Before Williams withdrew from the French Open, a journalist asked if she was intimidated by Sharapova’s looks.
Serena Williams withdrew from the French Open on Monday, less than an hour before she was due to face Maria Sharapova on the court. The tennis ace, whose appearance in Paris was her first major tournament since giving birth to her daughter last September, said she had suffered a pectoral injury two days earlier that meant she couldn’t serve.
“I made a promise to myself, my coach and my team that, if I’m not at least 60% or 50%, then I probably shouldn’t play,” Williams said at a press conference.
“The fact that I can’t physically serve at all is a good indication that maybe I should just go back to the drawing board and stay positive and not get it to a point where it could be a lot worse.”
Despite the fact that Williams has beaten Sharapova in 19 of their 21 matches against each other, the Russian ace is generally painted in the press as her fiercest competition – meaning that their match had been one of the most hotly-anticipated of the French Open.
This supposed enmity meant that a journalist thought it was appropriate, over the weekend, to ask Williams a bizarrely sexist question that somehow managed to invoke Sharapova’s shoulders and praise Donald Trump, all in the same breath.
“I have been waiting about 14 years to ask you this question,” said Bill Simons, the editor of Inside Tennis magazine, ahead of her planned face-off with Sharapova.
“After the 2004 Wimbledon match with Maria, I had the opportunity to interview Donald Trump on his LA golf course, and he said that Maria’s shoulders were incredibly alluring and then he came up with his incredible analysis: that you were intimidated by her supermodel good looks.”
Not pausing to contemplate whether he was the first person ever to compliment the US president’s incredible analytical prowess, Simons ploughed on: “My question is: have you ever been intimidated by anyone on a tennis court, and what are your thoughts about that occurrence?”
Williams, to her credit, did not laugh in Simons’ face or get up and leave the interview.
“I honestly don’t have any thoughts about that,” she said. “I can’t say I have been intimidated by anyone. That’s all. That’s it.”
On Monday, Simons posted an apology on Twitter in which he said he never intended to “empower Trump or attack Serena”.
Sharapova herself has stoked the idea that there is a unique and strangely personal rivalry between herself and Williams, with a significant part of her 2017 autobiography dedicated to their fraught relationship. However, upon hearing that Williams had been forced to withdraw from their match, she issued a statement wishing her well.
“I was looking forward to my match against Serena today and am disappointed she had to withdraw,” Sharapova said. “I wish her a speedy recovery and hope she returns to the tour soon.”
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