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Serena Williams apologizes as she downplays tiff with Sharapova

By Ben Rothenberg

New York Times

LAST UPDATED: 12:06 p.m. HST, Jun 24, 2013

WIMBLEDON, England » The defending Wimbledon champion, Serena Williams, entered her pretournament news conference Sunday afternoon with a game face usually reserved for the late stages of the event.

WIMBLEDON, England » The defending Wimbledon champion, Serena Williams, entered her pretournament news conference Sunday afternoon with a game face usually reserved for the late stages of the event.

Williams carefully addressed comments made Saturday by Maria Sharapova in response to a recent profile in Rolling Stone, in which Williams, during a phone call with her sister Venus, appeared to criticize Sharapova for dating “the guy with a black heart.” She did not mention Sharapova by name in the article, but the profile’s author surmised she was speaking about Sharapova, who is dating the Bulgarian player Grigor Dimitrov. Dimitrov had been previously romantically linked to Williams.

“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,” Sharapova had said in her news conference Saturday of Williams’ relationship with her coach, Patrick Mouratoglou, who had previously been the coach of Dimitrov.

“I definitely was told of the comments,” Williams said of Sharapova’s remarks. “I definitely like to keep my personal life personal. I think it would be inappropriate for me to comment on it. But, yeah, I’ve always, in the past — you guys have known — I’ve kept my personal and professional life very private. I’m going to continue to do that.”

Williams also cautiously fielded questions about her musings, reported in the same article, on the Steubenville rape case, in which she seemed to show some sympathy for two teenagers convicted of rape and seemed to partly blame the victim.

“I apologize for everything that was said in that article,” said Williams, who had earlier issued an apology about her Steubenville remarks on her website, shortly after the article was published. “I feel like, you know, you say things without having all the information. It’s really important before you make certain comments to have a full list, have all the information, all the facts,” she said at the news conference.

“I reached out to the family immediately once the article came out, and I had a really productive, sincere conversation with the mother and the daughter. We came to a wonderful understanding, and we’re constantly in contact.”

Two Steubenville High School football players were convicted in March of raping a 16-year-old girl during a night of drinking in an Ohio case that drew national attention for the way social media spurred the initial prosecution and later helped galvanize national outrage.

Williams added that in addition to reaching out to the family of the Steubenville victim, she had sought out Sharapova and had also tried to apologize to Sharapova at the WTA pre-Wimbledon party Thursday night in Kensington.

“I made it a point to reach out to Maria as well, because she was inadvertently brought into the situation by assumptions made by the reporter,” she said. “I personally talked to Maria at the player party, incidentally. I said: ‘Look, I want to personally apologize to you if you are offended by being brought into my situation. I want to take this moment to just pour myself, be open, say I’m very sorry for this whole situation.’”

Though Williams criticized the author of the Rolling Stone article, Stephen Rodrick, for “eavesdropping” on her phone conversation, Williams chided herself for not showing the media savvy to keep herself out the imbroglio.

“I’ve been in the business for a little over 200 years, so I should definitely, definitely know better,” she said with a loud laugh. “I should know better to always have my guard up.”

Williams did say, however, that there was one comment of Sharapova’s she would take to heart.

“I know she also said that I should definitely focus on the tennis here, and I feel like that is another thing I can definitely take her advice on,” Williams said. “Maybe I wasn’t focused enough in the past on tennis. I’m definitely going to try to focus on that for the next two weeks.”

Williams’ title defense will begin Tuesday against Mandy Minella of Luxembourg. Williams and Sharapova are on opposite sides of the draw, meaning they will not meet unless they reach the final. Williams has dominated Sharapova for nearly a decade, winning their last 13 meetings — including the French Open final earlier this month — and holding a 14-2 overall record against her.

Williams is without a familiar companion at the tournament: her sister, Venus, who has back problems and is absent from Wimbledon for the first time since 1996. The Williams sisters have won the women’s doubles title five times here and are also tied at five Wimbledon singles titles apiece.

“She told me before I left, she said, ‘Snap out of it, it’s time for you to pass me,’” Serena recalled Venus saying. “So that was really encouraging. So hopefully, I’ll be able to do it.”

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