As Wimbledon got underway on Monday, it seemed quite natural that world No1 Serena Williams and No3 seed Maria Sharapova were grabbing all the attention.
After all, the pair are considered the top two contenders for the title and are two of only three former champions in the women’s draw.
But Williams and Sharapova have been hogging the spotlight because they’ve been taking jabs at each others’ personal lives – the former through quotes printed in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine about Sharapova and her relationship with ATP player Grigor Dimitrov.
Sharapova struck back in her pre-Wimbledon interview and alluded to Williams’ rumoured relationship with her coach Patrick Mouratoglou, who was believed to be married when pictures of the pair surfaced on the internet.
Williams later said she apologised to Sharapova and also attempted to butter up the tennis media saying they had “spoiled her” with their professionalism over the years as she tried to place some of the blame on the Rolling Stone journalist.
Granted, tennis journalists give Serena liberties that perhaps others don’t get in their respective fields, which is evident in the fact that the pictures of her and Mouratoglou surfaced last autumn and I am yet to see a single tennis writer – myself included – quiz her about it.
But Serena has been on tour since 1995, has been in music videos, featured on shopping channels, has had documentaries made about her and has dated rappers, who then wrote songs about her.
Throughout her whole life she has been exposed to all types of media, and it’s odd that she would put herself in that position and badmouth a fellow player in front of a journalist, without realising that the quotes would see the light.
Regardless of how intentional or unintentional those comments were, this is far from the image that should be portrayed by the ladies of the WTA – cat fights, trash talk and discussing each others’ boyfriends in public.
Serena and Sharapova are currently the best two players on tour and between them own 20 Grand Slam singles titles. So while a little animosity between rivals is not a problem and no one expects them to be friends, stooping to such lows is unacceptable at this stage in their careers.
A mistake like that should not happen from Serena, and Sharapova should have taken the high road. Some think a showdown between the pair at Wimbledon this fortnight will have an added appeal but I can’t see how any of that can benefit tennis.
Borrowing Serena’s words from the interview: “Give it a rest, already”.
THUMBS UP – Monica Puig
The 19-year-old from Puerto Rico and a two-time junior Grand Slam finalist, took out No5 seed Sara Errani in straight sets at Wimbledon on the opening day.
While Errani’s record on grass is quite woeful, the Italian has made the semis or better in three of the last five Majors so kudos to Puig for dropping only five games against her and moving on.
She may not be the most popular on tour. She comes off as arrogant, was accused of gamesmanship a couple of times and is inexplicably dating a 37-year-old singer who dresses like it’s Halloween every day.
But one thing you can’t deny is that the Belarusian is a fighter and never gives up. On Monday was yet another showcase of her true grit as she hobbled into the second round playing through injury with a heavily bandaged leg to advance.
Few things have irritated me more than the way the organisers of the tournament at Queen’s Club handled a rainy semi-finals day in London.
With plenty of rain forecast for last Saturday, both semi-finals were scheduled back-to-back on Centre Court, starting with Lleyton Hewitt against Marin Cilic, followed by Andy Murray against Jo-Wilfried Tsonga.
When the rain interrupted the first match, organisers panicked and made the ridiculous and uncalled-for decision to move the Hewitt- Cilic contest – that had already started – to Court One , a court with almost no audience and no hawk-eye, so that the Centre Court crowd could watch Murray play Cilic before the rain started again and potentially wash out the rest of the day’s play.
First of all this is London – a place where rain is so common that checking the forecast isn’t really necessary. So for a tournament that dates back to the late 1800s, rain should not cause such panic and consequently poor decisions.
An ATP semi-finalist should not be asked to change courts midway through his match to be replaced by a more popular player. Hewitt and Cilic, both of whom are former champions at Queen’s Club, deserve an audience for their match and more importantly deserve the right to challenge a call.
If the organisers wanted to make sure Murray played his semifinal on Saturday, they could have initially scheduled him first or at least planned to play the semis on separate courts, alerting the players the day before.
But pushing Hewitt, a former world No1, a former Wimbledon champion and a four-time winner at the Queen’s Club to Court One so their precious Murray doesn’t face the possibility of playing two matches on Sunday is farcical.
The Scot wouldn’t have been the first nor the last player forced to play two matches in one day due to weather – it comes with the job and more specifically the territory.
Hewitt was polite enough to only say that the organisers’ decision was “weird”. I’m sure another player would have used harsher words.
While I’m not that surprised that the people at Queen’s came up with such a partisan decision I still find it appalling. It could well be Hewitt’s last showing there and it’s a shame that the incident could be his final experience at the tournament.
Thumbs up Andy Murray and Roger Federer
The former for winning the Queen’s Club title on his first tournament back from injury and the latter for pulling through some tough three setters against Tommy Haas and Mikhail Youzhny to win a 77th career title and tie John McEnroe for third place on the all-time titles winners list.
Thumbs down Wimbledon organisers
I know it seems that I have a general pickle with British tennis chiefs as I really don’t. But when I found out that Russia’s Alisa Kleybanova, who fought off cancer and is formulating a comeback, was denied a Wimbledon wildcard, you have to ask why?
The 23-year-old was ranked as high as No20 before she went off tour to receive treatment and while she wasn’t savvy enough to get into the Wimbledon draw with a protected ranking, I couldn’t think of anyone who could be more worthy of a wildcard.
Shot of the week Gael Monfils vs Tommy Haas (Halle Open)
Gael Monfils hit the craziest thing we’ve seen on a tennis court in quite a while in Halle last week. The French entertainer, who was trailing Tommy Haas 7-6, 3-5 in the quarter-finals, got a high ball from the German which any regular player would have simply smashed.
But not Monfils. He let the ball bounce between his legs then spun 180 degrees and hit a rotating smash with his back to the net. A couple of shots later his backhand down the line attempt was an inch wide and he lost the point. People are still talking about it though.
A strong field at Eastbourne sees Petra Kvitova and Caroline Wozniacki searching for some form on grass in the women’s, while in the men’s Milos Raonic and Gilles Simon head the seeds. More ATP and WTA action takes place in s-Hertogenbosch while Wimbledon qualifying gets underway.
* You can follow the author on @ReemAbulleil.
Roger Rasheed, the coach of Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, believes the Frenchman is mentally ready for his semi-final against David Ferrer on Friday, and insists the quarter-final victory over Roger Federer has not affected his energy levels.
Tsonga is carrying an enormous weight of expectation as he looks to become the first Frenchman to win Roland Garros since Yannick Noah lifted the Coupe des Mousquetaires 30 years ago.
But the No6 seed has passed each test he’s faced so far in Paris with flying colours and Rasheed will be surprised if Tsonga suffers any mental lapses in his last four clash.
“I don’t think he’s mentally spent. He’s had straight sets wins all through to the semi-finals, so has David Ferrer. So mentally he hasn’t had that massive five-set for four and a half hours that has taken him out,” Rasheed told Sport360°.
“So actually mentally he’s fully loaded really. I’d be disappointed if mentally he put in a poor performance on semi-final day.”
Rasheed, who teamed up with the Frenchman last October, after Tsonga had spent almost 18 months without a coach, appears to have a positive influence on his psyche and the Australian believes his mentee is handling the pressure quite well.
He added: “I think he feels pressure, which is natural. But he’s actually a lot more relaxed than he was before the tournament so I think now it’s automatic pilot a little bit and as I said to him ‘you’ve got to ride the wave’. That’s the wave that we expect to be on, though. Not by the way ‘wow, we’re here’. But we expect to be here. For him it’s about taking care of his business again in two days time.”
Over your shoulder: Tsonga practicising at Roland Garros with Rasheed looking on in the background.
Meanwhile, a very composed Tsonga tried to explain what Rasheed has brought to his game. He says he has made him more serious and that after spending some much-needed time alone without a coach, the Australian joined his team at the perfect timing.
“I was alone, but Ithink it was important for me to be alone and to understand that what I'm doing, I'm doing it because I like it,” said Tsonga.
“Sometimesit's tough to have somebody with you. They expect a lot. But you don't know if you expect the same things.
“So this period for me was really important to be alone and to understand how I like tennis and how I want to improve my game and which sacrifice I'm able to do.
“And then I choose to take Roger because I knewthisguy was able to give me his passion for the game.
“Also he's enthusiastic about everything, about tactics, about what is happening on the court, and also physically he's really pushing me. He wants me to do my best every day.”
On whether the fact that he has beaten Federer fairly easily has added another dimension of expectation of him, Tsonga says: “I hope for me it's going to be easy, exactly the same thing as I did at the beginning of the tournament.
“Because everybody's expecting a lot from me since the beginning of this tournament. Not only this tournament, but every day. So I'm used to it. I think it's going to be something simple for me.”
Tsonga says his problem will not be the pressure, but the fact that he will face a difficult and tireless opponent, who has also made the semis without dropping a set.
Ferrer leads Tsonga 2-1 head-to-head and the Spaniard won their most recent encounter in Bercy in Paris late last season.
The 28-year-old doesn’t want to get too carried away after a big win over Federer and says he knows better than to waste his energy on celebrating too soon.
Identifying Ferrer’s weaknesses, Tsonga said: “He fights. He never gives up. He runs a lot. He moves well. He can cover a lot of ground. He's extremely fast. He has a lot of endurance.
“But I feel I'm able to beat him because I believe I have the weapons for that. I'm have more endurance now. I'm more consistent. I hit harder than he does, and normally I'm supposed to serve a lot better than him.”
Meanwhile Ferrer is bracing himself for a match in front of a crowd that will most definitely be against him. But the No4 seed isn’t worried. He said: “I think it's quite normal the crowd is going to be support Jo. He's French, and I am very happy he's made it that far. I'll do everything I can to make it to the final.
“I have to remain focused. I don't want to worry too much about this.”
* You can follow the author on @ReemAbulleil