Maria Sharapova Calls Serena Williams’ ‘Thick Arms and Thick Legs’ Intimidating

In her new memoir, Sharapova talks about her rivalry with Williams, including emphasizing her physique.

In 2004, a 17-year-old Maria Sharapova beats Serena Williams in the women's final match at Wimbledon. REUTERS

In tennis player Maria Sharapova’s new memoir, her one-sided rivalry against Serena Williams, which Sharapova admits began in her own mind, takes a stereotypical turn in regard to body image. She chooses to describes Williams’ body, including her “thick arms and thick legs” that are “so intimidating.”

Sharapova, 30, became the first Russian woman to win Wimbledon, went on to hold the No. 1 spot and won four more Grand Slam tournaments. The International Tennis Federation suspended her for two years in 2016 after she tested positive for a banned substance. But following an appeal, Sharapova’s suspension was reduced to 15 months. She returned to competition in April.

In her memoir released Tuesday, “Unstoppable: My Life So Far,” she writes about the suspension and her struggles of leaving a small Russian town with her father to come to Florida in order to train at tennis academies, knowing little English and arriving with only $700.

But Sharapova puts a lot of emphasis on Williams in the book, beginning in the prologue, mentioning her 2004 Wimbledon win against the then two-time defending champion.

“Serena Williams has marked the heights and the limits of my career — our stories are intertwined,” Sharapova writes. “I approach every match against her with trepidation and respect. It was Serena whom I beat in the Wimbledon final to emerge on the international stage at 17, and it’s Serena who’s given me the hardest time since. I’ve beaten all the players who have beaten Serena, but it’s been nearly impossible for me to beat Serena herself. There’s a reason for this — she knows it and she knows that I know. It’s our secret.”

Sharapova goes on to mention in the book that as she trained to become a professional tennis player, the more she heard about Serena and Venus Williams, “the more determined I became not to be beaten down, or submit.”

“That’s when the rivalry began for me … in my mind, before I’d even seen the Williams sisters,” she writes. “They’re a force. Tall girls in tennis whites, with bright smiles and piercing, focused eyes.”

Sharapova also writes about her perception of Serena Williams’ physique and being intimidated when they had their first match in 2004 in Miami.

“First of all, her physical presence is much stronger and bigger than you realize watching TV,” Sharapova writes.

“She has thick arms and thick legs and is so intimidating and strong. And tall, really tall. I looked across the net, and, no way to get around it, she was just there! More there than other players, if that makes sense. It’s the whole thing — her presence, her confidence, her personality.”

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Sharapova, who is only five years younger than Williams, and taller, continued with her description of the athlete.

“She was a grown woman, experienced, the best player in the world. It still feels that way. Even now, she can make me feel like a little girl.”

Williams topped the Women’s Tennis Association rankings in May at No. 1 following her Australian Open victory, which was her last match before announcing her pregnancy. She and fiancé Alexis Ohanian, co-founder of Reddit, welcomed their first child on Sept. 1.

She has won 23 Grand Slam titles, and is expected to compete for Grand Slams upon her return. In January 2016, Williams beat Sharapova on the tennis court for the 18th straight time. “Serena’s decade-long domination of Sharapova is astonishing,” according to the Business Insider.

Though, as Sharapova illustrates, talk about Williams’ athletic ability almost always includes talk about her body.

Yolanda L. Jackson told DiversityInc that because of Williams’ talent, she has been prone to scrutiny about her appearance.

“I think that ever since Serena and Venus arrived on the scene, their appearance had always been a topic for criticism,” said Jackson, who now owns a sports marketing firm after serving as senior director of athlete marketing and promotions at the Women’s Sports Foundation for more than 20 years.

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“It started when they wore beads in their hair and continued as they advanced. Serena especially has been targeted because she’s the greatest tennis player of all time. That very fact makes her prime for attacks. The more she achieves, the more people will try to find something wrong with her.”

A 2013 Rolling Stone article, “Serena Williams: The Great One,” states, “Here are the facts. Serena is the number-one tennis player in the world. Maria Sharapova is the number-two tennis player in the world. Sharapova is tall, white and blond, and, because of that, makes more money in endorsements than Serena … [Serena] has done heaps of good as a role model for the non-Sharapovas of the world.”

Williams said in the interview that she “had to get comfortable with knowing that one of my weaknesses was my weight.”

“Especially growing up with Venus, who’s so tall and slim and model-like, and me, I’m thick and hips and everything,” Williams said. “I used to feel like I wanted to be her. I wanted to be thin, but it wasn’t me, so I had to learn that I’m going to have larger boobs. I’m going to be bigger, and just enjoy that. So I think it’s good for a lot of other girls who are curvy or more bodacious to be confident in themselves.”

In regard to strong physiques and women tennis players, Jackson said tennis great Martina Navratilova set a precedent for “what it takes to be a champion and win tournaments.”

“She was the first female tennis player to create a fitness routine where she would work out in the gym to gain strength and out-play her opponents,” she said.

In her memoir, Sharapova describes walking into the clubhouse after the 2004 Wimbledon match and overhearing Williams crying after losing.

“People talk about Serena’s strength, her serve and confidence, how her particular game matches up to my particular game, and, sure there is truth to all of that; but, to me, the real answer was there, in this locker room, where I was changing and she was bawling. I think Serena hated me for being the skinny kid who beat her, against all odds, at Wimbledon.”

The “skinny kid who beat her, against all odds?”

“Actually, I think Maria was being self-deprecating,” Jackson said. “Serena has always promoted her body and even posted Instagram videos of her workout routine. That’s not the action of someone who might be envious of someone who clearly cannot be compared to her physique.”

Sharapova does refer to herself as “skinny” several times in the book and also makes many references to having blond hair. In one part, she says when arrived in Florida as a young girl and started attending a training academy she was compared to Anna Kournikova.

“Tennis is a sport populated by fierce parents,” she writes. “Before my arrival, Anna had been the only Russian prospect at the academy, a cute blond prodigy. Then I turned up, just as blond, hitting just as well, but even younger. And getting better every day.”

Ironically, she laments that she was compared to Kournikova solely based on appearance and nationality, not ability.

“Anna Kournikova was a standout at the academy, and I was compared to her from the very beginning because we were both Russians, because we were both blond … We don’t look alike, don’t act alike, and our tennis games are very different. But the only thing the public saw was hair color and country of origin.”

So why then does Sharapova choose to make Williams’ physical appearance a factor in their “rivalry?”

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  • I think people need not take this out of context and make it a ‘thing’ – I totally get it. Serena has thick arms/legs – most athletes do, especially Black athletes. I just heard Maria discuss this on The View. She was mostly saying what she felt at the time as a 17 year old when she played Serena. I think their relationship is what it is and the don’t need the public ‘tainting’ it. In addition, KEEP READING – she also said how she respects Serena. And on The View she said Serena “owns” her. That’s such a complement for her to say that about one of her opponents/rivals/fellow athletes. #dontmakeitathing #teamSerena

    • In the words of Barry White (as a black man the last name came in perfect for the color. So the use is intended)—


  • So why then does Sharapova choose to make Williams’ physical appearance a factor in their “rivalry?”

    In my experience, competitive women are quite often snidely, insincerely complimenting a rival’s looks and accomplishments.

    • It’s a factor because in their rivalry—it’s a factor. It’s sports. Physical competition. They say there’s never been a player as big, as fast, as quick and as strong as Lebron James. Why aren’t those comments news on a diversity site? Because like this, it’s not news. As a black man I’m offended that you would try and make this a black vs white thing. Sorry Sharapova for the writer of the story “making a mountain out of a mole hill”. Pun INTENDED!!!

      • Ha ha. Hey “Barry”, I have a very hard time believing you’re Black. I’m reading your words and ring so false and hollow. Nice try.

  • Typical response as if we have some extra strength being thick.. Well she can eat some food and lift weights and get her weight on the women from Europe come in all sizes and shapes she just mad because she can’t beat her a tennis

  • Bill Schmaltz

    I don’t see Sharapova’a comments as being critical or stereotypical. To me, they were an an indication of her intimidation (and perhaps awe) relative to what she perceived as Serena having greater strength and athleticism.

  • To answer your question because that’s what she thinks the reader wants to hear. She understands who her market is and where she lives. I feel sorry for her because she wrote a book and ends up talking about someone else throughout the book. That sounds like low self-esteem and jealousy to me.

    I think Serena and anyone else with a “thick body” should take her description in the book as a compliment. Serena does have “thick arms and thick legs” and they are beautiful. These body parts make her exceptionally strong. None of us should let anyone define us. Take her language and turn it around on her; highlight the good in having Serena’s body type. Finally, I think she mentions physical appearance because that’s what happens when it comes to women. Men compare us and women compare themselves to other women whether they say it out loud or not.

    Serena is number one in the world and when you hold that role people will come for you. As long as Serena knows her worth (and she really seems confident about who she is) then the rest is all white noise.

  • First, she titled her book wrong… It should read “Unstoppably Tone Deaf” or “Unstoppable Mediocrity”. If I lost 18 consecutive times AND couldn’t even win while doping… I wouldn’t keep talking about the person that beat me.

    She’s once AGAIN playing into the fantasy that a black person, a black woman is more intimidating or dangerous than her, a frail delicate flower of white womanhood. She’s taller than Serena by several inches, but you don’t hear Serena talking about being intimidated by Maria looming over her looking down at her. She needs to take a stadium of seats.

    • This is damn-near exactly what I thought. She’s almost playing the victim here.

    • Exactly… Poor, fragile, delicate, little white flower of womanhood, got beat by that big, angry, muscle-bound black woMAN.

      Give me a break.

      And, Barry, hand in your black (if you actually are) card. ‘Cause you’re fired.

      This is the same tired trope white people pull out again and again – when it’s convenient –
      the big black, intimidating, super-human stengthed, dangerous black people.

      • Charity Dell

        MEH227–Part of this nonsense is THE WORSHIP OF THE BARBIE DOLL, the mentality that pervades
        discussions of women’s bodies in general, and female athletes in particular. Much of Euro-American female ideal
        body image is based upon the Barbie Doll Body Type–THIN ECTOMORPHS WITH LONG LEGS–that is promoted
        by the fashion industry and media moguls. This Barbie Doll Image is constantly pushed upon females as some
        kind of “ideal” body type; a totally UNREALISTIC and IMPRACTICAL view of female bodies. Many ECTOMORPHS
        also excel at sports for which they have trained, but that does not mean that female mesomorphs and ENDOMORPHS (shorter-waisted, stocky) should leave all athletic pursuits to those shaped like George Balachine’s
        Blighted Vision of Anorexic Ballerinas or the Fashion Models of “Haute Couture.”

        1. Female athletes with MESOMORPHIC STRUCTURES–such as the Williams sisters–will always have an
        advantage in many sports, just as their male counterparts do. The MESOMORPH body is typically
        stockier than the ECTOMORPH, with muscular development more pronounced and prominent throughout
        the body structure. Mesomorphs who train long and hard usually do well in any number of sports, due to the
        superior strength of the musculature. Venus and Serena are mesomorphs who have honed the body
        to perfection through their training regimens.

        2. Our whole nation needs to stop worshiping Barbie and encourage all females to not only accept
        the human body in all its phenotypes, but to also accept the ATHLETIC version of DEVELOPED
        MUSCULATURE that ECTOMORPHS, MESOMORPHS and ENDOMORPHS (usually short-waisted, rounder)
        cultivate in pursuit of ATHLETIC PERFECTION. For those of us who are not athletically-inclined, PHYSICAL
        FITNESS should not be defined by unrealistic, exaggerated Barbie Doll or Super-Model images taken from
        magazines and television. If I spent 6-8 hours daily training my body to perform athletic tasks, I would soon
        shed the classic Middle-Age Pear I’m schlepping around! :-) However, given that I am not driven to win Olympic
        medals in any sport, I am willing to work at just getting back to my ideal weight and shedding these Inconvenient Spare Tires and Donuts my torso has accumulated through too much “Sitting-At-The-Computer” Syndrome. :-)
        of unwanted fat I’ve accumulated.

  • Sharapova didn’t understand. Williams wasn’t jealous of her but envious of the climate which dictates a #1 ranked player is treated like she’s #2 or below because of her skin color and acts of body shaming.

    I think Sharapova is projecting her feelings on to Williams. I think Sharapova is jealous of Williams based on her skills and because she could never have the naturally athletic body both Williams have.

  • “So why then does Sharapova choose to make Williams’ physical appearance a factor in their “rivalry?””
    Huh? Because it’s an athletic contest, and Serena has an amazingly athletic body?
    Would you say that if it were a boxing match?

  • I know that Serena will take the high road on this as she has with similar comments. No one else can define beauty for us, and that’s not a consideration on that tennis court. Oh, it’s so hard for many to swallow that she demonstrates that a beautiful woman of color can own the game of tennis when people still tend to question whether this is our sport, in spite of the evidence. What a cultural adjustment people had to make when those Williams sisters first starting claiming tennis. I smile when I remember the clack, clack, clacking of their braid beads on the courts. It’s time for folks to just give it up.

    • And the pronounced grunts when they would send that ball flying back over the net at a gazillion miles per hour! If it weren’t for the Williams sisters, I never would have heard of Sharapova. Never watched tennis at all until the Williams sisters came on the scene! They made the matches exciting.

      • You make a critical point. Before the Williams sisters, before Tiger, before Jackie Robinson… White men made a lot more money after they decided to break the color line.

        Kind of.

        Football, foe example, has 70% Black players, 10% Black coaches, 0% Black owners.

        That’s called a plantation.

  • Bettie O McLeod

    Let’s face it. We live in a world where being born with blond hair is tantamount to winning a multi-billion dollar lottery. Aryan race prejudice can be seen and heard everywhere, if you pay attention, and even if you try not to pay attention it’s pushed in your face. Sharapova is just another product of her indoctrination, which is why we should be wary of the subtle racist messages that leak into public discourse like weeds in a flower garden, and publicly decry the ignorant carriers of these dangerous beliefs.

    • Charity Dell

      BETTIE–Women in general are pressured into THE WORSHIP OF BLONDE HAIR.
      There are hundreds of shades of human hair, and most humans will have some shade of brunette hair.
      Yet, I see a gazillion TV reporters with Bleached Blonde Helmets of some kind or other, because the fashion
      industry has convinced people that only Flaxen Towheads should be allowed to “have more fun.” I realize that
      many children may be born with light blonde locks, and these locks also change color, as they were genetically
      programmed to do. Maybe some people are worshiping the Blondness Of Early Childhood–a fleeting, temporary
      stagee of human hair color. However, hair, like skin, comes in a dazzling array of hues, shades and tints, so
      there is no need for people–like Number 45–to feel COMPELLED to be “Blonde Only.”

  • When [poor] whites are jealous of the accomplishments of Blacks, they resort to ignorant, petty, b!tch comments about our physical appearance. I’ve never known a white woman who ever resisted being in bed with a big Black buck with thick legs, chest and arms (male or female).

    It reflects how simple-minded, jealous and envious white women are towards successful Black women, especially educated or rich ones. Because as former slaves, we outperform whites every time we get an opportunity. These petty b!tches also commented on the gymnast, Gabby Douglas ‘ nappy hair.

    • God in heaven, DI owner Luke, you ignore or refuse about a quarter of my comments, and you stalk and shadow the ones you do allow, almost always arguing against my points, yet you post and pass on this screaming fool’s virtual screaming? Is it because ZJ, like you, capitalizes the B in black?

      Or do you and your site agree with what’s written??

      • Lol…I LOVE reading Jamz…She’s like Luke’s ID, and I mean that as a compliment.

        “…almost always arguing against my points”

        Hmmmmm, I can’t say for a fact, but I suspect that your “points”, are almost always offensive, nonsensical, and antithetical to DI’s mission.

        “Is it because ZJ, like you, capitalizes the B in black?”

        Please refer to my previous comments about “offensive and nonsensical”.

        Stop whining, and post better comments, and I’m sure it’ll work out.

        • Well, let’s try this, Luke. Let’s switch black and white in ZJ’s viciousness and see if it’s still fun.

          I can’t believe you, or any of the other bigots here takes ZJ’s side! I thought you better than that. Thanks for the eye-opener. One always learns when interacting.

          • Don’t you (along with Peter Kyle, Pianki, John F., Johny, et al) serve the purpose of “switching Black and white”? You’ve been posting negative/contrarian comments here for more than a decade. Certainly you know that 99% of my readers don’t agree with you.

            Zazzi came along and shows us all what the shoe looks like on the other foot. It IS an eye opener.

            You like to offend, but bristle at being offended. Snowflake anyone?

    • Really? “I’ve never known a white woman who ever resisted being in bed with a big Black buck with thick legs, chest and arms (male or female).” this is the most racist statement in this article and comment section, top to bottom, and sincerely offensive from every point of view I can imagine.

  • Physical presence…Serena is; and there are numerous other athletes who have been over the years. When I first saw Serena and Venus; I said; Finally, we have two American Tennis players who will likely dominate and bring championships back to America…(That’s all I saw; great Athletes).

    Come on everyone; we just had two of the biggest Hurricanes in history; fires along the West Coast; storms that rocked the East Coast last year; Earthquakes; Wars and Rumors of Wars (North Korea; China; Iran; Russia); and we’re writing articles to make issues. What will it take to stop the nonsense; stop listening to liberal (one world government) agenda; and turns our hearts and lives back to the God of the Bible?

    Respond as you will; any negative comments only show where your heart truly is…

    • I completely disagree with you, but I give you credit for using your real name and email address – which I will never reveal. It shows you have integrity and guts and even though I think you’re completely wrong, I respect your opinion.

    • While I respect your opinion, this is the road our divisive “president” hath wrought, but this cancer had always been festering. He just brought it into the open..

      People have risen to the occasion of helping the people of these two natural disaster events because people always do.

      But these problems, this racial divide have always been there, remain, and people need to talk about it.

      If someone had told me 50 years ago, this stuff would still be going on, I wouldn’t have believed it.

      We need to talk about it. No matter how nonsensical (and that’s usually the people it doesn’t affect) some people think it is.

      Now I know I’m going to die with people still at each others’ throats and people still thinking and believing this silly racial crap. Maria wrote this nonsense and I’m reacting to it.

      BTW, not everyone believes in the same God or gods, or the Bible, or in any supernatural beings.

      • I’d love to know if there was an underwhelming blue state response to the hurricane problems in Texas. There was plenty of resentment in NJ when Ted “porno like” Cruz led the effort to not send aid after Sandy.

    • This article is exactly why I come to this site. I don’t have to agree with everything on here to learn from it. Articles like this stretch the boundaries and challenge what you think you believe, what you think you know and who you think you are. And that helps me show where my heart truly is.

    • “liberal (one world government) agenda”???? Seriously? What propaganda are you listening to? If this country was to “turn our hearts and lives back to the God of the Bible” we would be accepting more refugees, not trying to enact a Muslim ban, and not proposing a wall at our southern border, among other things. When it comes to conservative Christians I too often see people whose true religion is conservatism and who use the Bible to justify their conservative views.

  • Yeah, the usual white trope of white fragility and fear of the armored (by thicker skin, imperviousness to pain, and criminal savvy of little black children beyond their years), super negro, who needs to be brought down by cops’ military grade bullets for fear of endangered white lives.

    Whites are superior, until they are not and then the magic of the super negro or outside forces come into play.

    “Why Maria Sharapova’s Rivalry With Serena Williams Echoes The Practiced Fragility of White Women” @nilegirl

    Dry your white tears, Maria, Serena was trained hard by her dad, then trained even harder to become the best. She pulled herself up by her bootstraps.

    She’s better than you.

    Get over your drug-doping, cheating, whiny self.

  • Serena Williams is strong, physically fit, beautiful and a total champion. That being said, overemphasis on people’s physical characteristics is the very definition of shallowness. They may be what we first notice — upon our first exposure to someone — but, unless that’s our only exposure, normally we move on to more substantive, meaningful, measures of others, based on what they do and what they stand for.

  • C’mon. She did everything but call her a “big, black buck.” And what is the “secret” she alludes to? Nasty, jealous piece of work.

    • Exactly, when they can’t compete, then either outside forces were the reason for your success (not your intelligence, personality, education, upbringing, talent, skill, hardwork, income) or – you just get called a name.

  • What’s there to read in Sharapova the drug cheat’s book? Without mentioning Serena in the manuscript she would not have got anyone to publish the book in the first place.

  • Sharpova is a giant who is much taller over 6 feet than Serena with much broader shoulders and built like a line backer, check her huge hands she can stop feigning being small and wimpy she is not, her legs are thick as well and much taller. Seeing Serena in person she is by far not a giant as Sharapova, Serena is fit and yes she may have different stature as she is shorter. If we want to compare and I don’t want to start calling names but Sharapova is much more intimidating than the likes of Venus for example she is a sad lonely overhype ordinary looking woman. Justin Henin, Simona, Cibulkova e.g are small women not Sharapova ‘Neanderthal” She has beaten players much, much bigger that Serena e.g Petra, Taylor, Kutznesova and the Russians and Germans even Bartoli was bigger than Serena and called unfit, she ( Sharapova) just hates the fact that Serena is smarter on court as well as fit. Masha has one style of play and can’t think on her feet on court, her only strategy is to scream at her competitors to death. She has no credibility (having doped for so long) as far as I am concerned she wrote this piece for attention and people to buy her book and trying to make excuses for not being able to beat Serena and others whilst on so much dope for so long.

  • Just look at that pic where does Serena look like what she described at the 2004 match, she is an ugly soul who is riding off Serena to sell her book. Look at her Pova hands big like a man’s and she is much taller come on she is just seeking attention and looking an excuse for taking drugs.

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