Paris - Serena Williams will be fired up to tighten her
14-year grip on Maria Sharapova by a sense of betrayal as the two iconic stars
play out the latest chapter of their bitter feud at the French Open on Monday.
Sharapova has not defeated her fellow former world number
one since 2004 - a streak of 18 matches - the same year she made her global
breakthrough at Wimbledon as a slender teenager prone to fits of giggles.
The 22nd match of their one-sided rivalry will once again be
played out against a familiar soundtrack of suspicion and bad blood.
Williams, the three-time French Open champion and 23-time
major winner, has vented her anger at Sharapova's claims that she had wept
after losing the 2004 Wimbledon title match.
The 36-year-old described references to her in Sharapova's
memoir, 'Unstoppable', as "100 percent hearsay" while other
revelations she dismissed as "not necessarily true".
Williams is particularly angry as Sharapova's claims came
just months after the American had hailed her for the manner in which she
announced her failed drugs test at the 2016 Australian Open.
"I was one of the few people that said she was brave to
say something," said Williams referring to Sharapova's "drug
"I didn't have anything negative to say about
Sharapova's test for meldonium led to a 15-month ban.
Ironically, the Russian's last match before her suspension
was against Williams in the quarter-finals in Melbourne.
Williams has monopolised their on-court clashes for the last
14 years so much so that Sharapova has taken just one set in a decade.
Despite that, the Russian, with five Slams to her name,
still brings in the serious money.
Her net worth was valued at $285 million by Forbes last year
while, according The Richlist, Williams's financial assets were estimated at
Elsewhere, as she rebuilt her reputation, Sharapova featured
in a no warts at all Netflix documentary 'The Point'.
Not to be outdone, Serena opened the doors to HBO for a
four-part mini-series, 'Being Serena', focussing on her homelife and return to
action after the birth of daughter Olympia.
As well as vying for commercial and PR supremacy, the two
have fought very public battles over their private lives.
On the eve of Wimbledon in 2013, Williams gave an explosive
interview to Rolling Stone magazine in which she left nobody in any doubt as to
"She begins every interview with 'I'm so happy. I'm so
lucky' - it's so boring," said Williams without namechecking the Russian.
"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
The 'black heart' was a not so subtle reference to Bulgarian
tennis player Grigor Dimitrov, a rumoured former boyfriend of Williams, who was
then dating Sharapova.
A few days later, at a Wimbledon news conference, Sharapova
aimed a trademark icy riposte at Williams.
"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," she said in reference to Patrick
Mouratoglou, who is still Williams's coach but was reportedly her boyfriend at
the time as well.
The fall-out from that spat was still sending shockwaves
through Wimbledon two years later when Mouratoglou said that Victoria Azarenka
- a former world number one and close friend of Williams - was a better player
than the Russian.
"I don't think you're ever going to hear nice words
from him about me," said Sharapova.
Meanwhile, adding even more spice to Monday's duel in the
dust at Court Philippe Chatrier is Williams's assertion that Sharapova is
almost obsessed by the American who is named more than 100 times in
"I was, like, this is really interesting...I didn't
know she looked up to me that much or was so involved in my career."
Monday's match, which will be third on Court Philippe
Chatrier, has already grabbed the attention of other players.
"I think the thing that makes Serena one of the
greatest of all time is just she takes everything with the same fire, and
everything she does, it's always at an extremely high level," said fellow
American Madison Keys who has already booked her spot in the quarter-finals.