It’s the mentoring relationship that never was.
In January, Serena Williams fell in three sets to Sloane Stephens at the Australian Open. It wasn’t the ‘changing of the guard‘ as some in sports media suggested. Weeks after her loss, Williams became the oldest woman ever to hold the No. 1 ranking in tennis and later in April bested Maria Sharapova for her 49th career WTA title.
The victory was Stephens’ biggest of her career and led to understandable excitement about the ‘next big tennis star’ coming for Williams’ place at the top.
And then Stephens lost to eventual champion Victoria Azarenka and the buzz grew considerably quieter — until now.
In an upcoming issue of ESPN The Magazine, Stephens rips Williams for unfollowing her on Twitter, deleting her off BlackBerry Messenger and having no contact whatsoever with her since the match in Australia.
It seems Stephens is through with the narrative she said people have of Williams as “friendly”:
“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 says emphatically. “And that should tell everyone something, how she went from saying all these nice things about me to unfollowing me on Twitter.”
Her mom tries to slow her down, but Sloane is insistent. “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 tells writer Maria Cogan she believes a tweet Williams sent out in January following their match was intended for her:
I made you.
— Serena Williams (@serenawilliams) January 26, 2013
What is clear is that Stephens is “over” the comparisons to Williams and the perception that Williams has been in any way a mentor to her. (In fairness, a relationship Williams never acknowledged actually existed and that Stephens may have exaggerated in interviews leading up to their match.)
What’s also clear is that this is a bold thing to declare publicly for Stephens at such an early stage in her career. She has a world of ways to go to accomplish a quarter of what Williams has the past 15 years.
Here’s hoping she’s up to the challenge.
Follow theGrio’s Todd Johnson on Twitter @rantoddj