The Beyond The Baseline awards are our look back at the best — and worst — of the tennis season. Today we highlight some of the hottest feuds. Click here for our complete archive of year-end awards.
1. Sloane Stephens and Serena Williams
The discord between the top two American players became one of the more notable storylines of the season. They played for the first time at the season-opening Brisbane International, where Stephens told her coach during the match that Williams’ screaming “come on” was “disrespectful.” Their rivalry turned cold when Stephens upset Williams in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open a few weeks later. Two days after that match, Williams tweeted a cryptic message:
I made you.—
Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) January 26, 2013
Stephens believed the tweet was directed toward her, and she lashed out in a number of interviews, most explosively with ESPN The Magazine. Stephens blasted the media for painting her relationship with Williams as something cozier than was — even though Stephens had described Williams as a “really good friend” and “really great influence in my tennis career” — and scolded Williams for her behavior after the Australian Open.
“She’s not said one word to me, not spoken to me, not said hi, not looked my way, not been in the same room with me since I played her in Australia,” Stephens said. “And that should tell everyone something, how she went from saying all these nice things about me to unfollowing me on Twitter.
“Like, seriously! People should know. They think she’s so friendly and she’s so this and she’s so that — no, that’s not reality! You don’t unfollow someone on Twitter, delete them off of BlackBerry Messenger. I mean, what for? Why?”
Stephens later said she thought her comments were off the record. Williams took the high road and offered overly generous comments about Stephens throughout the year (which makes you think Stephens wasn’t exactly wrong about Serena’s using mind games to intimidate opponents). However, it was clear that things were chilly behind the scenes. The feud re-entered the spotlight when the two met in the fourth round of the U.S. Open, where Williams exacted revenge with a 6-4, 6-1 victory.
2. Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova
This time, it was Williams who was burned by “off the record” comments, sparking a media firestorm. In an interview with Rolling Stone, Williams took a thinly veiled dig at Sharapova’s relationship with Grigor Dimitrov, referring to the 22-year-old Bulgarian as having “a black heart” (Williams and Dimitrov were rumored to be romantically linked in 2012.) To everyone’s surprise, Sharapova didn’t back down when she was asked about the comments at Wimbledon.
“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 said, referring to Williams’ unconfirmed relationship with coach Patrick Mouratoglou. “Talk about other things, but not draw attention to other things. She has so much in her life, many positives, and I think that’s what it should be about.”
After Sharapova’s emphatic and shocking takedown, Williams apologized the next day.
Of course, that would be Sharapova’s only triumph over Williams this year. The Russian lost to Williams in finals of the Sony Open, Madrid Open and French Open, falling to 0-13 since 2004. I guess you have to take your victories where you can.
3. John Tomic and Thomas Drouet
While the first two feuds on this list were entertaining and mostly harmless, this fight between Bernard Tomic’s father and his hitting partner was much more harmful and just sad. John Tomic assaulted Drouet outside a Madrid hotel and left him bloody on the sidewalk following an argument over what John perceived to be insubordination. Formal charges were brought against John and he was banned from most tournaments (the Aegon Championships was a shocking exception), and a Madrid court found him guilty and issued an eight-month sentence that, under Spanish law, he actually won’t have to serve.
Drouet eventually went to the press with an account of his six-month stint working with the Tomics, painting a picture of the toxic environment surrounding the Australian phenom, and detailing several instances in which he saw John become physically violent with Bernard. In the end, things worked out well for Drouet. Marion Bartoli hired him right before Wimbledon and spoke glowingly of his contribution to her victory at the All England Club.
4. Ernests Gulbis and the boring Big Four
One of the fun side effects of Gulbis’ playing well is the increased amount of time he gets with a microphone. This spring, after a fantastic stretch that saw him raise his ranking from outside the top 100 to inside the top 50, Gulbis threw everyone for a loop by repeatedly saying the ATP’s Big Four gave horribly boring interviews.
“They started it very nice, very gentlemanlike, and everyone copies them,” Gulbis told SI.com. “Young guys coming up, they only see Roger [Federer] and Rafa [Nadal] interviews, which are always picture perfect. For me, they’re boring. Not as people, but the interviews are boring. Because they give the same answers every time to the same questions every time. I want to see some kind of action, more intense.”
That comment, about boring press conferences, morphed into outrage. How dare he call Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray boring! Well, actually he didn’t, but fans and the media lambasted Gulbis anyway.
5. Serena Williams and Jelena Jankovic
Jankovic tends to bring the drama wherever she goes, but getting into a war of words with Serena rarely ends well for anyone. During the final of the Family Circle Cup, Jankovic got a little annoyed at Serena for taking her time between points and delaying Jankovic’s serve:
“How long do I have to wait?” Jankovic asked.
“Until I’m ready,” Serena said. “I don’t play slow.”
When Jankovic noted out that Williams looked ready because she was in the return position, Serena fired back: “Honestly, you got a problem? I’m not the one.”
Jankovic went from being a set up to getting routed 3-6, 6-0, 6-2, and she admitted that the exchange completely threw her off for the rest of the match.
Months later, at the WTA Championships, Jankovic expressed her annoyance at Serena’s varying fitness level during their semifinal match, which Williams won despite her physical exhaustion.
“I never saw her [play sluggishly] when she’s leading,” Jankovic said after the loss. “Every time she has a lead, she’s running for the balls and she’s hitting those big serves. For some reason, every time she starts losing, she starts serving slower or not running for certain balls. That’s something that as a player you have to pay attention to. It’s not the first time when we played that she’s doing this. That’s I think her way of playing or maybe when she plays against me.”
Jankovic said it was difficult to keep her focus.
“She’s the No. 1 player in the world, and she plays so well,” Jankovic said. “She’s by far the best player. She deserves to be in this spot. But I think it’s also when you play, winning or losing, you have to be up there and be a good sportsman.”
6. Marion Bartoli and John Inverdale
The BBC’s Inverdale was caught with his foot in his mouth after Bartoli won Wimbledon. On BBC Radio, he said, “Do you think Bartoli’s dad told her when she was little, ‘You’re never going to be a looker? You’ll never be a Sharapova, so you have to be scrappy and fight.?’”
The BBC apologized, and Inverdale may lose his Wimbledon job. To the extent that anything good can come from such a sexist, misogynistic comment, the Bartoli family handled the situation beautifully.
“I am not angry,” Walter Bartoli said. “She is my beautiful daughter.”
As for Bartoli, could anyone have come up with a more perfect response?
“I am not blonde, yes,” she said. “That is a fact. Have I dreamt about having a model contract? No. I’m sorry. But have I dreamed about winning Wimbledon? Absolutely, yes. And to share this moment with my dad was absolutely amazing and I am so proud of it.”
7. Viktor Troicki and the doping control officer
It was the “He said/She said” controversy of the year. No one knows for sure what happened in that doping control room in Monte Carlo, but everyone knows the result: Troicki was banned for an anti-doping violation, and the doping control officer had her reputation repeatedly dragged through the mud. Djokovic lashed out at the doctor, calling her unprofessional and negligent in how she handled the case (the World Anti-Doping Agency president called the criticism uninformed), while Troicki complained that his career was “taken away from me in one afternoon by a doctor I didn’t know.”
8. The Tunisian tennis federation vs. Israeli players
In the ugliest incident of the tennis season, the Tunisian federation ordered Malek Jaziri to withdraw from his match against Israel’s Amir Weintraub at an ATP Challenger event in Tashkent, Uzbekistan. As a result, the ITF has banned Tunisia from Davis Cup play for a year. It was the second time this season that a Tunisian player withdrew from a tournament with a match against an Israeli player looming. Tunisia’s top WTA player, Ons Jabeur, withdrew from a tournament in Baku, Azerbaijan, after it was clear her semifinal opponent would be Shahar Peer, though it is unclear whether the federation had any involvement in that decision.
9. Sara Errani and Alize Cornet
Sometimes, these feuds are more humorous than anything. During a match at the Rogers Cup, the Italian Errani, who trains in Spain, started to get annoyed at her French opponent Cornet for shouting “Vamos!” in her face after winning points:
“I just say to her why she was saying ‘Vamos’ and not ‘Allez’” Errani said. “Normally she say ‘Allez,’ so I thought, why you say ‘Vamos?’”
She also called out Cornet for overly dramatic displays of emotion. If you’ve ever spent 10 minutes watching a Cornet match, you know exactly what Errani is referring to.
“I don’t think is good thing for our sport,” Errani said. “I think is better to just compete, try your best and let’s see. Sometimes she do this, and I just want to try to stay focus and not thinking about her. But sometimes it’s tough because is really near match, a lot of tension. So sometimes you say, ‘Why you are saying that you have cramps and after you don’t have?’ I mean, why are you doing this? I don’t understand what you are doing. But everybody is free to do what they want.”
10. CoCo Vandeweghe and Yulia Putintseva
It’s rare that you get prolonged trash talk in today’s stately game of tennis, but the younger generation have no problem airing out their grievances, especially in the age of Twitter. After Vandeweghe lost to the 18-year old Russian in the final round of qualifying in Brussels, the two apparently exchanged some words.
I have never played a person with worst sportsmanship… Putintseva…—
CoCo Vandeweghe (@CoCoVandey) May 20, 2013
…How can anyone comment on my game style after you have already won the match in such a negative way is unbelievable!…—
CoCo Vandeweghe (@CoCoVandey) May 20, 2013
Her exact words were "You are a terrible player only serve. I win all the rallies" that comment is totally uncalled for…—
CoCo Vandeweghe (@CoCoVandey) May 20, 2013
And by the way saw a twit of Coco… Wont comment much!Really surprise that people can act like that after losing to younger player:p—
Yulia Putintseva (@Yulka1995P) May 20, 2013
Ah, kids these days.