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Serena Williams offers apology

Sorry for shots she took at Sharapova

Serena Williams’ recent verbal shots have been as fierce as any she has unleashed on the court.

In the same profile in Rolling Stone magazine in which she seemed to blame the teenage victim in a rape case in Steubenville, Ohio, Williams took a swipe at a “top-five” rival widely believed to be Maria Sharapova by saying the player was dating a guy “with a black heart.” Writer Stephen Rodrick took that to mean Grigor Dimitrov, a Bulgarian tennis pro and reportedly an ex-boyfriend of Williams.

Sharapova returned with a jab at Williams’ conduct with coach Patrick Mouratoglou, saying, “Maybe she should talk about her relationship and her boyfriend that was married and is getting a divorce and has kids.”

Williams, ranked No. 1 in the world, attempted Sunday to calm this tempest in a Wimbledon teapot. Speaking at a pre-tournament news conference, Williams said she wanted to apologize “for everything that was said in that article,” and said she had talked to Sharapova privately. Williams also said she’d take Sharapova’s advice to focus on tennis.

“There’s one thing I’m really good at,” Williams said, “and that’s hitting the ball over a net, in a box. I’m excellent.”

No argument there.

Williams has won 31 consecutive matches and 74 of her last 77, including an Olympic gold medal and a decisive French Open victory over Sharapova two weeks ago for her 16th Grand Slam title.

Yet, Williams said she can improve.

“I always said that I felt like I have never played my best tennis,” she said after becoming the oldest French Open women’s champion in the Open era, at 31. “I feel like I can always do better and play better and I have always wanted to reach that level. … I have never felt so fit. I feel great. I look great.”

Revived by a coaching change since her shocking first-round exit at last year’s French Open, Williams is overwhelmingly favored to win her second straight Wimbledon singles title and sixth overall. Play starts today and Williams opens Tuesday against 92nd-ranked Mandy Minella of Luxembourg.

Williams’ 31-match winning streak is the longest in one season in women’s tennis since her older sister, Venus, won 35 straight in 2000. Venus, who has been slowed by an autoimmune disease, withdrew from Wimbledon because of a bad back. “I feel so lonely. I feel like something is missing,” Serena said.