Maria Sharapova has responded to criticism regarding the words she used to describe Serena Williams in her book ‘Unstoppable: My life so far’ during an interview on the American talk show ‘The View‘ on Tuesday.
The Russian five-time Grand Slam champion officially released her memoir on Tuesday and made numerous television appearances to promote it.
In her book, Sharapova talks about the first time she faced Williams in a match — in Miami in 2004 — saying: “First of all, her physical presence is much stronger and bigger than you realise watching TV. She has thick arms and thick legs and is so intimidating and strong. And tall, really tall.”
Sharapova’s words were deemed racist by some and she was asked about the controversy by one of the The View‘s hosts, Sunny Hostin.
“You’re receiving a lot of flak from the African-American community the way you described her in the book. You say she had thick legs and thick arms. What do you say to people that are saying ‘why would you use those terms in describing your opponent’?” asked Hostin.
Sharapova replied: “I think you have to understand that I’m speaking from an image of being a 17-year-old girl and seeing Serena Williams in front of me for the first time. I wasn’t physically developed at all, I did not belong at a Wimbledon final, so everything about her presence was intimidating to me.”
Sharapova, who reached the US Open fourth round earlier this month, playing her first Grand Slam tournament back from her doping suspension, said she had to discuss her rivalry with Williams in her book because her win over the 23-time major champion in the Wimbledon final in 2004 played a huge part in her career.
“The whole experience of playing Serena as a 17-year-old girl was incredible, because I grew up practicing in an academy in Florida for so many years and I watched Serena and Venus practice at the academy, hundreds of spectators were watching – literally I was watching the next 25 years of my life right in front of me, unknowingly.
“And then you find yourself at 17 across the net from her. It was like someone just put me inside a TV screen and said ‘here you are, you’ve got a chance to play Serena’,” the ex-world No. 1 added.
“It was our second meeting and the first one, we had just played a few months beforehand, I lost easily, I thought it would take me years to get to her level. She was way above and beyond my level at the time. So playing against her, she was the two-time defending champion, and I speak about that rivalry in the book because that match was a huge part of my life and my career, it’s where it all started for me.”
Sharapova, who returned from her doping ban last April, fielded multiple questions regarding her failed drugs test throughout the day, which started with an appearance on Good Morning America, before stopping by The View and The Daily Show.
Hostin did not make it easy for Sharapova, asking her about the drug meldonium, that led to her failing the test.
“What do you say to the people that are now saying ‘well, the only reason you were No. 1 in the world, the only reason you that you were so dominant is because you were taking a supplement?” said Hostin.
Sharapova replied: “I think it’s such an interesting thing, because when something is legal for so many years, and you take it once during the time that it wasn’t and then people are able to say that, then that’s not facts. So, it was what it was, I went through it, I got through it and I found myself playing at the US Open so…”
Michael Strahan of Good Morning America tried to get Sharapova to talk about how she and her team did not know meldonium was added to the prohibited substances list at the start of 2016.
“We’re going to dive right into it as you do in the book,” said Strahan. “We’re going to talk about the suspension. In the beginning of the book you talk about it, you call it a sloppy mistake. You say you didn’t realise that meldonium was illegal at that time, or on the suspended list, how does that happen?”
She deflected by saying: “It’s a question I was asking for quite some time but once you get past that, it’s time to move on.
“The US Open was an incredible moment for me, I knew what I went through, I knew all the ups and downs I had faced over the last couple of years. Being away from the sport was really difficult, I’ve done this since I was a young girl, so to get that back – that was my dream, that was my wish and I made that happen.”