Many years ago, when I used to work for the Guardian, Germaine Greer, who was then a columnist for the paper, wrote a vicious little piece for the op-ed pages slagging off Suzanne Moore, who was also a columnist. Even in the shell-shocked state that goes with the territory of trying to handle egos like that, I realised this could be a problem, so I rang up Ms Greer to wonder whether she felt like toning it down a tad, dropping the reference to ‘fuck-me shoes’ and suchlike. She snorted with laughter: ‘Stay out of this, dear; this is a mud fight.’
Happy days, and a nice fore-runner of the current spat between Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, who have been cheerfully knocking seven bells out of each other. Prepare to duck if you see them in the same Wimbledon bar. Their current feud rocked up to volume 11 pretty quickly, largely thanks to Sharapova’s current boyfriend, a Bulgarian tennis player called Grigor Dimitrov, who likes to rip off his shirt whenever possible, much to the delight of the ladies. The problem is that Dimitrov apparently used to date Serena when they were both based in Paris. Williams has spoken of a top five player dating ‘a man with a black heart’, and Sharapova retaliated by talking dismissively of Williams having a ‘boyfriend that was married and is getting a divorce and has kids.’ All true, by the way: the bloke is Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena’s coach, and he has a couple of children.
Even Sharapova is now celebrating her charmlessness — ‘I’m not really friendly or close to any players,’ she says. Should all go to plan the two would meet next Saturday, which would at least mean the women’s final would be worth watching. What makes the Serena/Maria feud so tasty is the contrast with the warmth and regard the top men players have for each other, damn them. It’s all a long way from McEnroe and Connors, who vowed to pursue ‘that son of a bitch’ to the ends of the earth.
The essence of a good sporting feud is that both sides are at it hammer and tongs all the time. So it’s no good Roy Keane hating everybody if everybody doesn’t hate him back. That’s why Frazier/Ali scores so well on the feudometer: Joe Frazier hated Ali right up to his dying day. Arsène Wenger and Sam Allardyce, two peas in a pod, scores pretty well too, though the most recent pre-Wimbledon highlight was the evident distaste Tiger Woods and Sergio Garcia have for each other.
One place where you would need your box, helmet and pads, and possibly full body armour, is the Australian cricket dressing room. ‘Pup’ Clarke’s in a terrible state, Watson seems to be isolated, Warner, a very talented player, is banned (ludicrously) for tweaking Joe Root’s false beard in a handbags-style shootout in Birmingham and the rest are pretty crap.
The new coach Darren Lehmann, who takes over just a few days before the Ashes start, has a seriously good record, though. He is a proper old-school Aussie, keen on a few beers in the dressing room. This may or may not be a good thing. He is also said to want to get Shane Warne involved with the players. This could mean the end of a brief period when Australian cricketers were sensitive metrosexuals who analysed the sport, rather than playing on instinct.
But with two back-to-back Ashes series, will we soon get as fed up playing Australia as we were with playing New Zealand (who might be a better team)? When it starts to get dark and cold which Aussie will you have watched in the summer who will make you want to stay up all night in the winter? Mitchell Starc? Matty Wade? Phil Hughes? Hmmm …
Roger Alton is an executive editor at the Times.