OVERSTEPPING

Maria Sharapova’s Vile, Racially Tinged Treatment of Serena Williams

The former tennis champion (and confirmed doper) has plenty to say about The Greatest in her upcoming memoir. And it’s all nonsense.

Photo Illustration by Sarah Rogers/The Daily Beast

To understand Maria Sharapova is to know that she had the gall to name her forthcoming memoir Unstoppable after she could not beat rival Serena Williams 18 times in a row, even with the aid of performance-enhancing drugs.

Sharapova’s aforementioned memoir, Unstoppable: My Life So Far, is set to be released next week, but early reviews have already made many of its passages available. She may have been praised for her comeback tour by the likes of Vogue, but there’s absolutely nothing to praise about the vile language weaponized against Serena Williams in the pages of her book.

Unstoppable is about everything that made Sharapova the kind of unflappable competitor who wouldn’t let a 15-month service interruption, or the very vocal disapproval of her peers, come between her and her ambition. This is the bildungsroman of a controversial champion, a portrait of the athlete as an uncommonly driven young woman,” Julia Felsenthal of Vogue writes, ignoring the fact that the “service interruption” was for cheating at her profession, and that Sharapova has been afforded her “unflappable” nature by virtue of her whiteness.

It is being the type of white woman that the Daily Mail often publishes attractive photos of in comparison to unflattering photos of Williams (snapped in moments of athletic prowess). Photos of Sharapova rarely show off her athleticism, because when she was revealed to be a doper, her athletic skill was called into question. The authorities that declared Sharapova went against the rules and concealed her use of meldonium somehow decided she didn’t use the drug in order to cheat, so she was given a lighter sentence than a standard two-year suspension.

But why else would a woman who claims in her memoir that her gift was “not strength or speed” but “stamina” conceal her use of rule-breaking drugs? “I never got bored. Whatever I was doing, I could keep doing it forever,” Sharapova writes, acknowledging that she is physically out of Williams’ league.

Sharapova, who beat Williams twice in 2004, has been unable to do it in over a decade—and it’s clearly haunted her. When referring to Williams, she doesn’t focus on her skill as an athlete. She instead resorts to the type of imagery that is often cast upon black bodies in contrast with white ones. “First of all her physical presence is much stronger and bigger than you realize watching TV. She has thick arms and thick legs and is so intimidating and strong. It’s the whole thing—her presence, her confidence, her personality,” Sharapova writes of first encountering Williams at 17. She follows it up with: “Even now, she can make me feel like a little girl.”

For someone who boldly claims she is “unstoppable,” Sharapova resorts to casting herself as Sarah Michelle Gellar’s Buffy, a coed battling vampires with a super-strength she didn’t know she possessed. A lot is written about Williams’ body and this year, John McEnroe said of Williams: “If she played the men’s circuit, she’d be like 700 in the world.” It’s because, to players like McEnroe and Sharapova, men are the real athletes. Women tennis players should be meek, should be feminine, and should be afraid of someone with Williams’ unique stature (one still not strong enough to beat men, apparently, but one that puts her above the “little girl[s]” she faces on the court).

Rather than focus on her own redemption after being suspended from tennis for drug use, Sharapova continues to keep Williams’ name in her mouth by sharing an intimate moment of Williams’ during her 2004 Wimbledon upset. “I think Serena hated me for being the skinny kid who beat her, against all odds, at Wimbledon. I think she hated me for taking something that she believed belonged to her. I think she hated me for seeing her at her lowest moment. But mostly I think she hated me for hearing her cry. She’s never forgiven me for it.”

The idea that Williams, who recently covered Vanity Fair, welcomed a new child into the world with her fiancé, and appeared in Beyoncé’s Lemonade, gives a fuck about Sharapova overhearing her cry 13 years ago is beyond ludicrous. But if you’re going to refer to your drug use as “this bullshit” and still not take responsibility for your actions, how else are you going to peddle copies of your book?