Tennis champ Serena Williams, who holds 21 major titles, may soon become the world’s highest-paid female athlete, as Maria Sharapova continues to sour relations with endorsers following her announcement on Monday that she failed a drug test at the Australian Open in January. In their last meeting, Serena defeated Maria in the Australian Open quarterfinals, and on Tuesday, the world’s #1 ranked tennis player expressed her surprise at Sharapova’s drug admission.
“Like everyone else, most people were surprised and shocked,” Williams said Tuesday, before an exhibition match at Madison Square Garden against Caroline Wozniacki. “But most people are happy with the fact she was upfront with what she had done in terms of what she had neglected. With that being said, she’s taking responsibility, which she was ready to do.”
— The New York Times (@nytimes) March 8, 2016
As NY Times notes, Williams and Sharapova — who is currently ranked No.7 in the world — have been two of Nike’s most visible and lucrative spokeswomen in recent years. Last year, Forbes estimated Sharapova earned $29.7 million, including $23 million from endorsements. Meanwhile, Williams earned in $24.6 million, including an estimated $13 million from endorsements. Many would argue that Serena doesn’t earn more in endorsements because she’s black. She was asked to comment about the pay disparity in a cover story for the New York Times magazine.
“If they want to market someone who is white and blond, that’s their choice. I have a lot of partners who are very happy to work with me. I can’t sit here and say I should be higher on the list because I have won more. I’m happy for her, because she worked hard, too. There is enough at the table for everyone. We have to be thankful, and we also have to be positive about it so the next black person can be No. 1 on that list.”
Nike, TAG Heuer, and Porsche quickly suspended ties with Sharapova after her news conference Monday. According to numerous reports, she will be provisionally suspended from all tennis tournaments beginning Saturday, and could receive anything from a slap on the wrist to a lengthy ban. Serena doesn’t think Maria’s punishment will be harsh or unfair.
“In sport and in life, there’s always a double standard,” Williams said. “Everyone knows that, whether it’s a race thing or sex thing. However, this is a different thing. As Maria said, she’s ready to take responsibility. And that takes courage and heart.”
— BBC News (World) (@BBCWorld) March 8, 2016
Maria delivered the shocking news that she had been taking the drug meldonium for health reasons since 2006. She says she didn’t know that the drug was recently placed on the International Tennis Federation’s list of banned substances, per Fortune.
“I had been taking this medicine for the past 10 years,” she added, “but on 1 January this became a prohibited substance which I did not know.”
Sharapova admits that she was using the drug when Williams played against her, but it didn’t seem to deliver the desired performance-enhancing tricks, as Serena has defeated Sharapova 18 times in a row. When asked if she faced a disadvantage in any of those matches, Williams declined to comment.
“I don’t think I’m the best person to ask that question,” Serena said.
Serena Williams was named Sports Illustrated‘s 2015 Sportsperson of the Year, and with Maria’s career being sidelined, 2016 could certainly be the year the inspiring athlete cashes in on endorsement offers. She currently has deals with Gatorade, Delta Air Lines, Aston Martin, Pepsi, Beats by Dre headphones, OPI Products, IBM, Chase Bank, and more.
[Image courtesy Seth Wenig/AP Photo]