapova ever done to you that you speak of her like you wanna turn her into burger patty? Is it becoz she’s white & more sought after as product endorser than Serena? Sure your precious Serena is better but so what. Does she share her millions with you? Does she even care that you’re willing to kill for her?


      • @Mars, we can say the same thing about Serena, what has she ever done that gets so much hatred from fellow Americans, mainly white male Americans that would rather a Russian to win over an American mainly because she is white, Screamapova is overrated and doesn’t deserve all that praise she gets from Americans, she has been in this country since she was 7 years, never intend to ever be an American but enjoys the benefits that comes along with being blonde, white, at the Olympics she carried the Russian flag, laughs at Americans all the way to the bank, you should be ashamed of yourself for not supporting fellow Americans because of their skin color.


  4. A really thoughtful and interesting blog, thank you.


  5. This is funny…Serena almost died! She came back and humiliated everyone’s game. Maria has been back from her stupid shoulder injury for how long? So when Serena humiliates Maria again and again at the end stages all of a sudden her shoulder hurts. people are delusional. Maria beats almost everyone with ease but can’t beat the best. It’s natural, how can you beat the best.


  6. Ok I am a Sharapova fan all the way but I will admit that Serena owns her…she is in Sharapovas head and Maria just can’t seem to get her out. Having said that Serena is fake and a phony. She’s only nice to the lower ranked players because she knows they idolize her but if you remember when Sloane Stephens beat Serena, Serena was rude to her afterwards. Maria is not a phony, she never hides the fact that Serena beat her so many times, she’s not fake with the other players, she simply doesn’t talk to any of them and someone in these comments said Serena is desirable but come on let’s call a spade a spade Serena is not pretty at all not even a little bit she is the best female tennis player of a time but she is in no way pretty. Maria is beautiful and she might not be better than Serena but she is still one of the best. She had 33 titles and 5 Grand Slams and you don’t achieve that if your not one of the best. Maria does have one thing over Serena other than beauty and that is mental toughness no other female tennis player ever can match the mental toughness of Maria. Maria I love you, keep playing with all if your heart and win a couple more slams. You might not reach Serena’s tennis records but to me you will always be number one and you will always have more fans because you are not fake or phony and you don’t start arguments with the umpires and tell them you will kill them because of a bad call like Serena does and the funny thing about that is Serena was wrong both times and still argued with an umpire at a Grand Slam… You don’t act like that because Maria “Masha” Sharapova has class and is a lady not a monster. Maria Sharapova 2014 French Open Champion…let’s get ready for Wimbledon…good luck goregous!


    • Pssst…guess what? “Masha” isn’t reading this, so speaking directly to her – while spouting off gross distortions – borders on behavioral tendencies typically reserved for stalkers in training. Not a good look ; relax…


    • haha Sharapova has class. Queen of bathroom breaks and gamesmanship and shrieking haha. She’s a cheat and a fraud


      • Two great tennis player , same grit , weapons but we all know serena is the best but this is maria’s moment we should be happy for her 🙂


    • Dan Marshall // June 11, 2014 at 7:40 am // Reply

      Mental toughness? Maria? You must be on drug… Mental toughness belongs to SERENA WILLIAMS. Ex. Australian Open SF 2003 Down 1 – 5 in the 3rd set against the toughest Kim Clijster. Serena fought back and won the match. 7 – 5 in the 3rd. That is mental.
      Furthermore, you talked about beauty. Yes Maria is beautiful, yes Serena is beautiful…you know why? They are beautiful in the eye of the beholder.


      • C. Richard Hundley // June 11, 2014 at 2:26 pm //

        Serena will always hate Maria, and, evidently, it has rubbed off on her fans. That’s sad because both are great tennis players. The difference is two fold. Serena will never forget the beating that Maria gave her, in straight sets, to win Wimbledon, and Serena hates herself too much to like, or appreciate other people. Maria doesn’t let matches, even important ones, affect her next game, and Maria likes herself. Anyone who hasn’t noticed that Serena ups her game, a notch, when playing Maria is blind. Serena simply can’t get that, brutal, beating out of her head. Serena was expected to trounce the 17 year old Russian, and she was never, even, in the match. Serena, clearly, has respect for Maria, as she displays it in her wrath, every time they meet. If committing one of the seven deadly sins weren’t bad enough, Serena also appears to have a weight, control, problem, causing gluttony, another of the seven deadly sins, to rear it’s ugly head. Serena adds insult to injury by showing envy, yes, another of the seven deadly sins, every time she sees Maria. I understand the envy because Maria earns 10 times the amount Serena makes annually, but it is still nothing to be admired, not even by her fans. Serena should put the fork down, before she gorges herself, at every opportunity. She might begin to like herself, which in turn, would allow her to like other people. She might also find that the wrath, and envy would dissipate. There isn’t anyone, who has ever played tennis, that has more determination than Maria Sharapova, and it is that determination that makes Maria Sharapova a living legend.


  7. You are all delusional,the only reason Serena and Maria are at the top of the pathetic WTA is because Justine retired. Serena has a 8-6 over Justine and only because Justine retired for 2 years and still played Serena to three sets in the 2010 AO,as far as Maria is concerned Justine has a 13-3 record against her. The reality is that because of the weak competition in in the Women’s field these 2 baseline bashers are at the top. But i was encouraged by the some of the young up and comers.


    • C. Richard Hundley // June 11, 2014 at 5:03 pm // Reply

      That’s funny roottman. Justine Henin retired in 2008 because she was battered by both Sharapova, and Williams. She was ranked No. 1 in the world when she faced Sharapova at the Australian Open, in the quarter finals. She got waxed in straight sets, 6-4. 6-0. Sharapova went on to win the Australian Open, and Henin lost her No. 1 ranking. It was downhill from there for Henin as a few months later, in a minor match (Miami Masters), she lost to Williams 6-2, 6-0. She never got over the crushing blow of being No. 1 in the world, and losing so horrifically, in a major slam event. She retired less than 6 months after Sharapova destroyed her. She came out of retirement in 2010, but didn’t win a slam event, and retired for good. Henin was a good tennis player. She should not be mentioned with Maria, or Serena, as she never won all 4 Grand Slam events. She made it to a final at Wimbledon, but never won it.


  8. Maria is more than Serena. Serena is always jealous to Maria because Maria, simply more beautiful than ugly Serena. Maria reminds me of Gabriela Sabatini of Argentina…


  9. Maria’s attitude on and off court is more gracious than bitch Serena which is well known rude and doesn’t have manner and courtesy….


  10. No doubt about it,Serena is the best player but ofcourse considering the fact that she plays tennis first and won lots of tournaments than Maria so she is far expert than her shes a veteran player.But for sure somehow other players have the right and chance to win and it’s not always or all the time her.and she should be jealous for Maria not because of talent,fame or money but because of beauty,Maria is far more and appealing,un like her my gosh she looks like a tranny,her body is like a man.So I’m sure Maria doesn’t have or shouldn’t feel any less than her.So yes!Serena is the great player ever but Maria is the beauty and Serena is always the beast!


  11. I think one of the reasons why Serena has just dominated Maria, is when she was basically a shoe-in for the Wimbledon title that Maria won at 17 years of age. Somehow that stuck with Serena and she’s never gotten over that. Remember when the two played in the final of the Australian Open when Serena wasn’t even ranked? That was payback and I wanna know where THAT Serena is. She looked down right scary destroying Maria. In athletics, it’s so true that 80% of it is mental. This is a fitting image of that.


  12. nellie moyo // June 14, 2014 at 6:35 am // Reply

    Oh my Gosh Maria beautiful, you people who tjink she is are just dumbasses, she is no beauty. She is overated coz she is a white girl. As for serena she is a beautiful talented b lack woman, who as far I as I see it would never eat herself ugly. You are damn racists who bear to see a black person being the best over your tall untalented bottle blonde. She only wins when she plays unexperienced players in finals thats a fact.


    • Hey Nellie, please have your eyesight checked by your friendly eye doctor. If Serena is beautiful & Maria is no beauty to you, I’m quite sure you need a good pair of contact lenses. And go back to grammar school, will you? Reading your comment almost made me puke.


  13. Serena is just physically gifted. Nothing more nothing less. As far as endorsement money goes, Maria makes more money because she is more attractive. We can all bring the race here all we want but if Serena was looking like Halle Berry or Gabrielle Union, she would make more than Maria. It has nothing to do with skin color. One is more attractive and other one is not TO MOST PEOPLE.


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