LONDON (Reuters) – Serena Williams launched a charm offensive on Sunday as she sought to broker a truce with Maria Sharapova and calm the storm surrounding comments she made about a rape victim.
On the eve of Wimbledon, where she is defending champion, the pre-tournament focus has been on an interview she gave to Rolling Stone magazine that touched on a high-profile teenage rape case in Ohio and brought her into conflict with her Russian rival Sharapova.
The piece included an account of a private conversation between Serena and her sister Venus that the reporter interpreted as an attack on Sharapova’s relationship with Bulgarian player Grigor Dimitrov.
Sharapova, soundly beaten by Serena in the French Open final earlier this month, hit back on Saturday telling the world number one to keep her nose out of other people’s business, adding an edge to the women’s competition at the grasscourt slam.
The controversial interview quoted Serena as talking about a “a top-five player who is now in love”.
It added: “She begins every interview with ‘I’m so happy. I’m so lucky’ – it’s so boring. She’s still not going to be invited to the cool parties. And, hey, if she wants to be with the guy with a black heart, go for it’.”
While Serena did not deny making the comments, she was clearly angry that her private words had ended up in print.
Williams was in a relaxed mood ahead of making her Wimbledon bow against Luxembourg’s Mandy Minella on Tuesday, blowing air-kisses with golfer Rory McIlroy as she waited in the wings to greet reporters.
A light-hearted chat about her prospects of surpassing Venus and winning a sixth Wimbledon title, however gave way after just five gentle questions.
The subject turned to her comments in the same Rolling Stone interview when she appeared to assign blame to a 16-year-old rape victim for being drunk.
She reiterated her earlier apology and said she had been in close contact with the victim’s family.
(Reporting by Toby Davis; Editing by John Mehaffey)