SPOTLIGHT ON TENNIS

Serena Williams takes high road after Sloane Stephens’ comments

 

mkaufman@MiamiHerald.com

Women’s tennis has been criticized for lacking spicy rivalries. Well, we now have Serena Williams vs. Sloane Stephens.

For those who missed the news earlier this week, Stephens took shots at Williams in an ESPN The Magazine story, criticizing the 15-time Grand Slam winner for being phony and for ignoring her after Stephens beat Williams in the Australian Open quarterfinals in January.

“She’s not said one word to me, not spoken to me, not said hi, not looked my way, not been in the same room with me since I played her in Australia,” said Stephens, who grew up in Plantation. “And that should tell everyone something, how she went from saying all these nice things about me to unfollowing me on Twitter.

“Like, seriously! People should know. They think she’s so friendly and she’s so this and she’s so that — no, that’s not reality! You don’t unfollow someone on Twitter, delete them off of BlackBerry Messenger. I mean, what for? Why?”

For years, reporters have assumed that Williams, 31, is a mentor to Stephens, 20, because they are both black, but neither player has ever suggested that. In fact, both have gone out of their way to refute that notion. Williams has said she is fiercely competitive and cannot mentor another player on tour because she views all the other players as competitors. Stephens has said that while she admired Williams and all her accomplishments, her favorite player growing up was Kim Clijsters.

Stephens went a step further in the ESPN story, saying Williams has not been helpful to her at all.

“If you mentor someone, that means you speak to them, that means you help them, that means you know about their life, that means you care about them. Are any of those things true at this moment? No.”

Williams refused to bite on Stephens’ comments. After winning her second-round match at the Madrid Open on Tuesday, she was asked about it and said all the right things: “I don’t have many thoughts. I’m a big Sloane Stephens fan and always have been. I’ve always said that I think she can be the best in the world. I’ll always continue to think that and always be rooting for her.’’

Stephens then tweeted: “Guilty of being naïve. Much respect 4@serenawilliams, a champ & the GOAT. We spoke, we’re good. ONWARD!’’

Maria Sharapova, another rival of Williams’, weighed in on the issue after winning her 17th consecutive clay match at the Madrid Open. She applauded Stephens for being honest, but said she understands why Williams would not necessarily consider herself a mentor to another woman on tour.

“When I’m on the courts or when I’m on the court playing, I’m a competitor and I want to beat every single person whether they’re in the locker room or across the net. So I’m not the one to strike up a conversation about the weather and know that in the next few minutes I have to go and try to win a tennis match. I’m a pretty competitive girl. I say my hellos, but I’m not sending any players flowers as well.

“So it was nice to see that she spoke honestly about it. I think people have different perceptions of different athletes. It’s nice that someone spoke up about how they feel.”

There were off-court headlines on the men’s tour, as well, this week. John Tomic, the father of Australian player Bernard Tomic, was arrested in Madrid for allegedly head-butting his son’s hitting partner, Thomas Drouet. Drouet also said he and another witness saw the elder Tomic punch 20-year-old Bernard in the head last week in Monaco.

“I want to make it understood that this man is violent and dangerous,” Drouet told the French sports newspaper L’Equipe. “Unpredictable, too.”

“Bernard was bleeding around the mouth, the teeth; there was blood on the court. All that because Bernard had told him that he had had enough of hearing his criticisms. I didn’t intervene as I have read I did other places. Afterward, John took Bernard’s three rackets and destroyed them. Bam. Bam. Bam. A half-hour later, he was joking with Bernard.”

The ATP announced on Tuesday that it has suspended Tomic’s credentials at all tournaments while it completes its investigation. The ITF did the same to ensure he does not attend any matches of his 15-year-old daughter, Sara.

If Tomic is found guilty, he faces up to three years in prison.

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