“I’d never put myself in the position of worshiping them, looking up, being a fan,” Sharapova writes.
Instead, Sharapova’s father found a clandestine spot for her to watch: inside a shed, hidden from view.
“I could watch through a kind of knothole — just me alone, in the dark, seeing the next 20 years of my life,” she writes. “The image of the Williams sisters would eventually become iconic, and it was in the works even then. They are a force. Tall girls in tennis whites, with bright smiles and piercing, focused eyes.”
Sharapova next encountered Williams three years later at the 2002 Wimbledon champions’ ball, when she felt compelled to sit as others stood as the champion made her entrance.
“I wanted to get up, but my body just would not let me,” she writes. “It was as if I were stuck in that chair, staring at Serena through the crowd of people, with a single thought in my head: ‘I am going to get you.’”
Sharapova first played Williams in Miami in 2004.
“It was like yes, finally,” she writes. “It felt as if I’d been circling around her for years.”
Sharapova describes seeing Williams at that moment with much of her same childlike awe.
“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.”
(Sharapova, at 6-foot-2, is about 5 inches taller than Williams.)
“I looked across the net, and, no way to get around it, she was just there!” Sharapova continues. “More there than other players, if that makes sense. It’s the whole thing — her presence, her confidence, her personality. She seemed much older than me in Miami. This was just before I turned 17. She was a grown woman, experienced, the best player in the world. It still feels that way. Even now, she can still make me feel like a little girl.”
Sharapova also used similar language to describe Lindsay Davenport, whom she beat in the 2004 Wimbledon semifinal: “I was overpowered, overmatched. She was a woman. I was a girl. She was big. I was small.”
But Davenport, against whom Sharapova had a 5-1 record, is not a preoccupying force in her life. Nor is Williams’s sister, Venus, against whom Sharapova is 5-3.
It is Serena Williams who continues to make Sharapova feel diminished, as she continues to discuss her aura before their 2004 Wimbledon final: “You are…