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Things You Don’t Know About Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova — See Details…

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One is a smouldering ember, the other an icicle.

Elementally, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova are on opposite ends of the emotional spectrum in tennis.

Rivalry is a misnomer for whatever has transpired between these two exceptional women. Feud, maybe, closer to the truth.

Ever since, as Sharapova has recounted it, Williams was overheard saying in the locker room about the upstart 17-year-old who had just routed her in the 2004 Wimbledon final: “I will never lose to that little bitch again.”

She hasn’t.

Nineteen match wins in a row, as of Monday evening in the rollicking environs of the U.S. Open. And the latest was a monstrous, merciless thrashing, 6-1, 6-1.

Oof.

Fifty-nine minutes of Williams at her explosive, dynamic best against an opponent who had no counterpunch to offer.

There were indications in the first three games of the star-power spectacle that the Arthur Ashe audience might get memorable value for the buck. Both players are first-strike artists and Sharapova came out aggressive, risk-taking. But a clearly stoked Williams clamped down, slamming the door on any faint hope Sharapova may have entertained of reverse-thrust against her nemesis.

Only in the fourth frame of the second set did Sharapova get a first sniff at a break point but Williams saved two of them and held with a breathtaking backhand down the line. Williams allowed just a handful of openings throughout the entire match and Sharapova didn’t rise to the opportunities.

Sharapova, to her misery, has always brought out the ruthlessness in Williams.

“When you play her, you have to be super-focused,” Williams said courtside afterward. “So anytime I come up against her, I just bring out some of my best tennis.”

She has only lost to Sharapova twice and not since 2004. They hadn’t even confronted each other across a net in three-and-a-half years — and never before, weirdly, at Flushing Meadows.

In a way, they’ve been on parallel career tracks, though clearly the Williams train is a high speed bullet while Sharapova has scarcely been chugging along these last five years or so. Perhaps only as fashionistas do, the two ladies stand shoulder to shoulder: Williams in a long-sleeved black onesie on this night under the bright lights, Sharapova in an elegant dusky-blue tennis version of a cocktail dress.

Mostly, however, they’ve rubbed each other the wrong way, diva to diva.

That the Amazonian blonde revisited the aforementioned “bitch” incident in her 2017 memoirs, Unstoppable: My Life So Far, only added fuel to the fire.

Except Williams has now stopped Sharapova cold in 20 of 22 completed matches over the course of their careers, a rolling humiliation that continued in their first-round Open showdown — the venue where Williams was last seen (and heard) a year ago having a temper meltdown in the final she lost to Naomi Osaka, her rage directed at the chair umpire. And enough said about that.

So, the 37-year-old old has pretty much owned the 32-year-old. The lopsided dominance was the subtext as they put their long-simmering discord on the line in the highly anticipated clash. As Osaka told reporters on the weekend: “Of course I’m going to watch it. I think everyone in New York is going to watch it.”

Everyone everywhere with even a passing interest in tennis.

It should have been a final, given all the enthralling drama of their shared history. A quirky draw rendered it a Grand Slam appetizer instead.

It must be said that neither of the ladies had been at their finest in recent months. While Sharapova is five years younger, age has caught up with both worn-down bodies. Williams withdrew from her two most recent tour gigs, including the back spasms that forced a final fizzle against Bianca Andreescu at the Rogers Cup a couple of weeks ago. Sharapova’s quest for redemption following a 15-month suspension for using the banned drug meldonium has been plagued by injuries, and she has twice gone under the knife to repair her shoulder, most recently in February.

Both are former world No. 1s, though Williams held that status on eight lengthy occasions between 2002 and 2017. Each is running out of time to burnish her bona fides — Williams thwarted since the 2017 Australian Open in pursuit of a record-equalling 24th major title, Sharapova rambling around at the wrong end of the top 100, entering this Open at No. 87.

The Siberian-born Sharapova — really, she’s as Americano as they come by this point in her expat life — is still adored by audiences and sponsors, even if a competitive outlier, so often a one-and-done in her appearances. Those celebrity chops have rankled Williams, especially the endorsement anointments. She is, after all, the greatest female tennis player ever. (Don’t @ me.)

All the easy tropes are there, to draw a squabble ’n’ strife narrative between the two. Too easy and mutually demeaning.

In her autobiography, Sharapova wrote: “Serena and I should be friends; we have the same passion. But we are not. I think, to some extent, we have driven each other. Maybe that’s what it takes. Only when you have that intense antagonism can you find the strength to finish her off. Who knows? Some day, when all this is in the past, maybe we’ll become friends.”

There are tremendous friendships among women on the women’s tour. Williams was a bridesmaid at Caroline Wozniacki’s June wedding.

Williams spoke about her enriching amiga-ships when she was in Toronto. “When I was travelling a lot, I would literally see them more than my parents. So, it’s been an extended family. They’re colleagues as well as your competition. You end up growing to have a lot of respect for all these women out here, travelling and working and playing. Literally you see them every week. We get along, we hang out, we go to each other’s weddings. It’s made me realize these are lifelong friendships and experiences that so few people can have. Because there are so few people that play tennis on this level.”

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