Wimbledon 2013: Maria Sharapova plays the mixed-up doubles
She takes on Serena Williams in a battle of the (alleged) ex-boyfriends
Throw healthy and vigorous young sportsmen and women together and the consequences are inevitable. A long history of affaires de coeur in tennis has seen them end in tears (Jimmy Connors and Chris Evert) and in blissful happiness (Andre Agassi and Steffi Graf), but it has been a while since the sport has been alive with the talk currently surrounding some of its biggest names.
Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Grigor Dimitrov and Williams' coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, have been at the centre of a (rumoured) web of romantic relationships for several months. Until now not much of it had gone beyond idle gossip, but the scene was set yesterday for an old-style Wimbledon fortnight of kiss-and-tell tittle-tattle as Sharapova rose to the bait at her pre-tournament press conference.
When asked about some recent comments by Williams, who (allegedly) shares more than a passion for tennis with Mouratoglou, 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."
For those not aware of the (rumoured) relationships – new readers need to start concentrating here – the story starts with Dimitrov, the talented young Bulgarian, and a (rumoured) affair with Williams.
Dimitrov was based at Mouratoglou's academy in Paris, where Williams started training last year. When Mouratoglou (allegedly) began seeing Williams, an (apparently) disgruntled Dimitrov left the academy.
For several months now Dimitrov, the world No 31, has been seeing Sharapova, who even attended – not even allegedly – one of his matches recently at Queen's Club. Mouratoglou, meanwhile, is said to be divorcing his wife, with whom he has two children.
The first sign of the (rumoured) triangles becoming a matter of public debate came with Williams' comments last week in a lengthy interview with Rolling Stone magazine. At first the focus was on the world No 1's controversial views on a teenage rape case in the United States – for which she subsequently apologised – but in the interview she also talked about a current top-five player who is in love.
"She begins every interview with 'I'm so happy, I'm so lucky'," Williams was reported to have told the magazine. "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."
Rolling Stone speculated that this was a reference to Sharapova and her relationship with Dimitrov, one of Williams' (alleged) exes. Sharapova said yesterday that she had read the interview and was asked what she made of Williams' comments.
"Obviously I have a tremendous amount of respect for Serena and what she's achieved on the court," Sharapova said. "You can never take anything away from that. I was definitely sad to hear what she had to say about the whole case.
"As for myself, or whether it was about somebody else, nothing personal, you know. We've talked to Serena many times, and I know everyone tries to create rivalries between us here and there. 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 added: "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."
Look out for another instalment of tales from the locker room when Williams (allegedly) talks to the media this afternoon. This one could run and run all the way to the final on Saturday week, which could see Williams facing Sharapova.
Love games for Watson
Nick Bollettieri thinks Heather Watson can be too nice for her own good, but the 21-year-old could never be like those top women who refuse even to acknowledge other players.
"The top three or four won't talk to anybody," Watson said. "Victoria Azarenka says hello, but the others, no. They make an effort not to. It's not that they're mean. They don't want to give anything, no weakness. I don't see it as a weakness. When you play a match and they don't talk to you, fine. But off the court we're still humans."
The world No 57 could not be like that. "It would be difficult," she said. "I've tried a few times, to be like 'I'm not talking to you'. But I can't. It's not me. You need to be ruthless, but you don't need to blank everybody."
Watson is based at Bollettieri's academy in Florida. "He tells me, 'You're too nice, you cannot be like this. Don't talk to anybody. I don't want you socialising. You've gotta be mean.' I've tried but it didn't work. But I make sure I'm mean on court."
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