London • As her agent nodded along approvingly from a front-row seat, Serena Williams sounded contrite and composed. Well-rehearsed, too.
Williams even managed to crack herself up with a couple of jokes during her news conference at Wimbledon as the defending champion, where the primary topic was hardly her 31-match winning streak or her bid for a sixth title at the All England Club or her injured sister Venus’ absence from the field.
WimbledonMonday, 5 a.m.
TV » ESPN
Instead, more than half the questions at Sunday’s session revolved around themes generating the most buzz on the eve of tennis’ oldest and most prestigious Grand Slam tournament: what Williams was quoted as saying in a recent magazine article — and Maria Sharapova’s surprisingly forceful verbal swipe in reaction to that story.
"It definitely hasn’t been easy," the No. 1-ranked Williams said about the stir created by a Rolling Stone profile posted online Tuesday. "And I feel like I really wanted to say: I apologize for everything that was said in that article."
Williams already had issued a statement expressing regret for remarks about the 16-year-old victim in the Steubenville, Ohio, rape case.
On Sunday, Williams said she approached the No. 3-ranked Sharapova to try to smooth things over by extending an apology at a pre-tournament players’ party Thursday. The back-and-forth between two of the sport’s most popular and successful women can be traced to a passage where the story’s author surmised that something critical Williams said during a telephone conversation with her sister referred to Sharapova.
But Thursday’s interaction didn’t end the matter because Sharapova delivered this broadside at her news conference Saturday: "If she wants to talk about something personal, maybe she should talk about her relationship and her boyfriend that was married and is getting a divorce and has kids."
Given a chance to react directly to that swipe 24 hours later, Williams declined, saying: "I definitely was told of [Sharapova’s] comments. I definitely like to keep my personal life personal. I think it would be inappropriate for me to comment on it."
All in all, nothing tennis related has drawn nearly as much attention in the run-up to Wimbledon. That might change Monday, when play begins and four-time major champion Sharapova is among those scheduled to be on court, facing 37th-ranked Kristina Mladenovic of France. Also on the schedule: two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, 2011 Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova, and a matchup between up-and-coming Americans Sloane Stephens and Jamie Hampton.
The honor of the year’s first match on Centre Court goes to the defending men’s champion, Roger Federer.
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