Serena Williams soap opera, starring Maria Sharapova, takes new twist

The return, when it came, skidded just inside the white lines of credibility for a winner on match point.

Rarely has Serena Williams moved so nimbly as when trying to repair the self-inflicted, mutually indiscreet damage of her love-tangled, word-mangled, rolling spat with Maria Sharapova.

One reply among many on Sunday gave us at least part of the story we had scrambled into the main interview room like slavering hounds to hear: "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.'"

But what did she apologise for? Serena left it unclear if it were for having said, "If she wants to be with the guy with a black heart, go for it," or the fact Rolling Stone reported that supposedly private remark while the magazine was trailing her around her home (with her consent) in February and exposed their poorly kept secret.

The guy with the black heart, for those who missed early episodes of this soap opera, is allegedly Grigor Dimitrov, who once stepped out with Serena, it is said, when they were both coached by Patrick Mouratoglou at his Paris academy and who lately, having left the academy, has been papped in Rome with Maria clinging to his arm. To round out the plot for latecomers, Maria on Monday observed of Serena: "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."

The boyfriend is said to be Mouratoglou, although nobody, least of all Serena, is confirming or denying that little twist. Maria's addition to the story line, by the way, followed the players' party in Kensington Gardens last Thursday at which Serena apologised to her.

So, several sidesteps later, did Maria accept Serena's apology at that party – two days before delivering her counter-thrust to the media at Wimbledon? "Well," Serena said, moving back towards the baseline, "we always have great conversations, so I believe that she definitely did accept it."

She believes so. But then this was not and never will be about transparency, even after the two leading ladies were embarrassed in print.

It was and always will be about applying a tourniquet to a bleeding wound – or, actually, two tourniquets to two bleeding wounds.

Serena was fighting on a couple of fronts, however. As well as kid-gloving the formidable Russian, she had to deal with the other embarrassing element of that Rolling Stone interview, her insensitive remarks about a 16-year-old victim of rape in Ohio. "In talking to [the girl's family] and learning the whole story, you just learn how strong the young girl is, how strong she's been to be able to make it through this process, which I think is incredible.

"One of the first things I did was reach out to the family. Not only that, I made it a point to reach out to Maria, as well, because she was inadvertently brought into the situation by assumptions made by the reporter."

We now had several victims and another villain. She added: "I think it's important what I've learned this week: mostly that it's so important to know all the facts before you make a comment or before you make an assumption. That's something I'm still learning. I'm still every day learning and experiencing and trying to grow. I feel, like, until you know the facts, that's all you can do."

Do we know all the facts? No, and we might not until all of this ends up in a book. We will be accused of being predatory, of intruding on their privacy but, as Serena pointed out, "I've been in the business for a little over 200 years, so I should definitely, definitely know better."

When Sharapova next has the pleasure of sparring with the media here (after her match on Monday), no doubt the agreed level of obfuscation will remain high. Frankly, who could blame either of them? They are caught in a public relations nightmare and are keen to "move on", as the saying goes.

However, if they meet in the final of this Wimbledon, the defending champion will be delighted, having beaten Maria 13 times in a row, most recently in the French Open final. That is a lot of revenge for losing to the blonde teenager when she won her first title here in 2004. Then there is the other stuff.

There is no escaping it is an epic narrative, although not brilliant for the innocent parties involved. Neither player wanted these exchanges to come out, yet both of them were complicit. Maybe they wanted someone else to do their dirty work. Maybe those suckers were us.

Powered by article was written by Kevin Mitchell at Wimbledon, for The Guardian on Monday 24th June 2013 00.04 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © Bruno Girin