S even women in the Open Era have won the career grand slam. Six of them would be considered legends of the sport: Serena Williams; Steffi Graf; Martina Navratilova; Chris Evert; Margaret Court and Billie Jean King. You could make a pretty strong argument those are the top six players in the history of the sport, in that order.*
*Newsday did a Top 10 list and had their list in that order, only with Monica Seles sixth, between Court and King. Tennis Magazine had a tournament of champions, featuring the greatest players of all time, and all six of these players reached the quarterfinals, four reached the semis, and Williams beat Graf in the final.
But, as mentioned, there is a seventh woman who has won the career grand slam. Also, she has won 30 singles titles and has been the No. 1 player in the world five different times. She has won at least one singles title for 13 consecutive years, something only Graf, Navratilova, and Evert have done. She has done all this despite countless injuries that have haunted her career. She is one of the most famous athletes on earth, routinely appearing on both Forbes’ richest athletes list and People’s Most Beautiful People list.
And yet, few people seem to realize that Maria Sharapova is an all-time great tennis player.
The reason, I suspect, is her almost-pathological inability to beat Serena Williams. Sharapova lost again on Monday, another blowout, 6-4, 6-1. It was the 18th straight time that Sharapova has lost to Williams. Eighteen.
I’d argue there is nothing quite like it in the history of sports.
Sure, there are great athletes who have dominated other great athletes. Roger Federer owned Andy Roddick. Tiger Woods seems to have a spell on Sergio Garcia. Affirmed would not left Alydar by. If you go to team sports, you can point out Michael Jordan’s spell over Patrick Ewing’s Knicks or that Bill Russell’s Celtics always seemed to triumph over Wilt Chamberlain or, as numerous Twitter followers point out, Tony Gwynn hit .415 against Greg Maddux.
B ut this one’s different. The team sports comparisons are fun but not really applicable. Russell’s Celtics were routinely better than Wilt Chamberlain’s teams, same with Jordan’s Bulls, and Maddux still got Tony Gwynn out more than half the time. Sergio Garcia has never won a major championship whether Tiger Woods was in the field or not, and he has dominated in Ryder Cup competition against the United States. Alydar actually beat Affirmed three times. Other examples suggested by people (Michael Phelps over Ryan Lochte; Usain Bolt over Tyson Gay; Bobby Fischer over Boris Spassky) also fall short for various reasons.
The closest thing I’ve seen to the Williams-Sharapova destruction is Federer’s dominion over Roddick — Federer won 21 of their 24 matches, including all eight times they played at Grand Slam events. That’s obvious domination, but it’s not like this Maria-Serena thing. For one thing, while Roddick was a terrific player, he was not an all-time great. He won one grand slam title, never got past the fourth round at the French Open and had pretty lopsided records against other stars like Rafael Nadal (3-7) and Andy Murray (3-8).
For another, Roddick would — on the right day, in the right circumstances — push Federer to the breaking point. Roddick’s five-set loss in the 2009 Wimbledon Final is one of the sport’s all-time classics, and he occasionally won a match in Madrid or Miami. Roddick often forced a tiebreaker, at least.
Sharapova, meanwhile, cannot even put up a fight.
It’s so strange, because it didn’t start out that way. When Sharapova showed up on the scene at 17 years old, she was a genuine phenom. In 2004, she blasted through only her second Wimbledon, beating Lindsay Davenport in the semifinal. Then, in the final, she obliterated someone named, oh yeah, Serena Williams, 6-1, 6-4. The victory was mind-blowing for so many reasons. Williams was already a two-time Wimbledon champion. Sharapova was the third-youngest player ever to win Wimbledon. But the main shocker was that Sharapova had done the impossible: She overpowered Williams. Sharapova hit more winners. She was the aggressor. It was the most uneven Wimbledon final in a dozen years.
“She’s kind of like me, she doesn’t back off,” Williams said admiringly at the time. “She keeps giving it her all.”
There were a lot of stories back then about Sharapova being the future of tennis, and why not? She had a massive serve. She pounded the ball from both sides. On point after point, she unleashed a shriek that could terrify villagers.
Later in 2004, Sharapova and Williams faced each other in the WTA Championships. Sharapova won again, this time in three sets — although there is an asterisk to add. WIlliams strained a muscle in the second set and was forced to bloop her serves at half their usual speed. Even so, Williams took a 4-0 lead in the final set before fading with the injury.
“I don’t know how I stayed out there,” Williams said afterward. “I definitely thought about not finishing the match. But I like to fight, I guess.”
That was the last time that Maria Sharapova beat Serena Williams.
They did play a classic three-set match in Australia two months later. The Associated Press lede should amuse you: “Serena Williams finally beat Maria Sharapova in a big match.” That word, “finally,” sounds so preposterous now but that’s how the narrative seemed to be shaking out. Williams seemed to have no answers for Sharapova’s power game.
In this Australian Open final, Sharapova had three match points and twice served for the match. Williams won on sheer guts and guile. “I think it definitely lived up to expectations,” Williams said happily afterward.
At that point, they had played four times, each winning two. They had split their Grand Slam finals. Yes, this looked to be the rivalry that would make tennis for the next decade.
Only, well, no. They did not play for two years — Williams dealt with some injuries — but when they played in the 2007 Australian Open final, something fundamental had changed. Williams won 6-1, 6-2 and often glared at Sharapova, especially after getting hit with an overhead.
“I don’t like losing,” Sharapova said afterward. She had no idea that their rivalry was over before it began. Later, in Miami, Williams beat Sharapova 6-1, 6-1. The next 15 times they played, Sharapova would only twice force a third set. The first time, in Charleston, S.C., she lost that third set 6-1. The second time, in Miami, she lost that third set 6-0.
Williams crushed Sharapova in the Olympic gold medal match 6-0, 6-1. Williams beat her in straight sets in the French Open final, twice in the Australian Open final and in the Wimbledon semifinal. It isn’t just that Sharapova has not beaten Serena Williams in more than a decade. It is that she has never come even close.
And this is crazy, absolutely crazy. Maria Sharapova has won 74 percent of her matches against top-10 players, not counting her matches against Williams.
Serena Williams has won 79 perent of her matches against top-10 players, not counting her matches against Sharapova. Better, certainly, but not THAT much better.
Sharapova has a winning record against Venus Williams. She has dominated former No. 1 players Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic. She has won 84 percent of her grand slam matches, not counting those crushing defeats against Williams.
Look, there is no question that Serena Williams has been a much better player than Sharapova. She’s a much better player than anyone. You can look at her record against just about any of the top players and see domination. Williams has won 10 of 11 against her good friend Caroline Wozniacki and 17 of 20 against Victoria Azarenka and 11 of 12 against Li Na. And so on.
But Maria Sharapova is an all-time great player. It’s stunning to see her get wiped out in match after match against the player who should be her greatest rival, the player Sharapova beat to first make her way on the international stage … unless …
Unless, of course, that’s part of the story here. Serena Williams doesn’t like to talk about her competitive fury. You see it on the court, of course, with the blood-curdling “Come ons!” she shouts at herself and the way she comes back time and again. But she generally keeps that stuff to herself.
And it makes you wonder: What did Serena Williams say to herself after losing those two matches to Maria Sharapova back in 2004? Did she make herself a promise? Throughout her remarkable career, Williams has had periodic letdowns where she plays poorly, makes a bunch of unforced errors, goes into weird funks and allows herself to get knocked out of big tournaments by Garbine Muguruza or Alize Cornet or Virginie Razzano or Roberta Vinci.
But she never goes into those lows against Sharapova. She is never off her game against Sharapova. She never lets down even a little against Sharapova.
“Doesn’t matter who I’m playing,” Serena Williams said after her latest win. “I just try to go out there and play the best I can.”
Maybe. Then again, maybe there is something a little bit more she saves up for Sharapova. And, as for the defeated, Sharapova ends every match the same way, talking about how she’s frustrated but also motivated. “She makes you go back to the drawing board,” Sharapova says. “Not just for me, but for other players too.”
In other words, there’s always the next time. Yes. For Maria Sharapova, sadly, there’s always the next time.Share this:
Posnanski is NBC Sports national columnist. He is a No. 1 New York Times best-selling author, winner of the National Sportswriters and Sportscasters Hall of Fame’s National Sportswriter of the year and two-time winner of the Associated Press Sports Editors National Columnist of the Year. His fourth book, “The Secret of Golf: The Story of Tom Watson and Jack Nicklaus,” was released in June 2015.
Serena Williams ended Maria Sharapova's run at the 2016 Australian Open and quieted a rising chorus of doubters.
Williams defeated Sharapova 6-4, 6-1, and will now face Agnieszka Radwanska in the semifinals. Williams is 8-0 against Radwanska. In fact, Williams has a lopsided winning record against all of the top contenders.
Yet doubters emerged at this year's Aussie Open. It's as if one upset loss at the 2015 U.S. Open negated a record-breaking, legendary resume.
Perhaps Williams has been dominating so long that folks figure something's got to give. And it will.
But based on the way Williams is playing, she's not giving up anything anytime soon.
Prior to the Australian Open, several tennis journalists raised questions about Williams' form. The 21-time Grand Slam champion hadn't played an official match since losing to Roberta Vinci in the semifinals of the U.S. Open last August.
Williams withdrew from the Hopman Cup with a knee injury. Pre-tournament buzz began circulating about whether she was healthy enough to make a run at a 22nd Grand Slam title.
Despite her attempts to squash any doubts, the doubters came out. How quickly they seemed to forget Williams was coming off a three-Slam year, not to mention she had just won Sports Illustrated's Sportsperson of the Year.
So it was somewhat shocking so many tennis experts had doubts about Williams' ability to win this year in Melbourne.
An ESPN.com preview of the Aussie Open was titled, "Seriously? Little Faith in Serena Williams Down Under." That's because of the 12 experts, which included Chris Evert, Cliff Drysdale, Patrick McEnroe and several tennis writers, only two picked Williams to win the tournament.
Most, including Evert, picked Victoria Azarenka, who might well win. But Williams is No. 1 and has won the Australian Open more than any female player in the Open era.
In a pre-tournament interview with Reuters (h/t the Daily Mail), Evert predicted Williams would struggle in 2016. She also thought Azarenka was the player to watch: "I think she's a player we should be talking about and focusing on right now. She's got to be one of the two or three favorites for winning the Australian Open. I always thought she has a champions' mentality."
Williams has a 17-3 record against Azarenka and has never lost to her in a Grand Slam. Yet the consensus is it's Azarenka's tournament to lose?
Oddly, even with Williams' 17-match winning streak against Sharapova, much of the buildup to this match was about how Sharapova might pull off the upset.
Danielle Rossingh, a contributor to Forbes.com, wrote about the three reasons why Sharapova may end the 12-year losing streak.
Reuters' Ian Ransom ran a story about how Sharapova's serve "fires up in time for Serena." An article in espnW echoed that point about Sharapova's serve giving her a slight advantage in a matchup against Williams.
Wait a minute. Williams has what most consider the greatest serve in the history of women's tennis, and Sharapova, a double-faulting machine, has the edge?
Maria Sharapova, pre-match today. https://t.co/qWvk8tcoWC
Prior to their match, Sharapova had 52 aces to Williams' 25. But Sharapova also had two three-set matches. Williams was breezing through her matches, ending her third-round match in 44 minutes.
After Williams' win over Sharapova, a reporter asked her to explain her dominance over the Russian. Williams responded (via AusOpen.com), " I don't know. Something about her game. I like the way she hits the ball. Plus, when I play her, I know automatically I have to step up my game."
In sports, the reigning champion is usually afforded the benefit of the doubt until someone comes along and knocks off the crown. No matter how battered and bruised the New England Patriots looked, they received that respect.
This emphatic win should serve notice that Williams is in championship form. She's yet to drop a set and just beat a five-time Grand Slam champion for the 18th consecutive time.
Next up she faces Radwanska in the semifinals. Williams told reporters Radwanska brings an entirely different set of challenges: " She presents a completely different game, an extremely exciting game. So I think it will be a long match and it will be a good match to see where I am."
Williams has never lost at the Australian Open after reaching the semifinals. Perhaps the biggest threat left is Azarenka, who faces Angelique Kerber on Wednesday. Williams has a 5-1 record against Kerber. She is 2-0 against Zhang Shuai. She's never faced Johanna Konta.
Konta could be the wild card. The unknown seems to unsettle Williams far more than familiar foes.
Regardless, there will be doubters. But not everyone.
Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli, also a commentator for Eurosport, told USA Today's Nick McCarvel, "Last year here Maria was very close and Serena had to come up with her absolute best, but that's why she's No. 1. [Serena] has to come up with her absolute best when she needs to. She's not No. 1 for no reason. That's why she's so dominating."
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Last Updated: 18/01/16 10:08am
Serena Williams dispelled any doubts over her fitness with a 6-4 7-5 win over Camila Giorgi in the Australian Open first round.
Maria Sharapova then romped to her own straight sets victory over Japan's Nao Hibino later in the day, meaning a potential quarter-final against Williams remains on the cards.
The world No 1 Williams, who had spent four months away from the game and barely swung a racquet since the US Open last September, faced the highest-ranked unseeded player at a sweltering Rod Laver Arena.
Williams pulled out of her first match at the Hopman Cup in Perth earlier this month due to knee inflammation, but the 34-year-old moved freely during a testing opener against Giorgi and said it gave her no problems.
Showing none of the lethargy that has sometimes dogged her in early Grand Slam matches, a calm and focused Williams roared to a 4-1 lead as the temperature soared over 32 degrees Celsius.
The 36th-ranked Giorgi, a slightly built player packing a meaty forehand, steadied herself to drag Williams into a baseline battle and the American's screams of frustration underlined a growing tension in the match.
Though a match for Williams in terms of court speed and fire-power, Giorgi landed barely a third of her first serves and gave up the decisive break at 5-5 in the second set with her 12th double-fault.
Williams needed no further invitation and closed out the match with a customary barrage of booming first serves.
Williams, who next faces 90th-ranked Taiwanese Hsieh Su-Wei, insisted she had no fitness issues in the game.
"[The knee is] great. It was an hour and 43 minutes and I didn't feel it at all," Williams said.
"I think I served well today. I got broken once, but other than that I was able to stay focused on that part.
"I have been going non-stop since the London Olympics and, seeing that this is another Olympic year, I kind of wanted to start the year out really fresh and really go at it again as hard as I can.
"I just needed that time to just recover the best of my ability and get really fit, and really train and get ready for the season."
Sharapova, attempting to win her first title at Melbourne Park since 2008, was in blistering form to take the match against Hibino 6-1, 6-3 in 73 minutes on Margaret Court Arena.
There were concerns ahead of the clash about her lack of match fitness, after Sharapova pulled out of the Brisbane International with a forearm injury, but she was 3-0 up inside 10 minutes and never looked back.
The trouble-free performance was a boost for Sharapova, whose latter half of 2015 was wrecked by injuries.
"I haven't played many matches in many weeks so it's great to come out here and start my season at the Australian Open," said Sharapova.
"I was quite pleased in the way I was able to play in my opening match. I'm feeling really good, which is a positive. I'm just happy to finish off today and be able to get ready for the next one."
Published: 16:15 BST, 9 July 2015 | Updated: 21:19 BST, 9 July 2015
Serena Williams stormed in to the Wimbledon ladies' singles final in a noisy match on Centre Court as two of tennis's loudest grunters went head-to-head.
The 20-time Grand Slam champion, 33, beat arch rival Maria Sharapova in straight sets as her powerful serve proved too much for the 28-year-old Russian, with Williams winning 6-2, 6-4.
And with the pair known for being two of the loudest players thanks to their on-court grunting, meaning fans in the stands for this afternoon's Wimbledon semi-final were in for a noisy afternoon, regardless of the result.
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Serena Williams stormed in to the Wimbledon ladies' singles final in a noisy match against Maria Sharapova on Centre Court as two of tennis's loudest grunters went head-to-head
The 20-time Grand Slam champion, 33, beat arch rival Maria Sharapova in straight sets as her powerful serve proved too much for the 28-year-old Russian, with Williams winning 6-2, 6-4
Sharapova could not deal with the ferocity of the Williams return, her serve crumbling as the American increased the pressure
Today's semi-final saw Williams, who has now beaten 2004 Wimbledon champion Sharapova in 17 straight matches, one step closer to her fourth straight major title
There is no love lost between the pair, with Sharapova currently dating Grigor Dimitrov, who was previously romantically linked with Williams.
Cheered on by rapper Drake and sister Venus, Williams was beaming after winning match point and shook hands with Sharapova at the net.
Coach Patrick Mouratoglou had insisted in advance that Williams' dominance means there 'is not really a rivalry' - and the world number one vindicated that claim to book a showdown with Spain's Garbine Muguruza as she aims to complete the 'Serena Slam' by holding all four Grand Slam singles' titles.RELATED ARTICLES Share this article
Williams bullied Sharapova to claim a commanding one-set lead in a one-sided opening to their match, and looked completely unflustered in storming to the first set 6-2 in little over half an hour.
Williams started her intimidation two days out from this semi-final, declaring 'I love playing Maria'. And no wonder when Sharapova produced two double faults to gift the top seed an immediate break of serve in the match.
Williams pulled out two aces to hold serve, before breaking Sharapova again with ease and then seeing out the set.
Every time Sharapova fought to raise her level Williams stepped up another notch.
Williams bullied Sharapova to claim a commanding one-set lead in a one-sided opening to their match, and looked completely unflustered in storming to the first set 6-2 in little over half an hour
Today's semi-final saw Williams, who has beaten 2004 Wimbledon champion Sharapova in 16 straight matches, take to the court as she chased her fourth straight major title
Sharapova expected to dominate the tennis world after beating Williams twice in 2004, to both the Wimbledon crown and WTA Tour Championships title, but the Russian reckoned without Williams' incredible staying powers
The Russian fourth seed improved in the second set but was still no match for Williams.
The American mustered just the single service break in the second set: it was more than enough.
Williams fired two aces and an unreturned serve to complete her victory, leaving Sharapova simply trailing in her wake.
Once the 20-time grand slam champion stops basking in the glow of blitzing the object of her long-term feud, she will set about claiming a sixth Wimbledon crown this Saturday.
Today's semi-final saw Williams, who has now beaten 2004 Wimbledon champion Sharapova in 17 straight matches, one step closer to her fourth straight major title. She is also in the running for the third leg of a calendar-year Grand Slam, a feat last accomplished by Steffi Graf in 1988.
The last time Sharapova beat Williams Britney Spears was still a pop princess, and three years away from shaving her head. America had barely heard of Barack Obama and Tony Blair was still British prime minister.
Sharapova expected to dominate the tennis world after beating Williams twice in 2004, to both the Wimbledon crown and WTA Tour Championships title, but the Russian reckoned without Williams' incredible staying powers however, and also the fire fuelled by a long-running feud intensified by a fall-out over Dimitrov.
Sharapova plays a backhand, but Serena Williams was too much for the Russian and sealed the match in straight setsmore videos
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Two years ago Williams appeared to brand Dimitrov 'the guy with the black heart' after their relationship broke down.
Sharapova responded in kind by questioning Williams' coupling-up with coach Mouratoglou, saying: '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'.
Now Dimitrov dates Sharapova, and that triangle leaves precious little love between the Russian and the American.
Williams is still coached by Mouratoglou but rumoured to be paired up with rapper Drake, who has been on hand at Wimbledon this year as moral support, and was present in the crowd today.
Sharapova may not have had the edge over Williams when it comes to tennis, having been beaten by Williams on 17 of their 19 previous encounters, but she makes up for it when it comes to noise.
Her high-pitched screams, memorably described as a 'climactic shriek of the blue movie variety', are said to have reached 101 decibels - the equivalent of an aeroplane landing, while Williams's gruffer grunts have been recorded at 88.9 decibels, akin to hearing a pneumatic drill from across a road.
Five-time Wimbledon champion Williams was given a code violation for an 'audible obscenity' during her first-round win, but she later laughed it off, putting it down to nerves
Prime Minister David Cameron had earlier joked that spectators at Wimbledon would need their earplugs, with both players famous for their loud grunting on court.
After England's heroic women's football team told Mr Cameron they were attending Wimbledon today, he joked: 'Take your earplugs, they're quite loud.'
The top seed won 6-2 6-4 against Russian fourth seed Maria Sharapova in the Wimbledon semi-finals
Sharapova and Williams walk out on to the court for their semi-final match this afternoon
Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova are known for being two of the loudest players on the tennis circuit, meaning fans at Wimbledon this afternoon were in for a noisy encounter
Sharapova, 28, may not have the edge over her 33-year-old rival when it comes to tennis, having been beaten by Williams on 17 of their 19 previous encounters, but she makes up for it when it comes to noise
The rapper Drake (right), who is rumoured to be dating Serena Williams, watches her in action against Sharapova from the stand
The match between Williams and Sharapova came after Garbine Muguruza secured her place in the Wimbledon women's final, after beating Agnieszka Radwanska.
The 20th seed from Spain said her parents and brother would fly over to watch her next match after none of her family were on Centre Court today.
She told the BBC: 'They didn't want to come because they didn't want to change anything.'
Murguruza, 21, the youngest of the four women's semifinalists, will play either Sharapova or Williams in the final on Saturday, when she bids to become the first Spaniard to win the Wimbledon women's title since Conchita Martinez in 1994. Sanchez Vicario lost in the '95 and '96 finals.
Radwanska, who lost in the 2012 Wimbledon final to Williams, was playing in her third Wimbledon semifinal and third in four years.
The big-hitting Muguruza dictated the rallies during most of the match. She had 39 winners, along with 29 errors. Radwanska, often forced on the back foot and hitting shots while squatting close to the ground, had 16 winners and only seven unforced errors.
Muguruza simply overpowered Radwanska in the first set, pushing her around the court. She went up 2-0 and 3-1 in the second set and seemed to be cruising to an easy win, but the momentum shifted when Radwanska broke for 3-3 and ran off six games in a row to take the second set and go up 1-0 in the third.
'I was playing really, really good,' Muguruza said. 'I mean, too good. So I had to, like, [stay] calm. Like, "Don't get excited." And put [on] a poker face.'
David Beckham meets fellow England footballer Fara Williams, fresh from her bronze medal winning success at the women's World Cup
The former midfielder chats to his female counterparts, Toni Duggan and Jill Scott in the Royal Box this afternoon
The England women players grab their phones and lean in for a selfie with David Beckham during a break in play at Wimbledon
Muguruza regained control when she broke for a 4-2 lead with a backhand winner. She had called twice for foot-faults on her first serve in the final set, including in the final game, but was not rattled and held firm to close out the match.
Both Muguruza and Radwanska had predicted Williams would beat Sharapova - as she has in their last 16 matches - to complete the final line-up.
And Radwanska said she cannot see Muguruza winning the title.
Radwanska said in a press conference: 'I don't think she can beat Serena in the final. I wish her luck. It's going to be hard.'
Members of the England women's football squad were at Wimbledon today to watch the women's semi-finals.
Mark Sampson, the manager who led the team to third place at the World Cup in Canada, was accompanied in the Royal Box by midfielder Fara Williams. Captain Steph Houghton is also among the players expected at the championships, having paid a morning visit to Kensington Palace for breakfast with the Duke of Cambridge.
David Beckham, who watched Andy Murray win on Centre Court yesterday, is also a guest in the Royal Box with his mother Sandra, and chatted to his female counterparts as he posed for selfies with the Lionessess - who may have taken the chance to remind the former midfielder that when it comes to international tournaments they have now outperformed Beckham, thanks to their bronze medal-winning campaign at the women's World Cup.
Beckham, who watched Andy Murray win on Centre Court yesterday, was a guest in the Royal Box with his mother Sandra (left)
Pippa and James Middleton were in the Royal Box, a day after their sister, the Duchess of Cambridge, was at Wimbledon.
Comedian Stephen Fry was listed as a guest of Martina Navratilova, the nine-time Wimbledon singles champion.
Former ballerina and Strictly Come Dancing judge Darcey Bussell and her husband Angus Forbes were also named as guests in the Royal Box, with Olympic sailor Sir Ben Ainslie, House of Commons Speaker John Bercow and Culture Secretary John Whittingdale.
Jamie Murray will try to upstage his famous brother later today as he bids to become the first Briton to make it into a Wimbledon final at this year's championships. Andy's older sibling will take to Centre Court later for his men's doubles semi-final with Australian partner John Peers.
Pippa and James Middleton were in the Royal Box, a day after their sister, the Duchess of Cambridge, was at Wimbledon
Comedian Stephen Fry (left) was listed as a guest of Martina Navratilova (right), the nine-time Wimbledon singles championShare or comment on this article Most watched News videos MOST READ NEWS
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