Rivalries sometimes shape competitors, for better or for worse, for life.  When engaged in a rivalry, it is not uncommon for one to fixate upon those whose standing they’re trying to usurp, or vice versa.  Some of the greatest rivalries of all-time featured opposing individuals whose every waking moment was spent trying to overcome the challenges raised by their respective counterparts.  

Many are familiar with how some of the greatest rivalries in American sports history contained a great deal of personal disdain.  In the beginning, NBA legends Larry Bird and Ervin “Magic” Johnson didn’t like one another very much, but all those negative emotions spawned from fiery competition faded away once the two evenly matched combatants got to know one another on a personal level.  

However, as was the case with Floyd Mayweather and Manny Pacquiao, some competitors will never see their rivals as friends and equals. 

Though we’d all like to believe that sports are simply adults playing games, these individuals have dedicated their lives to being among the very best.  They rise through the local, regional and national ranks, dominating their peers along the way.   

In sports, as in life, the cream rises to the top.  But there’s only so much room at the top.  So what happens when you feel like you’ve worked as hard as you could, even cheating a bit, but that work ethic simply isn’t enough to overcome your greatest adversary? 

That situation may have been playing in Maria Sharapova’s head for years regarding Serena Williams.  

2015 Day 10 Highlights, Serena Williams vs Maria Sharapova semi-final

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Yes, there have been shots fired from both directions in the press on many different occasions. Personal shots, seemingly unnecessary.  Here’s what Serena had to say back in 2013 when asked about Sharapova’s then-relationship with rumored Serena ex-Grigor Dimitrov.

"There are people who live, breathe and dress tennis. I mean, seriously, give it a rest." 

Serena exits the car and the conversation moves on to a top-five player who is now in love. 

"She begins every interview with 'I'm so happy. I'm so lucky' – it's sobering," says Serena in a loud voice. "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." 

Though Serena would later apologize, there has been absolutely no love lost between the two. 

In her new autobiography “Unstoppable: MY Life So Far”, Maria Sharapova has Serena’s name all up in her mouth like a frosty cupcake. This isn’t counter to the norm.  Tennis stars Andre Agassi and John McEnroe each disparaged the other on numerous occasions in the press and in their respective books as well.  

Unlike Agassi and McEnroe, though, Sharapova’s words tell us a great deal about the underlying reasons why being consistently, completely defeated by the object of her angst has been so hard to stomach.

“I think Serena hated me for being the skinny kid who beat her, against all odds, at Wimbledon,” she wrote. “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.”  

“First of all her physical presence is much stronger and bigger than you realize watching on TV,” she wrote. “She has thick arms and thick legs and is so intimidating and strong. It’s the whole thing – her presence, her confidence, her personality.’’

But what isn’t said is, along with Serena’s presence, confidence and personality is her race. Unless you’ve been living under a rock for 20 years, Serena Williams is unapologetically black in speak, culture, demeanor and passion.

Serena Williams VS Maria Sharapova Highlight Brisbane 2014 SF

Serena Williams VS Maria Sharapova Highlight Brisbane 2014 SF By CTXTENNISHD

When Sharapova, a Russian with blonde hair and devoid of curves, mentions Serena’s physical attributes as being part of the intimidation factor, it does give one reason to pause.  

Serena Williams is 19-2 head-to-head against Sharapova.  Sharapova beat Williams twice in 2004, but Serena has won 18 straight. How can this even be considered a rivalry?  Despite that record, Sharapova’s endorsements are more than double those of Serena’s even though the latter is considered by most as the greatest women’s tennis player of all-time.  

In January of 2016 following her latest defeat to Serena, Sharapova tested positive for the drug meldonium, which is used to treat coronary artery disease.  Meldonium is sold over the counter in Russia and was once used by Russian soldiers to increase stamina due to its ability to improve blood and oxygen flow.

She admitted to taking the drug for over 10 years but denied knowing it was a banned substance in pro tennis.  But due to the recent revelations of her fear of Serena, and her fixation on Serena’s physique, it appears that Sharapova just couldn’t stand being beat by another woman in a sport where she, a white woman, is supposed to be dominant.  Narcissism and prejudice are a sad intoxicant, indeed.