Maria Sharapova
Siberian Siren
Tennis Champion



Last updated: July 16, 2017 | Open Since: Feb 18, 2008 | Email Us: Here | Get a Free Email Account

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Maria Sharapova
Height: 6-2
Weight: 130
Birth Name: Maria Yuryevna Sharapova
Twitter: @MariaSharapova
Birth Date: Apr 19, 1987
Birth Place: Nyagan, Siberia, Russia
Home: Bradenton, Florida
Nicknames: Masha, Siberian Siren
Parents: Yuri and Yelena
Racquet: Prince O3 White
Clothing: Nike
Shoes: Nike Air Zoom Mystify II
Plays: Right-handed (two-handed backhand)
Trademark: Grunts loudly when striking the ball

2017 At A Glance

Current WTA Rank: 211
WTA Tournaments Played: 3
WTA Record: 5-3
Hardcourt: 0-0
Clay: 5-3
Carpet: 0-0
Grass: 0-0

Tournaments Won in 2017

None

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2017 Tournament Results

Tournament (Seed) Surface Round Opponent W/L Score
Porsche Tennis Grand Prix Clay First Round Roberta Vinci W 7-5, 6-3
Apr. 24 - Apr. 30 Second Round Ekaterina Makarova W 7-5, 6-1
Quarterfinals Anett Kontaveit W 6-3, 6-4
Semifinals Kristina Mladenovic L 3-6, 7-5, 6-4
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Mutua Madrid Open Clay First Round Mirjana Lucic-Baroni W 4-6, 6-4, 6-0
May 6 - May 13 Second Round Eugenie Bouchard L 7-5, 2-6, 6-4
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Internazionali BNL d'Italia Clay First Round Christina McHale W 6-4, 6-2
May 14 - May 21 Second Round Mirjana Lucic-Baroni L 4-6, 6-3, 2-1

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Sharapova makes first US match appearance since drug ban

(7/16/17) Maria Sharapova is realistic as she tries to regain her form after a 15-month drug suspension.

''I think no road is easy,'' Sharapova said Sunday before a World Team Tennis match.

Sharapova played for the Orange County Breakers in their season-opening match against the defending champion San Diego Aviators at the La Costa Resort and Spa. It was Sharapova's first appearance in the U.S. since testing positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.

She returned to the court in April and played three tournaments in Europe. In her first event, the Russian star reached the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix semifinals. A thigh injury prevented Sharapova from competing in the grass-court season that ended at Wimbledon on Sunday. But now she's fit and ready for a summer run, hoping to cap it at the U.S. Open.

''It's nice to have a schedule again and something that I really miss, having a tournament on the schedule and a calendar and knowing what I have to prepare for,'' Sharapova said.

When her initial two-year ban was reduced to 15 months, some questioned if Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion, was given beneficial treatment.

''I served the suspension period and I think there's not much more that I could add to that,'' Sharapova said.

Ken Macdonald, one of Sunday's spectators, welcomed her return.

''She's good for women's tennis,'' Macdonald said. ''She deserves a second chance.''

But Sharapova also hears her detractors claiming she got a pass. Sharapova, one of the world's most recognizable female athletes, said that she's answering her critics by showing up.

''I think just by doing what I do, and that's playing tennis,'' she said. ''That's what I wanted to do from the very beginning. I've done it. I've always had the choice of not doing it. I have had a lot in my career. I've had the support.

''As someone who is 30 years old, I achieved enough to call it a day. But there's something deeper. It's more than just the sport. It's something I've done all my life and my career. I wanted to continue that. That's where my focus is and not much else.''

Sharapova said her schedule leading to the U.S. Open will include another WTT appearance and WTA Tour stops at Stanford and Toronto. She declined to predict how she would fare at the U.S. Open, the year's final Grand Slam event.

''It's not something that I think about; it's not part of my job,'' she said. ''Just because I have to be realistic that I haven't played in a long time. With the injury, it was almost like a two-year break for me. The importance and significance of every tournament is much more in my mind than what I can or cannot do at the U.S. Open.''

Which brought her back to the WTT and the La Costa Resort and Spa, where she won twice when it was WTA Tour stop.

''This was a great little addition to my schedule,'' she said. ''I hadn't actually planned on playing World Team Tennis but I just thought I could use the bonus matches as I like to call them. Play in front of the crowds and come back to places that I've competed at before.''

Davenport thinks Sharapova, Azarenka could make WTA Finals

(7/7/17) Maria Sharapova has only played three tournaments since returning from her doping ban, but Hall of Famer Lindsay Davenport still won't rule out the possibility of the Russian star qualifying for the WTA Finals.

And Wimbledon is only the second event for Victoria Azarenka since returning from having a baby - yet Davenport gives her a chance to be in Singapore for the season-ending championships from Oct. 22-29, too.

Only eight women qualify for the event, based on results during this year.

''I would never count out Sharapova or Azarenka from anything,'' said Davenport, announced this week as a ''legend ambassador'' for the WTA Finals. ''These players are competitors. They know how to win. Either one could go on a tear and win a bunch of tournaments in a row.''

Sharapova has won five Grand Slam titles; Azarenka two. Both have been ranked No. 1.

They've both recently been away from the tour, for very different reasons.

Azarenka hadn't played in a tournament since last year's French Open until coming back last month as a mother. Sharapova served a 15-month ban after testing positive for the newly banned drug meldonium at the Australian Open in January 2016; she returned in April and played in three tournaments, but missed Wimbledon because of an injured left thigh. She is scheduled to play next at a hard-court tournament in Stanford, California, that begins on July 31.

At the moment, Sharapova is ranked 180th and is 130th in the points that matter for Singapore. Azarenka is ranked 683rd, and 509th in the points race - although both of those will climb quite a bit after Wimbledon, where she played in the third round Friday.

''Either one of them could be holding the U.S. Open trophy (in September) and with that, a lot of confidence, a lot of swag going into the fall as well,'' Davenport said at the All England Club, where she won the 1999 title and later was twice the runner-up.

''I think they're both going to make big runs in the next 12 to 18 months,'' Davenport continued. ''It'll be interesting to see how Maria now handles almost the second part of this comeback. It seemed like it was a lot for her in the beginning. It's so good that that's out of the way - the media, facing the players, being at a tournament. It was a lot of matches for her to start off.''

Sharapova to return in July for World Team Tennis

(6/23/17) Maria Sharapova will return to competitive tennis in July for two World Team Tennis matches.

Sharapova recently returned to the WTA Tour after a 15-month doping ban. She is skipping Wimbledon because of an injured left thigh that prevented her from competing in qualifiers.

Sharapova plans to play for the Orange County Breakers — a team she has played for seven years — on July 16 and July 24.

Sharapova had originally planned to return for a hard court tournament in Stanford, California, on July 31.

The five-time major champion is ranked 179th in the world.

Sharapova receives invite to WTA Stanford event

(6/14/17) Five-time grand slam champion Maria Sharapova has received an invitation to play at the WTA Stanford tournament at the end of next month as the Russian star continues her return from a doping suspension.

Sharapova's comeback from a 15-month doping ban will include a stop at Stanford University for the July 31-August 6 event, organizers announced on Wednesday.

Officials gave the 30-year-old Sharapova a wildcard entry as she gets set to compete in the tournament for the first time six years.

"I am excited to return to the Bank of the West Classic and would like to thank the tournament for giving me the opportunity to play," Sharapova said.

Former world number one Victoria Azarenka is also in the 28-player singles draw.

Sharapova tested positive for meldonium, a heart and blood boosting drug, at the 2016 Australian Open. She said that she had taken it for several years and did not know it had been placed on the banned list at the beginning of 2016.

Sharapova was issued a two-year suspension, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced the ban on appeal.

Sharapova, ranked 173rd in the world, made her tour return in April at Stuttgart, reaching the semi-finals.

She had been due to try to qualify for Wimbledon but she pulled out earlier this week, citing a muscle injury.

She was denied a invite to the French Open, which wrapped up Sunday.

Sharapova's Wimbledon qualifying bid to be broadcast

(6/10/17) Maria Sharapova is skipping the grass-court season and will not try to qualify for Wimbledon because she has not recovered from an injured left thigh.

The five-time major champion and former No. 1-ranked player announced Saturday in a posting on her official Facebook account that "an additional scan" showed that the muscle tear she got at the Italian Open last month will not allow her to return to competition yet.

"I will continue to work on my recovery," her message said.

The agency that represents Sharapova confirmed that she will be sidelined until what she called her "next scheduled event," the hard-court tournament in Stanford, California, that begins on July 31.

Sharapova recently returned to the tour after a 15-month doping ban. She tested positive for the newly banned drug meldonium at the Australian Open in January 2016.

Because her ranking, No. 178 this week, is still too low for direct entry into main draws, Sharapova has been participating in tournaments via wild-card invitations, beginning on red clay at Stuttgart, Germany, in April. She received a wild card for the grass-court event at Birmingham, England, which begins on June 19, but will now have to miss that tournament.

The 30-year-old Russian was denied a wild card for the French Open, which she has won twice.

The women’s final in Paris was Saturday, with unseeded Jelena Ostapenko beating Simona Halep in three sets for the title. Just two days past her 20th birthday, Ostapenko was the youngest woman to win a Grand Slam championship since Sharapova was 19 at the 2006 U.S. Open.

Two years before that, at 17, Sharapova won her first major title at Wimbledon. She has since completed a career Grand Slam and become one of the most recognizable — and marketable — athletes in the world.

Sharapova had been planning to enter qualifying this year for Wimbledon, where main-draw play starts on July 3.

Sharapova's Wimbledon qualifying bid to be broadcast

(5/26/17) Fans around the world will be able to watch Maria Sharapova's bid to reach Wimbledon with qualifying for the Grand Slam to be broadcast for the first time, it was announced Friday

However, a spokeswoman for the All England Lawn Tennis Club, the tournament organisers, told AFP in London that this was one of several "long-planned" changes and not a decision made in response to 2004 Wimbledon singles champion Sharapova's move to take part in qualifying rather than accept a wildcard as she returns from a doping ban.

An AELTC statement said it wanted to "continually improve the facilities for both competitors and spectators" at the Bank of England sports centre in Roehampton, near Wimbledon in southwest London, which has hosted qualifying uninterrupted since 1947.

"For the first time, television coverage from the event's main Show Court will be available to spectators inside the Grounds via a giant video screen, and to Wimbledon fans around the world on wimbledon.com and via the AELTC’s broadcast partners," the statement said.

The AELTC added that this year's "enhancements" also included the introduction of ticketing, "to allow for adequate and appropriate security and safety measures at the venue".

Russian former world number one Sharapova was refused a wildcard for the French Open, another of tennis's four Grand Slams that starts this weekend following her 15-month ban for taking meldonium.

However, the 30-year-old was controversially handed a wildcard for next month's WTA grasscourt event in Birmingham, a key warm-up for Wimbledon.

Sharapova returned from her doping ban on April 26 but relied on wildcards to get into tournaments because her world ranking points expired while she was banned. The five-time Grand Slam winner had plummeted to 211.

She was initially banned for two years for using meldonium, with the penalty later reduced by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which ruled she was not an intentional doper.

Last week, Sharapova announced she would be playing Wimbledon qualifying, telling her website: "Because of my improved ranking after the first three tournaments of my return, I will also be playing the qualifying of Wimbledon in Roehampton, and will not be requesting a wildcard into the main draw."

After her ban expired, Sharapova returned to competition last month at the Stuttgart Open, reaching the semi-finals, and progressed to the last 32 of the Madrid Open, failing to earn a qualifying spot for the French Open, the second Grand Slam of the season.

Following her French Open wildcard snub, a defiant Sharapova tweeted: "If this is what it takes to rise up again, then I am in it all the way, everyday."

Maria Sharapova awarded wild card into Rogers Cup main draw

(5/23/17) Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova will continue her comeback from a 15-month doping ban at this summer’s Rogers Cup in Toronto.

The tournament says she has been awarded a main draw wild card for the August event.

Since the end of her ban, Sharapova has used wild-card entries to play three events on the WTA Tour.

In her first tournament in Stuttgart, she won three matches to reach the semifinals before losing to Kristina Mladenovic.

Then, after defeating Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in her opening match in Madrid, she came up against Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, who said Sharapova was a "cheater" and should be banned for life for doping. Bouchard won 7-5, 2-6, 6-4.

Other players, including Andy Murray and Angelique Kerber, have been outspoken about Sharapova receiving free passes into events.

Rogers Cup tournament director Karl Hale called her a "fan favourite," pointing out that she had done her time for the doping infraction.

"She has served her suspension and we know our guests will be excited to see her play," he said in a statement.

The 30-year-old's best result at the Rogers Cup came in 2009, when she advanced to the final.

"I'm really looking forward to coming back to Canada," Sharapova said of her first appearance in the tournament since 2014. "I have some great memories of playing Toronto in the past, and the tournament and the fans have always been so supportive."

Wild cards are offered at a tournament's discretion to players whose ranking would not qualify them for the event on their own. Should Sharapova rise in the rankings before the tournament's entry deadline to make the main draw cut-off on her own merit, the wild card would be given back to Rogers Cup for use on another player.

She is currently ranked 173rd in the world.

Last week, Sharapova was granted a wild card to play in the pre-Wimbledon tournament in Birmingham. The Aegon Classic begins on June 19, two weeks before Wimbledon.

Sharapova has also said she will play in the Wimbledon qualifying tournament, which begins June 26.

The Russian will need to win three matches to enter the main draw.

Sharapova initially was given a two-year suspension after testing positive for the banned heart drug meldonium at last year's Australian Open.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced the ban on appeal, ruling she bore "less than significant fault" in the case and she could not "be considered to be an intentional doper."

Sharapova had been taking meldonium for many years, but overlooked announcements by WADA that it added the drug to its banned list on Jan. 1, 2016.

Sharapova faces 10-match marathon to win Wimbledon title

(5/20/17) Maria Sharapova will probably have to win 10 matches to claim a second Wimbledon title this year after deciding on Friday not to request a wildcard for the championships.

The 30-year-old returned from a 15-month doping ban last month and has failed to gain a high enough ranking for automatic entry into the 128-strong main draw.

Set to enter the top 200 on Monday, however, she is eligible to play in the qualifying event the week before in Roehampton, where she would need to survive three rounds just to take her place in round one at the All England Club.

Russian Sharapova, the 2004 champion and former world number one, announced the news on her website.

"Because of my improved ranking after the first three tournaments of my return, I will also be playing ...in Roehampton, and will not be requesting a wildcard," said Sharapova, who has received a wildcard for the Wimbledon warmup event in Birmingham.

Sharapova could have secured a place in the Wimbledon main draw by right had she reached the semi-finals at the Italian Open in Rome, but she withdrew injured during a second round match against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.

"I have already started getting treatment on the injury I sustained a few days ago in Rome, and will begin my preparation as soon I get better," the five-times grand slam champion said.

Her decision takes the heat off the Wimbledon wildcard committee which meets on June 20 and could technically still offer her automatic entry into the main draw.

However, in light of the decision of French Tennis Federation (FFT) on Tuesday to snub Sharapova for a French Open wildcard, they would have been under pressure to follow suit.

Sharapova was initially banned for two years after testing positive for then newly-banned heart condition drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open. The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) reduced the sanction to 15 months, saying she was not an "intentional doper".

The U.S.-based player called her punishment "unfairly harsh" saying she had not realised meldonium, a product she had used legally for much of her career, had been added to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned list.

Her comeback has been aided by wildcards in Stuttgart, where she reached the semi-finals, Madrid and Rome.

Several players have voiced their disapproval at Sharapova's return, most noticeably Canada's Eugenie Bouchard who said Sharapova should have been banned for life, calling her a "cheater". Bouchard beat Sharapova in Madrid.

Sharapova will have to break new ground if she is to win Wimbledon this year as no qualifier has won the women's singles title.

American Alexandra Stevenson came closest when she reached the semi-final in 1999 before losing to Lindsay Davenport.

John McEnroe reached the men's singles semi-finals as a qualifier in 1977.

Maria Sharapova: My grass court tournament schedule

(5/19/17) (mariasharapova.com) Hello Everyone,

An update on my grass court tournament schedule.

A few months ago, I received a wild card offer from Birmingham, one of my most memorable tournaments as a young player. I am so grateful and excited to be playing this event again!

Because of my improved ranking after the first three tournaments of my return, I will also be playing the Qualifying of Wimbledon in Roehampton, and will not be requesting a wild card into the main draw.

I have already started getting treatment on the injury I sustained a few days ago in Rome, and will begin my preparation as soon I get better.

Maria

Sharapova receives wild card into pre-Wimbledon event

(5/18/17) Maria Sharapova was granted a wild card to play in the pre-Wimbledon tournament in Birmingham on Thursday, two days after she was rejected by the French Open because of her recent doping ban.

Sharapova committed to the Aegon Classic for this year and next year in return for a wild card, British Lawn Tennis Association chief executive Michael Downey said.

"This wasn’t a decision we took lightly and we recognize not everyone will agree with it, however Maria has served her ban in full and is now back playing high-quality tennis," Downey said.

The Aegon Classic begins on June 19, two weeks before Wimbledon.

Sharapova won the title in Birmingham in 2004 and 2005. She has not competed in the tournament for seven years.

Since the end of her 15-month doping ban last month, Sharapova has used wild-card entries to play three events on the main WTA tour to try and get her world ranking up to a level where she can automatically enter anywhere again.

Players, including No. 1s Andy Murray and Angelique Kerber, have been outspoken about Sharapova receiving free passes into events because she was caught doping, as opposed to coming back from an injury. The French Open agreed, and decided on Tuesday not to give the two-time champion a wild card for the Grand Slam this month.

Her ranking, at No. 211 before she went two rounds at the Italian Open this week, was not good enough to make the French Open qualifying draw but good enough for Wimbledon qualifying.

An All England Club subcommittee will meet on June 20 to decide on wild cards for the main draw. Sharapova won Wimbledon in 2004.

The Ricoh Open in Rosmalen, Netherlands, starting on June 12, had also offered Sharapova a wild card.

Sharapova says she'll 'rise up again' after French Open snub

(5/17/17) Maria Sharapova is vowing to "rise up again," a day after she was denied a wild-card entry for the French Open.

On her Twitter feed Wednesday, Sharapova posted these words: If this is what it takes to rise up again, then I am in it all the way, everyday. No words, games, or actions will ever stop me from reaching my own dreams. And I have many."

French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli announced Tuesday that he decided not to invite Sharapova to play at Roland Garros, where the main draw starts May 28. She recently returned to the tour after serving a 15-month doping ban.

The 30-year-old Sharapova didn't comment about Giudicelli's ruling on Tuesday.

She is a two-time French Open champion who has won five Grand Slam titles.

Sharapova's French 'ban' raises question

(5/16/17) (Yahoo) The folks who run the sport of tennis do not have a hard-and-fast rule that would apply to Maria Sharapova and others in her shoes, something along the lines of: When returning from a drug suspension with a ranking too low to earn access to tournaments, a player is (or is not) entitled to wild-card entries.

The way things are now, it is up to each individual tournament to elect whether to invite players under such circumstances. So Sharapova will not compete at the French Open after that country's tennis federation announced Tuesday it opted not to allow the two-time champion into the field because of her recently concluded 15-month doping ban.

Many figured Sharapova would be permitted to play in Paris - in the qualifying rounds, at the very least, if not in the main draw, which starts May 28.

She is, after all, the owner of a total of five major titles, a former No. 1-ranked player and one of the world's most recognizable athletes. And she did, after all, return to the WTA tour last month; she tested positive for the newly banned drug meldonium at the Australian Open in January 2016.

''This suspension is over and she can take her path toward new success,'' French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli said. ''But while there can be a wild card for return from injury, there can't be a wild card for return from doping.''

That is a matter of opinion: As WTA CEO Steve Simon pointed out Tuesday, tournaments are allowed to award a wild-card invitation to any eligible player, and Sharapova is now eligible to compete.

''What I do not agree with is the basis put forward by the FFT for their decision with respect to Maria Sharapova. She has complied with the sanction imposed,'' Simon said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press. ''There are no grounds for any member of the (tennis anti-doping program) to penalize any player beyond the sanctions set forth in the final decision resolving these matters.''

The WTA is not contemplating any change to rules governing wild cards for players returning from a suspension.

As it stands, Sharapova's ranking is not high enough to gain direct access into top-tier events. The 30-year-old Russian was granted wild cards by three clay-court tournaments: in Stuttgart, Germany, in April, followed by Madrid last week, and then Rome, where she quit because of a left thigh injury during a match Tuesday.

Quite a day, huh?

Sharapova skipped a news conference afterward, issuing a statement about the injury but saying nothing about the French Open decision. The agency that represents her also declined comment.

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, Sharapova's Italian Open opponent, had plenty to say.

''The fact that there isn't a rule on people who failed doping tests, and whether or not they can get a wild card, whether or not they should, it's a very strange thing,'' Lucic-Baroni said, ''because we are professional, and that should be in place.''

She also made clear that she agreed with Giudicelli, calling the decision to deny the wild card ''brave'' because of Sharapova's popularity.

''If you want to do the right thing, you have to do the right thing,'' Lucic-Baroni said. ''If you want to invest more money in doping tests, then you can't award a person who failed a doping test, no matter how you guys want to wrap it up and make it sound pretty.''

Current men's No. 1 Andy Murray, who lost in Rome on Tuesday, was not in much of a mood to discuss the topic yet again.

He's made clear that he is not a fan of wild cards for players returning from doping suspensions and, like Lucic-Baroni, would like to see some sort of standardized approach to the issue.

''The French have decided what they want to do,'' Murray said, ''and that's fine with me.''

After initially getting a two-year suspension, Sharapova appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which reduced the ban, ruling she bore ''less than significant fault'' in the case and could not ''be considered to be an intentional doper.''

Her ranking rose enough during her return that she can participate in qualifying for the next major tournament, Wimbledon. As for the U.S. Open, U.S. Tennis Association spokesman Chris Widmaier said: ''For us, it would be very premature to comment on our wild-card process.''

The French federation's Giudicelli said he ''felt some pressure'' to let Sharapova play at Roland Garros. Ultimately, though, he said he determined, ''It's my responsibility, it's my mission, to protect the game and protect the high standards of the game.''

One day, perhaps it will be the International Tennis Federation, ATP and WTA that decide what, exactly, the standards are.

Sharapova retires from match in Rome with apparent injury

(5/16/17) Maria Sharapova retired from her Italian Open match due to a left thigh injury hours after learning she would not be granted a wild card into the French Open.

Sharapova was leading Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 4-6, 6-3, 2-1 when she called it quits on Tuesday in the second round.

Sharapova had left the court for an injury timeout during the second game of the third set. She came back with her left thigh taped and managed to win a game despite serving softly, then walked to the net after Lucic-Baroni held serve.

The retirement came 2 1/2 hours after French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli announced he would not invite Sharapova to Roland Garros because of her past doping ban.

"I apologize for having to withdraw from my match today with a left thigh injury. I will be getting all the necessary examinations to make sure it is not serious," Sharapova said in a statement. "I want to thank the tournament for giving me the opportunity to play in this special event again."

Sharapova returned last month following a 15-month ban for testing positive for the banned heart drug meldonium at last year’s Australian Open.

The Russian has accepted wild cards to enter all three of her tournaments since her return, attracting criticism from many players.

Sharapova was given a wild card for Rome ahead of local player Francesca Schiavone, which sparked controversy.

But she won’t be heading to Paris next week.

"Must be tough for her, but it’s the way it is," Novak Djokovic said after he overcame a challenging first set to beat British qualifier Aljaz Bedene 7-6 (2), 6-2 in his opening match at the Foro Italico. "In some tournaments she’s going to get that help in wild card and invitation; some not. Unfortunately, it’s Grand Slam, which is for sure for her a big one."

The French Open starts in less than two weeks.

"She has to go through a tougher way back," Djokovic added. "After being absent from the tour for a long time, she’s going to be patient, at least as much as she can, to slowly build her rankings and get back to where she has the quality to (enter tournaments directly)."

Sharapova reached the semifinals in Stuttgart, Germany, then was eliminated in the second round in Madrid last week.

By winning her opening match in Rome on Monday, Sharapova earned enough points to enter the top 200 next week and gain direct entry to the qualifying tournament for Wimbledon.

She won both of her previous matches against Lucic-Baroni, a semifinalist at this year’s Australian Open.

Maria Sharapova denied wild-card entry for French Open

(5/16/17) Two-time champion Maria Sharapova has missed out on a wild-card entry for the French Open because of her doping ban.

Announcing the decision on a live Facebook broadcast on Tuesday, French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli said he told Sharapova in person.

"I decided not to give Maria Sharapova a wild card. I’m very sorry for Maria, very sorry for her fans. They might be disappointed, she might be very disappointed," Giudicelli said. "But it’s my responsibility, it’s my mission to protect the game and protect the high standards of the game."

Sharapova returned to tennis only last month following a 15-month ban for doping.

"This suspension is over and she can take her path toward new success," Giudicelli said. "But while there can be a wild card for return from injury, there can't be a wild card for return from doping."

Sharapova, who has titles at all four majors, won at Roland Garros in 2012 and 2014.

Thanks to wild cards at her first two tournaments, she got her world ranking to outside the top 200 this week. But that wasn't good enough to make the cut even for the qualifying field at Roland Garros, so she will miss the tournament for a second straight year.

The French Open begins on May 28.

She's using another wild card to play in the Italian Open this week.

Sharapova initially was given a two-year suspension after testing positive for the banned heart drug meldonium at last year's Australian Open.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced the ban on appeal, ruling she bore "less than significant fault" in the case and she could not "be considered to be an intentional doper." Sharapova had been taking meldonium for many years, but overlooked announcements by WADA that it added the drug to its banned list on Jan. 1, 2016.

"The Court of Arbitration reduced her suspension but also recognized that Maria was the sole person responsible for her misfortune," Giudicelli said. "It's not down to me to question that decision and, I repeat, we must respect decisions that were taken."

Top-ranked players Angelique Kerber and Andy Murray spoke out against Sharapova receiving wild cards, while Eugenie Bouchard went as far as calling her a "cheater" who should be banned for life.

Italian Open organizers were the first to offer Sharapova a wild card, and they were criticized for not giving one to former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, an Italian. But on Monday, fans cheered and held up signs of encouragement for Sharapova, a three-time Rome champion, during her first-round match.

It was much the same reception as she got in Stuttgart, Germany, her first tournament back. At the time, WTA CEO Steve Simon told German broadcaster ZDF she had paid the price.

"I don't think a suspension should wipe out the career's worth of work," he said.

Sharapova got another wild card for the Madrid Open last week.

But she didn't won enough at those two events to secure a spot in qualifying for Roland Garros, and so was reliant on a wild card into the main draw.

Although sympathetic, Giudicelli was also unrepentant.

"I know that a lot of people might be disappointed by this decision. But nevertheless Roland Garros invests a lot -- along with the other Grand Slams, the ATP, and the WTA -- into the fight against doping," he said. "It was inconceivable to take a decision that would have been the opposite of this.

"I know the media dimension Maria has. I know the expectation fans and broadcasters have. But it didn't seem possible for me to go above the strong commitment and the respect for the anti-doping code."

Win in Rome lets Sharapova try to qualify for Wimbledon

(5/16/17) Three tournaments into her return from a 15-month doping ban, Maria Sharapova has already gained enough rankings points to enter qualifying for Wimbledon.

The five-time Grand Slam winner took advantage of another wild card and overcame a shaky opening set to defeat 58th-ranked Christina McHale 6-4, 6-2 in the first round of the Italian Open on Monday.

The win earned Sharapova enough points to enter the top 200 of the rankings and earn at least a spot in qualifying at the All England Club.

''Winning matches will get me places, so if that's where it got me today, then I will take it,'' said Sharapova, who entered this week at No. 211. ''The fact that I'm back and playing three weeks in a row now ... for me is a big deal.''

Sharapova will learn on Tuesday if she will be granted a wild card for the French Open this month, with Roland Garros organizers planning an announcement on Facebook.

''I won't be following it live. I will be focused on my match, as I'm playing tomorrow,'' Sharapova said, adding that she would accept a qualifying wild card. ''Nothing is a disappointment after being away from the game for 15 months.''

Venus Williams, the 1999 Rome champion, defeated Yaroslava Shvedova, 6-4, 7-6 (4).

In men's action, Olympic silver medalist Juan Martin del Potro rallied past Grigor Dimitrov 3-6, 6-2, 6-3.

Dimitrov double-faulted to hand del Potro the key break in the third set and then smashed his racket on the clay.

Del Potro will next face Kyle Edmund of Britain, who beat Joao Sousa of Portugal 6-3, 6-4.

Also, David Goffin rallied past qualifier Thomaz Bellucci 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4, and Tomas Berdych required five set points to close out the opening set in a 7-6 (7), 6-4 win over Australian Open quarterfinalist Mischa Zverev.

Berdych matched his coach, Goran Ivanisevic, with 599 career victories. Only 24 players have earned 600 or more wins.

Sam Querrey eliminated Lucas Pouille, a semifinalist last year, 7-6 (6), 7-6 (8).

Sharapova was broken by McHale in the opening game and went on to drop serve twice more in the first set before finding her groove.

Tournament organizers were criticized for giving a wild card to Sharapova instead of former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, an Italian. But fans cheered and held up signs of encouragement for Sharapova, a three-time Rome champion.

Sharapova's next opponent will be Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who beat former French Open finalist Lucie Safarova 7-5, 4-6, 6-3. Sharapova could face top-ranked Angelique Kerber in the third round.

Sharapova edged Lucic-Baroni in three tough sets in Madrid last week but then lost to Eugenie Bouchard.

At the start, McHale was able to run down balls in the corners and make Sharapova play extra shots, which she often missed.

But once the second set began, Sharapova was in total control and began to resemble the player who won the trophy at the Foro Italico in 2011, 2012 and 2015.

Still, there were signs of rustiness, like when Sharapova dumped a first serve into the red clay before the net while attempting to close out the match. McHale went on to win that point and game but Sharapova broke the American's serve in the next game to end it.

Sharapova led 21-7 in winners and committed 22 unforced errors to McHale's 25.

Financial pressure may persuade French Open to give Sharapova a wild card

(5/15/17) Tuesday is D-Day for Maria Sharapova as she awaits the announcement of the French Tennis Federation as to whether she will receive a wild card into this year’s French Open.

The Russian’s return from a 15-month ban for a doping violation has divided opinion with many players asking whether Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome were right to give her a wild card into their events.

Sharapova reached the semi-finals on her return in Stuttgart last month but did not have enough ranking points to get straight into the main draw in Paris, nor the qualifying event.

As a grand slam event, the French Open is perhaps less in need of extra publicity than a regular Tour event, its sponsorship and advance ticket sales largely unaffected by the presence of an individual player.

However, the Roland Garros tournament, which will announce the decision on Facebook Live at 1900 local time (1700 GMT) on Tuesday, may feel under financial pressure to grant Sharapova a wild card, either for qualifying which starts on May 22 or for the main draw six days later.

As the smallest of the four grand slam venues, Roland Garros has the lowest attendance and generates the least revenue, and a decade-long stalemate over its plans to expand means it faces being left behind as the other slams continue to grow.

French Open revenue was 187.3 million euros ($205 million) in 2015, compared to Wimbledon at 169.7 million pounds ($219 million) and the U.S. Open ($291 million).

Even the Australian Open, long considered the weakest of the four, has caught up in revenue terms, generating the equivalent of 188 million U.S. dollars in 2015 and 207 million in 2016, with a further anticipated rise from this year.

Roland Garros is also lagging behind in terms of facilities. The Australian Open has a roof over three courts while the U.S. Open will have a second roof by 2018 and Wimbledon will add a second one by 2019.

The French Open has none which has an adverse effect on television rights, where the guarantee of play no matter what the weather will boost revenue.

Total prize money for this year’s French Open is 35.98 million euros ($39.46 million), a 12 percent increase on 2016, with the singles champions each receiving 2.1 million euros.

Next month’s Wimbledon has a total prize money pot of 31.6 million pounds ($40.8 million). This year’s Australian Open, which was badly affected by exchange rates, had $37 million and the U.S. Open will dish out a total of $50 million.

OLYMPIC BID COULD BOOST ROLAND GARROS

While the Paris 2016 figure of 413,907 people through the gates is not that far behind Wimbledon (493,928), it is dwarfed by the U.S. Open, which had 691,280 people in 2015, and the Australian Open, which this year had 728,763.

Revenue and attendance figures are likely to go up as each slam expands its facilities but the French capital’s attempts to build into the neighboring botanical gardens have been hamstrung by red tape.

Until the plans to expand are approved –- and the Paris bid to host the 2024 Olympics could be a key factor in that happening –- facilities at Roland Garros will look forlorn by comparison.

On Monday, the mayor of Paris, Anne Hidalgo, said Roland Garros was a key part of the Olympic bid.

"In 2024, Roland Garros will be bigger, more comfortable and more beautiful in order to host five sports including tennis and boxing," she said on Twitter.

The issue of Sharapova has been a sensitive one.

Bernard Giudicelli, the new president of the French Tennis Federation said in March that it would be difficult to give the former world number one a wild card when it was spending a lot of money on anti-doping.

"It's complicated. We prefer that she returns completely rehabilitated," Giudicelli told a French journalist.

"Integrity is one of our strong points. We cannot decide, on the one hand, to increase the amount of funds we dedicate to the anti-doping battle and, on the other, invite her."

Former player Guy Forget, now the French Open tournament director, has been canvassing opinion from within the sport as to what the reaction would be should Sharapova receive a wild card.

Former world number one Martina Navratilova said this month that Sharapova should now be allowed to get on with her tennis and as a two-time champion in Paris could justifiably be given a wild card into the main draw.

With the issue of revenue to consider, however, organizers -- already hit by Monday's withdrawal of 18-times grand slam champion Roger Federer from the men's event -- might be canny to give Sharapova a wild card into qualifying.

In 2016, 17,689 people attended qualifying at Roland Garros, compared to 48,894 at the U.S. Open. Add Sharapova to the qualifying event and interest would grow, including from broadcasters who provide most of the revenue.

“I think I'd be prepared to play in the juniors if I had to," Sharapova told reporters in Stuttgart last month. "I think everyone in this room knows what a competitor I am and I don't take anything for granted and if I get the opportunity to be in a draw then I will take it.”

The French Federation did not respond when asked for comment.

Sharapova overcomes shaky start to beat McHale in Rome

(5/15/17) Taking advantage of another wild card upon her return from a doping ban, Maria Sharapova overcame a shaky opening set to defeat 58th-ranked Christina McHale 6-4, 6-2 Monday in the first round of the Italian Open.

Sharapova was broken in the opening game and went on to drop serve twice more in the first set before finding her groove.

A three-time champion in Rome, Sharapova is still rediscovering her form after returning to the WTA Tour last month following a 15-month ban.

Tournament organizers were criticized for giving a wild card to Sharapova instead of former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone, an Italian. But fans cheered and held up signs of encouragement for Sharapova.

Sharapova's next opponent will be Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, who beat former French Open finalist Lucie Safarova 7-5, 4-6, 6-3. She could face top-ranked Angelique Kerber in the third round.

Sharapova edged Lucic-Baroni in three tough sets in Madrid last week but then lost to Eugenie Bouchard, who has been one of the most outspoken critics of the wild cards being handed out to Sharapova.

With her ranking at No. 211, Sharapova does not qualify directly for the top tournaments.

At the start, McHale was able to run down balls in the corners and make Sharapova play extra shots, which she often missed.

But once the second set began, Sharapova was in total control and began to resemble the player who won the trophy at the Foro Italico in 2011, 2012 and 2015.

Still, there were signs of rustiness, like when Sharapova hit a first serve into the red clay before the net while attempting to close out the match. McHale went on to win that point and game but Sharapova broke the American's serve in the next game to end it.

Sharapova led 21-7 in winners and committed 22 unforced errors to McHale's 25.

Players need to lay off Sharapova, says Navratilova

(5/12/17) Former world number one Martina Navratilova has urged players to stop focusing on Maria Sharapova after the Russian's recent return from a 15-month doping ban.

Sharapova's comeback has garnered widespread interest with current and former players offering their opinions on the 30-year-old, including men's number one Andy Murray and Canada's Eugenie Bouchard, who labelled the Russian "a cheater".

Bouchard beat Sharapova in the second round of the Madrid Open on Monday, saying that she felt partly inspired to win the match against the five-times major champion after receiving private messages of support from "people in the tennis world".

"I think it's time for the players to lay off Maria. She made a huge mistake, paid dearly for it, 'done the time' and now let's play ball," Navratilova, who won 18 grand slams during a glittering career, tweeted on her verified account.

Sharapova's wildcards driven by media coverage: Murray

(5/10/17) The level of media coverage surrounding Maria Sharapova's return to tennis from a doping suspension has been a key factor in the five-time grand slam winner being offered wildcards to events, men's world number one Andy Murray has said.

The Times reported this week that Sharapova would be awarded a wildcard by the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) to play at next month's Aegon Classic in Birmingham.

Sharapova's current ranking of 258, after a return from a 15-month doping suspension, was too low to merit a direct entry for the event and the organisers were looking to give her one of the four available wildcards, the report said.

The former world number one has played two tournaments through wildcards since her return - losing in the semi-finals at last month's Stuttgart Open and falling to Eugenie Bouchard in the second round of the Madrid Open last week.

"I do think the tournaments are going to do what they think is going to sell the most tickets, give them the most coverage, get the most people in to watch," Murray told BBC Sport.

"I'm sure the LTA saw the coverage that was given, ... the amount of media covering it, and think that's what's best for the tournament in Birmingham. But I'm sure it's split a lot of opinion.

"I'm sure the discussions about whether to give it or not were long... but they've obviously done what they think is right for that event and maybe haven't thought as much about the wider implications."

The 30-year-old Russian last played in the Wimbledon warm-up event in 2010.

Sharapova's hopes of featuring in this year's Wimbledon could hinge on a June 20 meeting of tournament organisers unless the Russian finds form in upcoming events.

The Aegon Classic will be held at the Edgbaston Priory Club from June 17-25.

Sharapova more disappointed to lose early than to Bouchard

(5/9/17) To Maria Sharapova, the most disappointing part of leaving the Madrid Open was doing so in the second round.

Not losing to arch critic Eugenie Bouchard.

Sharapova will more than likely meet Bouchard again, and have another shot at beating the Canadian who wanted her banned for life for doping last year and openly called her a cheater.

More important for Sharapova for now was tournament play, winning matches, getting match fit and her ranking up to where it was before her 15-month ban.

Sharapova's ranking rose from nothing to 258 after reaching the semifinals in Stuttgart two weeks ago, in her first tournament after her ban.

Going only two rounds in Madrid, where she won in 2014, will bump her up into only the low 200s.

Her aim is to quickly lift her ranking so it's good enough to automatically qualify for main tour events, to at least 150, which would get her in the French Open this month.

That would mitigate her reliability on wild cards that a lot of her fellow tour players have opposed. The players believe Sharapova, after doping, should have gone through qualifying, worked her way back from the bottom instead of receiving free passes into main draws.

She has declined to enter that debate.

Like at Stuttgart and Madrid, where she was a former champion, Sharapova has a wild card into the Italian Open next week. Rome was the first to offer her a wild card while she was suspended, and the three-time champion (2011, 2012, 2015) was grateful.

Her effort to automatically qualify for the French Open could become moot next week when organizers announce whether they will give one to Sharapova, the champion at Roland Garros in 2012 and 2014.

In the meantime, losing in the second round at Madrid stung.

"I would be worried about myself if I sat here and said I'm pretty happy with losing a tennis match, no matter who I face, no matter what round it is, whether it's the first round or final of a Grand Slam," she said on Monday after losing to Bouchard.

"I'm a big competitor. What you work for for so many hours every single day is to be on the winning end of matches. Of course I'm disappointed. That's what's going to make me a better player. That's what's going to win me more tournaments and more Grand Slams."

Sharapova said she still needed to regain the confidence for critical points in a match.

"There's no way to train but be a part of it," she said. "To find myself in those situations, come up with the goods ..."

Motivated Bouchard overcomes Sharapova in second round of Madrid Open

(5/9/17) Motivated more than usual, Eugenie Bouchard used her game to send a message to Maria Sharapova by defeating the Russian 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 in a thrilling second-round match at the Madrid Open on Monday.

Bouchard, one of the most outspoken players against Sharapova’s return to tennis following a doping ban, jumped up and down after converting her second match point in just under three hours.

The players casually shook hands at the net and exchanged brief plaudits.

It was their first meeting since Bouchard called Sharapova a cheater and said she should have been banned for life from the sport after testing positive for meldonium at last year’s Australian Open.

"I definitely had some extra motivation going into today," Bouchard said. "I was actually quite inspired before the match because I had a lot of players coming up to me privately wishing me good luck, players I don't normally speak to, getting a lot of texts from people in the tennis world that were just rooting for me. So I wanted to do it for myself, but also all these people. I really felt support.

"It showed me that most people have my opinion, and they were just maybe scared to speak out."

There were no major signs of animosity between them. They went about their business, not paying too much attention to each other in between points.

Bouchard defeated Sharapova for the first time by taking advantage of the Russian's 49 unforced errors and struggles on serve, including nine double faults. The 60th-ranked Canadian from Westmount, Que., had 21 break opportunities, converting five of them.

The Madrid Open is only the second tournament for Sharapova since serving a 15-month suspension. The five-time Grand Slam champion reached the Stuttgart semifinals last month. She received a wild card there, and a wild card here. Most players were against her receiving free entry without having to qualify.

Bouchard had not backed off her comments, and said she was looking forward to playing Sharapova, the 2014 Madrid champion.

"It definitely helps when you can back it up," Bouchard said. "Obviously, there was a lot going on besides tennis in this match. As soon as I stepped on the court, I really just wanted to make it about tennis. We both did that. We just battled our hearts out."

Sharapova said she didn't need extra motivation to play against anybody.

"I'm just one of the two players out on the court," Sharapova said. "Everything that surrounds myself, I don't pay attention to much of it. I've been part of this game for many years. I know what the drill is."

There were a few long stares and some loud cheers by the players after some points.

Sharapova won the first game with a powerful shot straight at Bouchard's body at the net, forcing Bouchard to protect herself. The Canadian deflected the ball with her racket and lost the point.

In a tense game near the end of the first set, Sharapova was frustrated after Bouchard won a point with a ball that changed directions from a net cord. Bouchard turned around without directly apologizing.

Earlier, top-seeded Angelique Kerber defeated Katerina Siniakova of the Czech Republic 6-2, 1-6, 7-5 to advance and regain the world No. 1 ranking.

Second-seeded Karolina Pliskova, ranked third in the world, lost to Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia 6-3, 6-3, ending her hopes of reaching No. 1 this week.

That meant Kerber was guaranteed to retake the top ranking from Serena Williams next week. Kerber will face Bouchard next.

Grudge match: Sharapova to play Bouchard in Madrid

(5/7/17) Maria Sharapova’s reward for advancing to the second round of the Madrid Open on Sunday is a match against Eugenie Bouchard, one of the most outspoken players against the Russian’s return after a doping ban.

Sharapova recovered from a shaky opening to defeat Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 in the first round.

Playing in her second tournament since a 15-month doping suspension, Sharapova denied there would be extra motivation to defeat Bouchard after the Canadian previously called her "a cheater" and said she should be banned for life from the sport.

"It’s not the way I go about my job," the 30-year-old Sharapova said. "I’ve been in the public eye since I was a very young girl. I’ve heard a lot of things. If everything affects you on and off the court, I think that would be a really challenging position to be in. It’s not the way I think. My tennis speaks for itself, and that’s what I focus on."

Monday's match against Bouchard, the 2014 Wimbledon finalist, will be Sharapova's sixth since getting back on tour after testing positive for meldonium at last year's Australian Open. She played her first tournament after the ban in Stuttgart last month, being eliminated in the semifinals by 17th-ranked Kristina Mladenovic of France.

Bouchard, who on Saturday won her first main-draw match since January, has said Sharapova's return was "unfair to all the other players who do it the right way." She said she was hoping to play against the Russian in Madrid.

Sharapova expects to face a difficult opponent regardless of the off-the-court controversy.

"I think in terms of a game style, there's a little bit of similarities to who I played today: very aggressive, inside the court, takes the ball on the rise, doesn't give you much time," Sharapova said. "All the things that hopefully I can improve from today's match and take it against her."

Sharapova took control of her opening match in Madrid after struggling early against the 20th-ranked Lucic-Baroni, cruising to victory in the final set after more than two hours on the centre court, where she was loudly cheered by the fans.

Sharapova, the 2014 winner in Madrid, had 16 winners and only 10 unforced errors in her opening-round victory, her fourth since a controversial return to tennis.

The Russian was broken three times in the first set, but only once in the rest of the match at the clay-court tournament. She had a total of 19 break opportunities, converting seven of them.

Sharapova said it was "extremely important" to get the opening-round victory.

"The first match of a tournament is always one of the most difficult and it's been a while since I played on this court," she said. "I was just so happy to be back out here, to have the opportunity to play against a really tough opponent and come out and be a winner in three sets."

The five-time Grand Slam champion and former top-ranked player has been relying on wild cards because she lost her ranking following the doping ban.

"My goal is to play as many matches as I can right now," Sharapova said. "When you are out of the game for a long time you just want to play and want to compete and find yourself in different situations of the match. And like this one, it was extremely tough, not many rallies, she forced me to come out with some of my good tennis and I really had to dig deep."

Sharapova not worried yet about Wimbledon wild card

(5/7/17) Maria Sharapova would love to compete at Wimbledon but the Russian says she is not yet worried about whether she will be awarded a wild card following her doping ban.

After moving into the second round of the Madrid Open on Sunday, Sharapova said Wimbledon in July is "just too far down the line."

Sharapova defeated Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia in three sets for her fourth victory since serving a 15-month ban for testing positive for meldonium. She was eliminated in the semifinals in Stuttgart last month in her first tournament since the ban.

Sharapova said "these tournaments are really important. The match play that I have, getting myself in these situations, getting out of them, will ultimately help me for those big events whether I’m in there or not."

Sharapova beaten in Tie Break Tens as Halep and Dimitrov triumph

(5/5/17) Maria Sharapova suffered defeat in her only match in the Tie Break Tens on Thursday, as Simona Halep and Grigor Dimitrov triumphed in Madrid.

Sharapova made her comeback following a 15-month ban for failing a drugs test last week, reaching the semi-finals at the Stuttgart Open, a performance that saw her re-enter the WTA rankings at number 262.

But the five-time grand slam champion and former world number one could not live with Monica Puig at the exhibition event, in which a field of eight compete in matches consisting of a first to 10 tie-break.

Puig forged a 7-2 lead that she did not relinquish, claiming a 10-6 win, leaving Sharapova to rue a slow start.

"It was a lot more fun than I expected, I love the format, I love how quick it is," Sharapova said afterwards.

"You want to get off to a good start, I think that's probably of importance in a regular tie-break and a tie-break to 10, that's certainly the key.

"In a quick format like that you've got to get ready, which I wasn't."

Puig could not carry her form into the semi-finals, though, suffering defeat to Halep, who dictated matters from the baseline in her 10-6 triumph over Svetlana Kuznetsova in the final.

On the men's side Dimitrov saw off Feliciano Lopez 10-7, having earlier beaten Fernando Verdasco and Dan Evans.

Murray confident that Sharapova will play at Wimbledon

(5/3/17) Maria Sharapova is still waiting to hear if she can play at the French Open later this month but men's world number one Andy Murray expects her to be at Wimbledon in July.

Sharapova returned last month from a doping ban to reach the semi-finals at the Stuttgart Open, but did not earn enough points to qualify for Roland Garros and is reliant on a wildcard for the qualifying tournament.

The French Tennis Federation will announce their decision on May 16.

Murray, however, said he expected the five-times grand slam champion would be on the grasscourts of south-west London.

"I think there's a good chance Wimbledon would give her one (a wild card) to get into qualifying," Murray told reporters at an event for June's Aegon Championships tournament at the Queen's Club in London.

"I think we've got to wait and see what happens because there might not even be a decision to be made because she might be in the main draw after Madrid or Rome, so there's a good chance she can get in by right."

The Russian can qualify for the main draw at Wimbledon by reaching the semi-final of either the Madrid or Rome tournaments.

The rankings deadline for Wimbledon qualification is May 29.

Murray, who sustained an injury in March, returned to action at the Barcelona Open last month and said he was feeling good as he looked ahead to Roland Garros.

"I feel much better than I did three or four weeks ago," he added.

"I feel like physically I am getting back to where I need to be and I feel like I am able to put in the work I need to, to be able to play my best tennis."

Sharapova to find out Wimbledon wild card fate on June 20

(5/3/17) Maria Sharapova will discover on June 20 if she has been granted a wild card for Wimbledon, provided she has not already qualified for the tournament.

The Russian player has returned to the WTA Tour after serving a 15-month ban for doping and reached the semifinals in Stuttgart last week in her first event back, leaving her ranked No. 262.

Sharapova is set to play two more tournaments, in Madrid and Rome, before the deadline for direct entry to Wimbledon qualifying. Deep runs at those events could see her earn enough points to make the main draw, while she is also waiting to see if she gets a wild card for the French Open on May 16.

Wimbledon chief executive Richard Lewis said Wednesday there will be a meeting of the tournament’s tennis sub-committee on June 20, when it will be clear which players have been accepted into the main draw.

Lewis said qualifying at nearby Roehampton would be a ticketed event for the first time, and that action on one of the courts will be broadcast live. He said this was not linked to the possible appearance of Sharapova, but because of the upsurge in interest in qualifying matches.

Five memorable Sharapova quotes at Stuttgart comeback

(4/30/17) Maria Sharapova made her controversial return from tennis this week at Stuttgart's WTA tournament following her 15-month ban after testing positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.

The former world number one and five-time Grand Slam winner reached the semi-finals before losing 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 to France's Kristina Mladenovic.

The decision to give Sharapova, 30, wild cards to play at Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome have been heavily criticised by her rivals.

Here are five gems from the Russian star's press conferences this week in Stuttgart:

When asked if she will try and build bridges with her rivals in the locker room:

"To have people say nice things about me in press conferences -– what will that change about my tennis? I can’t control what people say. The only thing I can control is what I do out there."

When asked if she would accept a wild card to play at the French Open, which she has won twice, with a decision due on May 16:

"I’d play in the juniors if I had to. I’m not getting wildcards to receive a trophy or a golden platter. It’s my job to win matches."

On being asked a question by a reporter from British tabloid The Sun:

Sharapova: Oh God.

Journalist: Nice to see you, too.

Sharapova: I don’t think The Sun has ever been in Stuttgart, have they?

Journalist: No. It’s nice, it’s fantastic.

Sharapova: First time, wow. Virgins.

When asked if Eugenie Bouchard branding her 'cheater' and Mladenovic's belief that Sharapova should not be getting wild cards would be motivation before Saturday's semi-final:

"Not at all. I am not someone that uses it as part of my comeback. I have let my tennis do the talking. My results have spoken for everything that needs to be said. The biggest part of my comeback is what happens on court."

On the news arch rival Serena Williams, who leads the series 19-2 between the pair, is an expectant mother:

"I think it’s one of the greatest gifts that a woman can receive in life, it’s a blessing. It’s a beautiful chapter in her life."

Tennis authorities to step-up anti-doping efforts

(4/29/17) Maria Sharapova lost in the semi-finals in Stuttgart on Saturday, her controversial comeback from a 15-month doping ban ending in defeat to one of her biggest critics.

Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam winner and former world number one, lost 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 to Kristina Mladenovic as the Russian exited her first tournament back from a ban after testing positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.

"I’m not angry, I’d have loved to have used the opportunity when I was ahead in the second set, so I had a bit of a let down which allowed her to get back in the match, gain confidence and play well," said Sharapova.

Mladenovic has been a vocal critic of Sharapova's return to tennis and on the eve of their semi accused her of getting "extra help", having been handed wild cards to play at the Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome tournaments.

Having started her comeback with a world ranking of zero on Wednesday, due to her ban, reaching the semi-final means Sharapova has already moved up to 260th in the world.

Sharapova refused to blame a lack of fitness for her defeat, but says she needs match practise after her enforced break.

"If at the start of the week I’d said I’d be in this position, I’d be pretty happy with that," she said.

"The way I played, I was really happy with that. You are never sure what level you are going to come onto the court with, but I feel this is a great base with which I started here."

Sharapova will learn on May 16 whether she will be given a wild card for the main draw at Roland Garros and Mladenovic was complimentary of the Russian after her semi-final victory.

"She's a tough player and was very aggressive from the first ball," said Mladenovic after their titanic duel over two hours, 38 minutes.

"I was struggling early on, but just stuck in there and fought, so I am very happy that it paid off."

Sharapova made light work of Mladenovic in the first set, which lasted just 35 minutes.

But Mladenovic, ranked 19th in the world, rallied superbly at 2-0 down in the second, holding her serve and breaking Sharapova in what turned into a battle of nerves.

Mladenovic showed the first signs of cracking when what should have been a simple return spiralled harmlessly off her racquet as she served with the advantage at 5-5.

But she held her composure and went 6-5 ahead, having defended three break points, as her superbly weighted drop shot wrong-footed Sharapova.

The French player then took the second set, which lasted 64 minutes, breaking Sharapova by converting her first set point.

The deciding set followed serve until 3-3, but Sharapova had to hold her nerve, defending a break point at 40-30 down in the fourth game with a ferociously hit ace and a fist pump.

Mladenovic seized the advantage by converting her fourth break point and then came from 40-0 down in the seventh game to take a commanding 5-2 lead.

Sharapova rallied to pull it back to 5-4, but Mladenovic was not to be denied her first win over the Russian and converted her first match point.

Mladenovic will now face Germany's Laura Siegemund in Sunday's final after the wild card beat fourth seed Simona Halep of Romania 6-4, 7-5.

Having lost last year's Stuttgart final to fellow German Angelique Kerber, Siegemund is hoping to claim her second career title having also knocked out seeds Sveltana Kuznetsova and Karolina Pliskova this week.

Sharapova falls to Mladenovic in Porsche Grand Prix semifinals

(4/29/17) Maria Sharapova’s first tournament since her controversial return to tennis is over after losing to Kristina Mladenovic of France in the Porsche Grand Prix semifinals.

Mladenovic beat former top-ranked Sharapova 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 Saturday.

In her fourth match following a 15-month doping ban, the Russian was left to rue missing 13 of her 16 break-point opportunities as Mladenovic rallied to win in 2 hours, 38 minutes.

The 19th-ranked Mladenovic, who ousted two-time defending champion Angelique Kerber on Thursday, next plays the winner of the other semifinal between fourth-seeded Simona Halep and last year’s runner-up Laura Siegemund.

Five-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova, who tested positive for meldonium at last year's Australian Open, had been given a wild card to enter the Stuttgart event after losing her ranking because of the ban.

Tennis authorities to step-up anti-doping efforts

(4/28/17) The International Tennis Federation says more doping tests will be carried out on professional players this year.

In a joint initiative between the ITF, ATP, Grand Slam Board and WTA, the number of tests this year will increase to 8,000, from 4,899 in 2016. More samples will be placed into long-term storage.

ITF President David Haggerty says "we welcome this strengthening of the sport's anti-doping efforts."

Haggerty says: "Protecting the integrity of tennis is an ongoing priority of the governing bodies of tennis to ensure that tennis is and remains a clean sport, and these enhancements will make a positive contribution to achieving that priority."

Sharapova wins again, reaches semifinals at Porsche GP

(4/28/17) Maria Sharapova advanced to the semifinals of the Porsche Grand Prix by beating Anett Kontaveit of Estonia 6-3, 6-4 Friday.

In her third match following a 15-month doping ban, Sharapova converted five of her six break points.

The Russian, who tested positive for meldonium at last year’s Australian Open, will next face either Kristina Mladenovic or Carla Suarez Navarro.

Kontaveit had only five unforced errors in the first set, but Sharapova broke for a 4-3 lead and won the next two games. The Russian broke early in the second set, too, and then again for a 4-2 lead.

Sharapova finished the match with four aces to raise her total for the tournament to 24.

The five-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1 entered the Stuttgart event on a wild card after losing her ranking because of the suspension, which had been reduced on appeal.

Sharapova reaches quarterfinals after 2nd win since return

(4/28/17) Maria Sharapova won again to reach the Porsche Grand Prix quarterfinals while another major obstacle to a deep run departed on Thursday.

Two-time defending champion Angelique Kerber, who was against Sharapova receiving a wild-card entry, was upset by Kristina Mladenovic of France 6-2, 7-5.

Sharapova advanced earlier by beating fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova 7-5, 6-1 in her second match after a 15-month doping ban.

Mladenovic won just one set in three previous matches against Kerber but dominated large parts of Thursday’s match. It was the top-seeded German’s first defeat in the event since 2014.

Sharapova hit nine aces and held serve throughout against Makarova. She converted three of her four break points.

"Being in the quarterfinals here again is quite special," said Sharapova, who won the indoor clay event three times from 2012-14.

Less than 24 hours after beating Roberta Vinci in straight sets in her highly anticipated first match, Sharapova said she "felt I settled down a little bit. I was able to focus on the game. I executed a great plan today and I thought I was solid."

The Russian, who tested positive for meldonium at last year's Australian Open, held off the only break point for Makarova at 5-5, and converted her second chance in the next game to close out the opening set.

Sharapova was in control of the second throughout and wrapped up the win with two straight aces to raise her total for the tournament to 20. She improved to 7-0 against Makarova.

The five-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1, who lost her ranking due to the suspension and entered the event on a wild card, will play 73rd-ranked Anett Kontaveit of Estonia for a place in the semifinals.

Mladenovic next takes on Carla Suarez-Navarro, who beat another Russian, Elena Vesnina, 6-2, 6-4.

Also, the second-seeded Karolina Pliskova beat CoCo Vandeweghe 7-6 (2), 6-4 and will play Laura Siegemund in the quarterfinals. The finalist from last year defeated 2009 champion Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-4, 6-3.

Anastasija Sevastova beat sixth-seeded Johanna Konta 6-3, 7-5 to set up a quarterfinal against Simona Halep.

French Open tell Sharapova - wait until May 16

(4/26/17) Maria Sharapova was told on Wednesday that she will have to wait until a May 16 Facebook announcement to discover whether or not she will receive a wildcard into the French Open.

The Russian, a two-time champion at Roland Garros, made her return after a 15-month doping ban in Stuttgart on Wednesday but without ranking points she will need a wildcard to get into the main draw of the Grand Slam event she has won twice.

"There is a date which has been fixed. There is no reason to make an exception for Maria Sharapova," said French Tennis Federation (FFT) president Bernard Guidicelli.

"We will meet with the tournament director Guy Forget on May 15. The decision will be taken and communicated at 1900 (1700GMT) on Facebook on May 16.

"I repeat that as of today no decision has been taken. I know that there is strong expectation from the media and fans but we are not casting. This is not a rock-opera."

Sharapova returns from doping ban with straight sets win

(4/26/17) Maria Sharapova won her first match on her return from a 15-month doping ban, beating Roberta Vinci 7-5, 6-3 in the opening round of the Porsche Grand Prix on Wednesday.

The five-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1 was earlier given a lukewarm welcome by 4,500 spectators, receiving a polite applause and some whistling when she entered the sold-out arena.

After a shaky start and conceding seven of the first eight points, Sharapova settled and showed flashes of her old self.

It was the Russian’s first match since losing to Serena Williams in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Australian Open, and her first match on clay in nearly two years.

Last year, Sharapova tested positive for the banned substance meldonium.

Sharapova gets lukewarm welcome after 15-month doping ban

(4/26/17) Maria Sharapova was given a lukewarm welcome by 4,500 spectators upon her return to professional tennis on Wednesday after a 15-month doping ban.

After receiving a polite applause and some whistling when she entered the sold-out arena, the five-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1 is playing Roberta Vinci in an opening-round match at the Porsche Grand Prix.

It’s the Russian’s first match since losing to Serena Williams in the quarterfinals of last year’s Australian Open, and her first match on clay in nearly two years.

Organizers handed Sharapova a much-debated wild card as the three-time winner of their event has lost her ranking due to the suspension.

Several players, including Vinci, have criticized the invitation for a player who has been caught doping.

Eugenie Bouchard on Sharapova: ‘Cheater,’ should be banned for life

(4/26/17) (Video) Canadian tennis star Eugenie Bouchard says Maria Sharapova, who returned from her 15-month doping ban on Wednesday, is a “cheater” and should not be allowed to compete in the sport again.

Bouchard spoke to TRT World in an interview published Tuesday on YouTube and did not hold back her thoughts.

Sharapova was suspended by the International Tennis Federation in 2016 after she tested positive for the banned substance meldonium. She faced and defeated Roberta Vinci Wednesday evening in the Stuttgart Open in Germany.

“I don’t think that’s right,” Bouchard said of the Russian’s return. “She’s a cheater and so, to me, I don’t think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play that sport again. Unfair to all these players who do it the right way and are true.

"I think from the [Women's Tennis Association] it sends the wrong message to young kids: ‘Cheat and we’ll welcome you back with open arms,'" added Bouchard, who's currently the No. 59-ranked women's player in the world. "I don’t think that’s right and (she’s) definitely not someone I can say I look up to anymore because it’s definitely ruined it for me a little bit.”

Bouchard, a 23-year-old native of Westmount, Que., fell 6-0, 6-4, to Slovakia's Jana Cepelova in the first round of the Istanbul Open on Tuesday.

Sharapova returns to tennis after 15-month doping ban

(4/26/17) Maria Sharapova returned to professional tennis on Wednesday after a 15-month doping ban, completing a one-hour training session on an empty centre court less than 10 hours before her first competitive match since January 2016.

Handed a much-debated wild card, Sharapova will play Roberta Vinci in the opening round of the Porsche Grand Prix.

The five-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1 hasn’t played since losing to Serena Williams in the quarterfinals of last year’s Australian Open. Wednesday’s match will be her first on clay since the 2015 French Open.

Joined by coach Sven Groeneveld and hitting partner Alex Kuznetsov, Sharapova stepped on court in the Porsche Arena at 9:13 a.m. (0713 GMT).

After taking off her training jacket, she immediately began hitting balls from the service line, and later worked through usual practice routines. Sipping on a bottle of water, Sharapova left the court after 61 minutes.

Because her suspension ended only at midnight, Sharapova had not been allowed to use official tournament facilities before, forcing her to visit a local tennis club in Stuttgart for training since last weekend.

Last year, Sharapova tested positive for the banned substance meldonium. She had her initial two-year ban reduced to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which ruled that the Russian bore "less than significant fault" in the case and that she could not "be considered to be an intentional doper."

Sharapova had been taking meldonium for many years, but overlooked an announcement by the World Anti-Doping Agency that it added the drug to its banned list on Jan. 1, 2016.

Due to the suspension, Sharapova lost her ranking. But the three-time winner from 2012-14 was given direct entrance to main draw of the Stuttgart event. Organizers in Madrid and Rome followed the example and handed her a wild card for their events in May as well.

A growing number of players have spoken out against the invitations. On Tuesday, Simona Halep and Alize Cornet joined the likes of Caroline Wozniacki, Dominika Cibulkova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Angelique Kerber and Sharapova's first opponent, Vinci, in publicly opposing wild cards for players returning from a doping ban.

They say players should work their way back up the rankings by competing at smaller tournaments and through the qualifying stages of the bigger events, not by being given free passage into main draws.

Maria Sharapova set for tennis return at Porsche Grand Prix after 15-month doping ban

(4/25/17) Maria Sharapova will complete her return to tennis following a 15-month drug ban when she faces Italy's Roberta Vinci at the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart on Wednesday (26 April).

The Russian has been handed a wildcard by the organisers, allowing her a place in the main draw and an opportunity to play her first competitive match since being banned by the International Tennis Federation for taking Meldonium — a heart disease drug.

The 30-year-old is due to take on 2015 US Open runner-up Vinci at 5:30pm BST on the day her ban expires.

Last October, Sharapova won an appeal to reduce the punishment from two years – permitting her to make an early return to the sport in which she has won five grand slam titles.

But the resumption of Sharapova's career is not without controversy. Questions still remain over the initial case, which saw the right-hander test positive for Meldonium at the Australian Open – a substance she claimed to have taken for 10 years to treat a hereditary condition.

The drug was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency banned list for 2017 – a publication which is distributed to every player – but Sharapova said that neither she, nor members of her team, had read the document.

The use of the substance had previously been monitored by Wada and Sharapova had never previously indicated she was using the drug for medical purposes.

A succession of cases soon followed regarding the mystery substance, with many of those involved also hailing from Russia.

In spite of this, an appeal over her two-year ban to the Court of Arbitration for Sport was successful and saw her punishment cut by nine months to 15. However, the ease at which she has been allowed to return to the tour has since been widely debated.

With her ban preventing her from playing enough events for her to benefit from a protected ranking, Sharapova has been handed direct entry into three events on the Women's Tennis Association tour, starting in Stuttgart. The Madrid and Rome Masters – which run alongside the ATP events in the same cities – have also granted Sharapova a wildcard entry into their events despite her chequered past. None of the three remaining grand slam tournaments - the French Open, Wimbledon or the US Open - have yet declared whether she will be admitted.

Vinci, Sharapova's first opponent of her second coming, has led the criticism of tournaments for accommodating the former world number one, who, prior to her suspension, was the highest-paid female athlete for 11 straight years.

"I don't agree about the wildcard here and about the wildcard in Rome and the other tournaments," the 24-year-old said. "She made her mistakes for sure, but she paid and I think she can return to play - but without any wildcards."

The return of Sharapova coincides with the start of Serena Williams' exile from the sport as she prepares to give birth to her first child. The American confirmed she was pregnant last week and would miss the rest of the campaign, but plans to return in 2018.

Nevertheless, it leaves women's tennis without its biggest name, while Sharapova, now its most divisive and controversial figure, comes back out from the shadows and into the spotlight.

Halep, Cornet give Sharapova wild-card debate new impetus

(4/25/17) A day before Maria Sharapova was to play her first tennis match since being banned for doping, the debate about the Russian’s wild-card entry for the Porsche Grand Prix continued Tuesday.

Simona Halep and Alize Cornet joined the growing legion of players criticizing tournament organizers for offering Sharapova a direct spot in their main draws.

“For the kids, for the young players, it is not OK to help with a wild card the player that was banned for doping,” said the fifth-ranked Halep, adding that “it is not about Maria Sharapova here, but it is about all the players that are found doped.”

“I cannot support what the tournament director did, but also I cannot judge,” said Halep, who is seeded fourth and plays Barbora Strycova in the second round.

Cornet went a step further in comments published by French sports daily L'Equipe.

"Generally speaking, I find it shameful that the WTA is promoting a player who tested positive after all. It's normal that people talk about her, she's an immense champion, but from there to promoting her return to such an extent ... I find that unjust," the 41st-ranked Frenchwoman said.

Sharapova's suspension for the use of meldonium after the heart drug became a banned substance at the beginning of 2016, ends Wednesday. The five-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1 is scheduled to play Roberta Vinci in a first-round evening match at the tournament she won three times from 2012-14.

On Monday, Vinci joined the likes of Caroline Wozniacki, Dominika Cibulkova, Agnieszka Radwanska and Angelique Kerber in publicly opposing wild cards for players returning from a doping ban.

Kerber, the two-time defending champion, and Radwanska, who could meet Sharapova in the second round, are also playing in Stuttgart this week. Cibulkova pulled out of the event with a right wrist injury.

Besides Stuttgart, Sharapova has also been handed a free passage into the main draws at Madrid and Rome in May, but organizers of the French Open have yet to decide about an invitation for the Russian.

"I hope that (French Tennis Federation) president Bernard Guidicelli holds firm on what he initially said and doesn't offer her a wildcard for Roland Garros," Cornet said.

"A player who has tested positive should start from scratch like everyone else and win her place back. You shouldn't roll out the red carpet for her," she added. "Unfortunately tennis remains a business ... but, morally, it's not good."

While a growing number of players speak out against wild cards after doping bans, Sharapova also received some backing on Tuesday.

Karolina Pliskova pointed out that tennis needs characters like the Russian, even more now that Serena Williams has announced her pregnancy and won't play anymore until next year.

"Definitely it's a big thing for this tournament, not only for Stuttgart but for all the tournaments that are going to be next," the second-seeded Czech said. "From the tournaments' side it's a big plus. Obviously when Serena is going to be out now, tennis definitely needs a star like (Sharapova) is so I don't have anything against it."

Sharapova also got full support from another multiple Grand Slam winner and former No. 1, Kim Clijsters.

"She has done her punishment," the Belgian said. "I was disappointed and surprised when the news came out but she's had the career that she's had and I don't think she needs to be punished more."

Clijsters, who was tournament director of the Diamond Games in Antwerp when the event was last held in 2015, added that "it's up to the tournaments whoever they want to give a wild card or not."

The Belgian, who led the WTA rankings for 20 weeks in total, interrupted her career for two years and became a mother. Having won three of her four career Grand Slam titles after returning in 2009, Clijsters had no doubt that Sharapova could have an equally successful return to the circuit.

"I am sure it was really tough for her to be on the sideline for that long," Clijsters said. "But in a week's time this news will be over and she will be back playing normally, and probably some of her best tennis."

Sharapova rags-to-riches journey resumes in Stuttgart

(4/25/17) From the shadow of Chernobyl's nuclear wasteland to international super-stardom and from penniless arrival in the United States, without a word of English, to a fortune of $200 million.

It may sound like the stuff of Hollywood dreams, but the story of Maria Sharapova is a testament to the power of one individual to make it, whatever the odds, whatever the controversy, whatever people think.

On Wednesday in Stuttgart, the 30-year-old will return from a 15-month doping suspension to open the next chapter.

When she takes to the court to face Roberta Vinci, it will be to the consternation of many opponents and the relief, albeit privately, of a women's tour left flagging by the absence of Serena Williams, probably Sharapova's only serious rival in the arena-filling business.

Sharapova shot to international fame as a giggly 17-year-old Wimbledon winner in 2004 -- the third youngest player to conquer the All England Club's famous grass courts.

She would go on to win the Australian and US Opens while claiming two titles at the French Open, despite famously likening her movement on Roland Garros's crushed red brick to a "cow on ice".

Siberia-born Sharapova first picked up a racquet at the age of four in Sochi, where her Belarus-born parents had settled after escaping the deadly clutches of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Spotted by Martina Navratilova, she was encouraged to move to Nick Bollettieri's Florida academy, the proving ground of Andre Agassi and Monica Seles.

Father Yuri and the seven-year-old Maria left for the US in 1994 with just $700 (644 euros) to their names.

Yuri took odd jobs like dishwashing to finance his daughter's dreams although visa restrictions meant mother Yelena was back in Russia, separated from her daughter for two years.

When Sharapova was nine, the mighty IMG group spotted her talent and funded the $35,000 fees required for the Bollettieri school.

- Wimbledon celebrity -

She made her professional debut at 14 in 2001 and by 2003 reached the world top 50. She won her first tour titles in Japan and Quebec.

Then in 2004, her Wimbledon final triumph over Williams made her an overnight international celebrity.

One year later, she became the first Russian woman to be ranked number one in the world while, in 2006, she won her second major at the US Open.

But in 2007 and 2008, she began her long, on-off battle with shoulder trouble.

She still had time to win the 2008 Australian Open before a second shoulder injury kept her off tour for the second half of the season, including missing the US Open and Beijing Olympics.

A 10-month absence from the sport, as she recuperated from surgery, saw her ranking slip to 126, but she was back in 2012, capturing the French Open to become the 10th woman to complete a career Grand Slam and adding Olympic silver to her resume that year.

Her 2014 French Open title was another high after a dispiriting injury low.

More injury troubles followed before the bombshell announcement of her positive test for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open -- where she fell in the quarter-finals to Williams, her last match before her suspension.

- Serena rivalry -

With Williams, she has endured her most testing rivalry -- on and off the court.

The two famously exchanged personal insults over their love lives when Sharapova began a two-year romance with Bulgarian player Grigor Dimitrov, a rumoured previous suitor of the American.

Sharapova had previously been engaged to former Los Angeles Laker star Sasha Vujacic.

She may have been unlucky in love, but Sharapova hit the jackpot in her commercial affairs.

She made almost $30 million in 2015, according to Forbes, with $23 million of that coming from endorsements and once signed a contract extension with Nike worth a reported $70 million.

"Beauty sells. I have to realise that's a part of why people want me. I'm not going to make myself ugly," she said.

She owns luxury homes -- one in Florida, one in California -- and is making a lucrative career as an entrepreneur.

In 2012, she launched her own line of candy, 'Sugarpova', and during her suspension, signed up for a Harvard Business School course.

But she insists that retirement was never an option despite her absence meaning her world ranking has disappeared, leaving her at the mercy of wildcards into tournaments.

Those free-passes have irked many of her contemporaries already suspicious of the Russian's aloofness.

"I know I am respected," says an unconcerned Sharapova.

Sharapova's 1st opponent opposes wild cards after doping ban

(4/24/17) Maria Sharapova's first opponent after her 15-month doping suspension says the Russian should not have been granted a wild card for the Porsche Grand Prix or upcoming tournaments.

Roberta Vinci, who will face Sharapova in a highly anticipated first-round match late Wednesday, does "not agree" with organizers giving Sharapova a free passage into the main draw of their events.

"She is a great player and I have nothing against her. She paid for her mistakes," Vinci said on Monday. "She can return to play but without any wild cards, without any help."

Sharapova's suspension for using heart drug meldonium after it was banned at the beginning of 2016, ends on Wednesday, just in time to enter the opening round of the indoor clay tournament she won three times in a row from 2012-14.

Vinci joined the likes of Caroline Wozniacki, Dominika Cibulkova, Agnieszka Radwanska, and Angelique Kerber in speaking out against wild cards for players who return from a doping suspension.

"I know (Sharapova) is important for the tennis, for the WTA, for everything," Vinci said. "She is a great person, a great player, a great champion, but this is my opinion."

The 36th-ranked Vinci, who reached a career high 10th a year ago, would try to forget about the wild-card debate when stepping on court on Wednesday.

"It's an interesting match for sure, a difficult match, a tricky match but I am happy. I am excited to play against Maria," the 2015 U.S Open finalist said. "For me it's a normal tournament. I am preparing all in the same way as (for) other tournaments. I will just play my game, stay focused."

Vinci expected "a lot of the crowd on Wednesday to be (cheering) for her. But I don't know about the players. A lot of players will agree with me on the wild card."

Vinci lost all four sets and scored only four games in total during her two previous matches against Sharapova, but those were played on hard-court, 10 and five years ago, respectively.

On a different surface and against an opponent who is lacking match play, the Italian fancied her chances.

"I know it's tough to return after a long time," Vinci said. "She is probably happy about her comeback ... but practice is a little bit different from a match. You have to be focused every single point."

Vinci planned to practice on center court early Tuesday, while Sharapova won't be allowed to access any tournament facilities before her suspension officially ends on Wednesday.

"This clay is fast. For me it is better that it's more fast than normal clay," said Vinci, who reached the quarterfinals last year before losing to eventual finalist Laura Siegemund. "I try to keep the good memories from last year and just enjoy the match. There's probably a lot of pressure for both of us."

All eyes on Stuttgart as Sharapova poised for return

(4/24/17) Not much fazes Roberta Vinci after 16 years on Tour but the maelstrom swirling around her opening match in Stuttgart against Maria Sharapova will test even the Italian's vast experience.

Her 946th singles might ordinarily have been one to chalk off and forget about but standing over the other side of the net on Wednesday will be the former world number one on her return from a 15-month doping ban.

Whatever else is happening on any other tennis court in the world will become irrelevant as Russian multi-millionaire Sharapova, who turned 30 last week, resumes a career that made her the world's richest sportswoman.

Debate still rages about Sharapova's crime and punishment.

While some say the five-times grand slam champion, initially banned for two years after testing positive for Meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open, has done her time some fellow players are angry the red carpet is being rolled out.

With no ranking after such a long period without swinging her racket in anger, Sharapova could have been forced to work her way back from the lower rungs of the tennis ladder.

Instead, with tournament chiefs and sponsors well aware of her ticket-selling appeal she has been handed wildcards into the claycourt events in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome.

Former world number one Caroline Wozniacki and Agnieszka Radwanska have both cried foul, believing a player returning from a doping ban should have to do it the hard way.

Sharapova, whose defence was that she had not realised Meldonium had been added to a list of banned substances at the start of 2016, insisted the substance is as common as aspirin in Russia where it is known as Mildronate.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) agreed that Sharapova was not an intentional doper and shortened her ban from two years to 15 months.

The International Tennis federation (ITF), which had initially imposed a two-year ban before the CAS appeal, said Sharapova was eligible to return to action.

"Maria was banned, she served her suspension, she is entitled to come back," ITF President David Haggerty told Reuters on Monday. "She will play on Wednesday which is the last day of first round matches."

While admitting her mistake, Sharapova has hardly been full of contrition and has criticised the ITF for failing to notify her that Meldonium, a medication she said she had used for a number of years to treat health issues, had indeed been flagged up by WADA as 'performance enhancing'.

Only last week Sharapova's agent Max Eisenbud stoked the fires by saying the likes of Wozniacki and Radwanska were "journeyman" players hoping to benefit from Sharapova's exclusion.

Sharapova's prospective second-round clash in Stuttgart against Poland's Radwanska could be an awkward encounter.

A decision is expected soon on whether the French Tennis Federation (FFT) will fast-track the 2012 and 2014 Roland Garros champion into the French Open draw. Her only other route is to win the Stuttgart title so that she can boost her ranking to enter French Open qualifying.

What adds intrigue to Sharapova's return is that it comes at a time with the WTA Tour reeling from the news that world number one and 23-times major champion Serena Williams will not play again this year after announcing she is pregnant.

With twice Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova recovering from being stabbed, former number one Victoria Azarenka still to return from childbirth the cupboard looks a little bare when it comes to headline acts.

So while Sharapova's might get a lukewarm welcome in the locker room there is no question the money men will welcome her back with open arms, not least Porsche.

The German sports car giant is the lead partner of the Stuttgart event and also sponsor Sharapova.

Sharapova's return divides rivals

(4/24/17) Maria Sharapova returns to tennis this week following her 15-month ban having tested positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.

The organisers of Stuttgart's WTA tournament sparked controversy by giving her a wildcard to play on Wednesday -- the first day she is eligible to play again -- which has divided tennis.

Here is what the game's top names have to say:

Those against:

Carolina Wozniacki (DEN) - "I think it’s very questionable, allowing, no matter who it is, a player that is still banned to play a tournament that week. From the tournament side, it’s disrespectful to the other players and the WTA. But it is what it is. Obviously rules are twisted and turned in favour of who wants to do what."

Agnieszka Radwanska (POL) - "This kind of entry into the tournament should apply to players who dropped in the ranking because of injury, illness or some other random event. Not for those suspended for doping. Maria should recover some other way, starting with smaller events."

Angelique Kerber (GER) - "It's a German tournament, and we (have) so many good German players, so this is also a little bit strange. It's also strange for the players, that she can walk on site on Wednesday and she can play on Wednesday."

Andy Murray (GBR) - "I think you should really have to work your way back.The majority of tournaments are going to do what they think is best for their event. If they think having big names there is going to sell more seats, then they're going to do that."

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga (FRA) - "Honestly, offering an invitation right now will be like giving a candy to a child who has misbehaved."

Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) - "It's not about her, but everyone who was doping should start from zero."

Those for:

Victoria Azarenka (BLR) - "I think it's good for tennis. She has such a huge fanbase and obviously that's going to bring more attraction to see how she will do, so I think it's good for tennis, good entertainment."

Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS) - "If we talk about cheaters, people who cheat, you would say: 'Why would cheaters get a wild card?', but then if there is some mistake, you know, it's a little bit of a different story."

Venus Williams (USA) - "The bodies have made their decision, and she has an opportunity to come back and continue her career. I think she should be allowed to continue that. If people want to give her wildcards, I guess that's the tournaments' decision. It will be nice to have her back in the game."

Juan Martin del Potro (ESP) - "I think for the tennis world it is gonna be nice to see her back. Everybody’s waiting for her."

Novak Djokovic (SRB) - "From my opinion, I see that there was no intention in doing that (doping), because the rules changed, but it was an error and mistake that she and her team in a way had to take the consequences and pay for and the suspension is there rightly so."

Sharapova draws Vinci with critic Radwanska waiting

(4/23/17) Maria Sharapova was drawn to face veteran Italian Roberta Vinci in her opening match at next week's Stuttgart tournament as the five-time Grand Slam champion returns from a 15-month doping ban.

The former world number one was controversially handed a wildcard into the claycourt event after her suspension wiped out her ranking.

If Sharapova gets through her opener on Wednesday -- the first day she is eligible to play -- against the 34-year-old Vinci, she could face Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska, one of her fiercest critics, in the second round.

Radwanska, who starts against Russia's Ekaterina Makarova, blasted Sharapova in an interview on Friday when she insisted that the sport's poster girl should not be awarded wild cards after her doping ban.

"This kind of entry (wild cards) into the tournament should apply to players who dropped in the ranking because of injury, illness or some other random event. Not for those suspended for doping. Maria should recover some other way, starting with smaller events," Radwanska said.

"So far she hasn't been invited to slams in Paris (French Open) and London (Wimbledon) and in my opinion that's how it should remain. She should win her spot by playing well."

Sharapova was banned for two years after testing positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open but had her suspension cut to 15 months on appeal.

The Russian turned 30 on April 19, but on the Stuttgart tournament's website she describes her return as her "nicest present. I'm getting my sport back."

As an ambassador for Porsche, who also sponsor the event, Sharapova's return is the highlight of the tournament's 40th anniversary celebrations.

"I could not be happier to have my first match back on tour at one of my favourite tournaments, I can't wait to see all my great fans and to be back doing what I love," she said having won three Stuttgart finals.

Tournament director Markus Guenthardt knows Sharapova's presence will boost ticket sales for the indoor tournament.

"Her return in the Porsche Arena is a fabulous present for our fantastic spectators and is certain to be one of the sporting and emotional highlights of our anniversary tournament," he said.

Sharapova can only play her first match on Wednesday as that is when her ban comes to an end. As a result, she has to practice away from the venue.

Top seed Angelique Kerber has a bye in the first round and will face either Mirjana Lucic-Baroni or Kristina Mladenovic in her opener.

Sharapova rivals are jealous 'journeymen', says agent

(4/22/17) Critics of Maria Sharapova possibly receiving a wildcard into the French Open just want to keep another title threat out of Roland Garros, the Russian star's agent said in a report Friday.

Ben Rothenberg, a US-based tennis writer and podcaster, tweeted a statement Friday from Max Eisenbud, Sharapova's agent, decrying the five-time Grand Slam champion's critics.

Sharapova is set to return next week in Stuttgart from a 15-month doping ban as a wildcard entrant. She is expected to learn the week of May 15 if she will be able to compete at the French Open as a wildcard.

But hours after Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska told Polish media she feels Sharapova should not receive wild card entries for Grand Slam events, Eisenbud responded about her and Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki, who was critical of Sharapova getting a wildcard entry for the German tournament.

"All those 'journeyman' players like Radwanska and Wozniacki who have never won a slam and the next generation passing them. They are smart to try to keep Maria out of Paris," Eisenbud said.

"NO Serena, NO Maria, NO Vika, NO Petra, it's their last chance to win a slam," he added, a nod to the absence of pregnant world number one Serena Williams, Czech Petra Kvitova and former world number one Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, expected to return in July after having a baby.

Radwanska, 2-13 all-time against Sharapova, told Polish media she expects Sharapova to be "fierce" when she returns but made no secret that she felt Sharapova must start at the bottom and work her way back into elite events.

"This kind of entry into the tournament should apply to players who dropped in the ranking because of injury, illness or some other random event. Not for those suspended for doping. Maria should recover some other way, starting with smaller events," Radwanska said.

"So far she hasn't been invited to slams in Paris and London and in my opinion that's how it should remain. She should win her spot by playing well."

Radwanska said that if she were a tournament director, she wouldn't give Sharapova a wild card.

"No," she said. "She would never have a chance (to get one) from my hands."

Sharapova waiting to find out if she can play at French Open

(4/22/17) Maria Sharapova will find out the week starting May 15 if she can compete at the French Open, which starts two weeks later, the French Tennis Federation said.

The five-time Grand Slam winner and former world No. 1 returns to competition next week as a wild card in Stuttgart’s Porsche Tennis Grand Prix.

The Russian was suspended after testing positive for heart drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open. The ban was reduced from two years to 15 months last October by the Court of Arbitration for Sport. Meldonium, which was previously legal, was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency earlier that year, but Sharapova claims she missed the memo instructing her to stop using it.

Her suspension ends on the third day of the Stuttgart tournament, meaning she won’t be allowed even to play before Wednesday.

Top-ranked players Angelique Kerber and Andy Murray are among those who have questioned whether Sharapova should be allowed to resume her career in main draws without playing her way back through qualifiers. Sharapova has also been handed a wild card into the Italian Open in Rome next month.

Now the French Open and possibly Wimbledon must decide whether to give an entry to Sharapova, a former champion of both Grand Slams.

The FFT said in an email response to The Associated Press that "the decision will be taken the week of (Monday) May 15," without giving further details.

Sharapova, who has titles at all four majors, won at Roland Garros in 2012 and 2014.

The 30-year-old Sharapova was among more than 100 athletes who tested positive after meldonium was banned in sport last year.

Most of those were cleared because of evidence they stopped taking meldonium before it was banned, though Sharapova was suspended because she took it after the cutoff date.

Numerous claims have been made over recent decades about meldonium, which is marketed for sufferers from heart and circulatory conditions, including that it can increase physical and mental endurance.

However, Russian officials have said it is not performance-enhancing for sports, arguing it prevents heart attacks under extreme stress.

Sharapova said last year she used it for 10 years for reasons including a magnesium deficiency, irregular heart test results, and a family history of diabetes.

'Is there any reason to keep punishing me?' Maria Sharapova hits back at tennis critics

(4/15/17) Maria Sharapova has hit back at her critics as she prepares to make her return to competitive action at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany.

The 29-year-old will be back on the court after serving a 15-month doping ban for testing positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.

Sharapova, now unranked, has received wild cards to participate in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome in an issue that has divided the sport.

While some, like Venus Williams and Boris Becker, are ready to welcome the Russian star back, others are not so welcoming, taking issue with the fact that she is not working her way back in.

"I've been serving my sentence," Sharapova said, as quoted on Tennis.com. "So why persist? Is there any reason to keep punishing me? I don't see it."

"When the case [details] were still a bit unknown, everyone had the right to judge. But now that I have been through the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which is neutral, I say stop. If the players keep criticizing me, then that is not correct."

Sharapova also criticised the International Tennis Federation (ITF) for their handling of the ban of meldonium in January 2016 — a drug she had been using regularly to assist with her colds and flu.

The former world number one played in the Fed Cup in Prague in November 2015 and claims ITF authorities knew she was taking it at the time but did not inform her that it was being monitored as a potential banned drug in the future.

"It was an ITF event," she added, in an interview with The Times. "So why didn't someone come up to me and have a private conversation, just an official to an athlete, which would have taken care of the confidentiality problem they talked about later? But nothing was said by anyone."

"But ultimately the fault was mine. I had been getting clearance on everything I was taking for seven years and I became complacent. I got too comfortable. But then so did the ITF."

The Porsche Tennis Grand Prix qualifiers will commence on 24 April.

Venus Williams on Maria Sharapova: 'It will be nice to have her back in the game'

(4/9/17) Venus Williams has revealed that she supports Maria Sharapova upon her return to tennis from a doping ban.

The Russian tennis star will return to action soon after serving a 15 month doping ban for testing positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.

Sharapova will feature at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany which begins on 24 April after she received a wild card.

The 29-year-old has also accepted two more wild cards to participate in the Mutua Madrid Open and Italian Open in May, however, she has not been handed any for the upcoming British grass-court events as of yet.

An issue which is dividing the sport, many fellow tennis professionals believe that Sharapova should not be receiving wild cards at all and instead, work her way back.

Former world number one Williams, however, like Boris Becker, is in support of Sharapova and thinks that she should be allowed to continue her career.

"I feel like I have perspective in life, and sometimes things happen," Williams said, as quoted on TennisWorldUSA. "I just think one single thing in life doesn't define you."

"I think the bodies have made their decision, and she has an opportunity to come back and continue her career. I think she should be allowed to continue that."

Referring to the wild cards, Williams stated that it was the tournaments' decision in the end, before saying "it will be nice" to have Sharapova — who she has defeated three times in eight meetings — back in tennis action.

"If people want to give her wild cards, I guess that's the tournaments' decision as they weigh other wild cards," she added. "It will be nice to have her back in the game."

Maria Sharapova is returning to tennis—here are the top 3 things she learned while she was away

(4/4/17) The world's former No.1 tennis player Maria Sharapova has been a star for over a decade. Last year, however, the World Anti-Doping Agency banned her from playing after she continued to take a prohibited drug.

The Russian-born athlete, known for winning five major tournaments during her career (her last at the 2014 French Open), appealed and had her sentence lessened from two years to 15 months.

Sharapova, who had been ranked the highest-paid female athlete for 11 consecutive years thanks to lucrative endorsements, returns to tennis later in April at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany.

While speaking at the ANA Inspiring Women in Sports Conference recently, Sharapova discussed her ban and what she's learned from the experience.

Here are three leadership lessons to take away from the athlete's time away from, and plans to return to, tennis.

1. Do what you love, but also have a conscience

Sharapova told the audience at the conference that it's important to never take an opportunity for granted. It's paramount to work and lead with a moral conscience.

''When you love what you do, and you do it with passion and integrity," she says, "then you know what you stand for and who you are, and that's why I fought so hard to get that back."

That's a phrase that apparently resonates with "Shark Tank" star Daymond John. "I loved what I was doing," he says about his journey to becoming the billionaire CEO of FUBU, the street-wear fashion empire he built from nothing.

2. Live and work on your own terms

For an athlete, retirement typically comes earlier than for other careers. For Sharapova, the ban could have prematurely ended her profession as a tennis champion.

The 29-year-old, however, didn't let that happen. In fact, she says, the ban has made her appreciate the sport even more.

After all, adversity may come out of nowhere. When it does, it can both figuratively, or in Sharapova's case, literally sideline you. That's why, she says, it's crucial to stay strong and make every moment count.

''You always want to end your career or a chapter in your life on your terms and in your voice,'' Sharapova says. ''And to be in a moment where you felt like it could have ended on someone else's terms was very difficult for me to accept."

"You always want to end your career or a chapter in your life on your terms and in your voice."

"That's why I fought so hard for the truth to be out," she adds. "You don't realize how much you love something, how much something means to you, until you lose it for some time.''

Her advice mirrors that of psychotherapist Amy Morin, who recently wrote about 13 tips for high-achievers. "Mentally strong people don't waste their time and energy thinking about the problem," she says, "instead they focus on creating a solution."

For Sharapova, that meant appealing the ban and fighting for the longevity of her career.

3. Only focus on what you can control

Sharapova says she's learned to relax and let life run its course during the last 15 months.

''I learned that life is okay without tennis,'' says Sharapova, who started candy business Sugarpova in 2012. ''Life can be okay, which is a scary thought, because when you've done something for so long, you always think of, 'Well, how am I going to feel when I don't have that?'"

''I don't know if there's much that I can control,'' Sharapova continues. ''I think what I can control, and what I always have controlled, is what I can do, and how I can go out there and how I can compete, and how I can manage my career and my time and what I do with it, and the way I play tennis."

It's a lesson that Morin writes about as well: "Pay attention to the times when you're tempted to worry about something you can't control—like the choices other people make or how your competitor behaves—and devote that energy into something more productive."

"It gave me a chance to realize that you're the one that creates your life," says Sharapova, "and you create your own opportunities.''

Maria Sharapova doesn't appreciate being pitted against Serena Williams

(3/28/17) When Maria Sharapova realized her tennis career could be ended by what she claims was an accidental doping violation, the former world No. 1 decided she had to fight.

"When you love what you do, and you do it with passion and integrity ... then you know what you stand for and who you are, and that's why I fought so hard to get that back," Sharapova said.

Sharapova believes she triumphed over injustice when she managed to get her doping ban reduced to 15 months last October. The five-time Slam winner plans to return to competition next month at Stuttgart.

Although the Russian-born Sharapova realizes she's closer to the end of her career than the beginning, she told a women's sports conference Tuesday that she couldn't accept the initial two-year suspension levied by the International Tennis Federation. The Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced her ban.

One of the world's wealthiest and best-known female athletes has been idle since the 2016 Australian Open, where she tested positive for meldonium, an over-the-counter Latvian drug of dubious cardiac benefit.

The substance was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency earlier that year, but Sharapova claims she missed the memo instructing her to stop using it after 10 years.

"You always want to end your career or a chapter in your life on your terms and in your voice," Sharapova said. "And to be in a moment where you felt like it could have ended on someone else's terms was very difficult for me to accept. That's why I fought so hard for the truth to be out. You don't realize how much you love something, how much something means to you, until you lose it for some time."

Sharapova took questions only from moderator Julie Foudy at the ANA Inspiring Women in Sports Conference, a gathering of athletes and prominent professionals preceding the LPGA's first major of the season at Mission Hills Country Club. The conference was produced by IMG, the sports and entertainment conglomerate that represents Sharapova.

Despite the tightly controlled nature of Sharapova's appearance, she went into detail on many aspects of her life during her suspension. While travelling extensively with friends and eating countless dinners with family, she also dabbled in university classes at Harvard and in London, and she served brief internships everywhere from Nike to the NBA, where she shadowed Commissioner Adam Silver.

"I learned that life is OK without tennis," Sharapova said. "Life can be OK, which is a scary thought, because when you've done something for so long, you always think of, 'Well, how am I going to feel when I don't have that?' It gave me a chance to realize that you're the one that creates your life, and you create your own opportunities."

Sharapova also revealed she has been training intensely for four months to get her momentum back. Tuesday was a rare day off, thanks to her trip from her beachside home near Los Angeles to the desert.

"In tennis, you lose a lot of hand-eye co-ordination," Sharapova said. "Practice is never the same as match play. It's really different to face someone on the other side of the net. It's a very different feeling."

Sharapova will return as a wild card entry in Stuttgart's Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, a tournament she won three consecutive times from 2012-14 before Angelique Kerber won the past two.

Sharapova's suspension ends on the third full day of play at the tournament, and she won't be allowed even to set foot in Porsche Arena before Wednesday, April 26, the day of her first match.

Women's No. 1 Kerber, Dominika Cibulkova and men's No. 1 Andy Murray are among several players angered by Sharapova being allowed to resume her career in main draws without playing her way back through qualifiers.

The question will receive even more scrutiny when the French Open and possibly Wimbledon must decide whether to give a free pass to Sharapova, a former champion of both events.

Earlier this month at Indian Wells, Kerber called it "a little bit strange" for Sharapova to be allowed into Stuttgart and to start play on a Wednesday, although that tournament typically holds a handful of first-round matches on Wednesdays.

Sharapova sidestepped a question about how other players will perceive her comeback. She has acknowledged having few friends in the WTA locker room, preferring to keep her friendships outside tennis.

"I don't know if there's much that I can control," Sharapova said. "I think what I can control, and what I always have controlled, is what I can do, and how I can go out there and how I can compete, and how I can manage my career and my time and what I do with it, and the way I play tennis. And that is bigger than any other word that I can ever say. I think actions speak so much louder than what we could ever talk about."

Maria Sharapova doesn't appreciate being pitted against Serena Williams

(3/18/17) Maria Sharapova's 15-month suspension from tennis due to her use of meldonium is nearly complete. She did an interview with Vogue, which in addition to providing some insight into who Sharapova is as a competitor and a person (she likes French fries, just like us), there is also a nice tidbit about Williams.

"We're not celebrated as two women with completely different backgrounds who have created incredible opportunities for ourselves and our families," Sharapova said to Vogue. "Instead we are ranked against each other for our differences, our game, our earnings. I think the concept of lists and the amount that players make is bollocks."

The two athletes have both faced injuries and setbacks throughout their careers. Though Williams has beaten her 18 consecutive times, that hasn't diminished Sharapova's respect for her.

"The amount of respect that I have for her as an athlete is enormous," she said.

Sharapova 'absolutely' sure doping suspicions will linger

(3/18/17) Maria Sharapova acknowledges irreparable damage has been done to her reputation as she prepares to make her return from a 15-month doping ban at the Stuttgart Open next month.

The former world number one tested positive for the banned substance meldonium at last year's Australian Open and was initially prohibited from playing professionally for two years.

Sharapova denied knowing that meldonium had been added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's list of prohibited substances at the start of 2016, and an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport saw her sanction reduced by nine months.

However, asked if she felt suspicions would linger around her for the remainder of her career, Sharapova told Vogue: "I think if I was trying to hide something, I don't think I would come out to the world and say I was taking a drug for 10 years.

"If I was really trying to take the easy way out, that's not a very smart thing to do. But the answer to your question is, absolutely."

When she does return to the WTA circuit, though, five-time grand slam winner Sharapova hopes to quickly return to her place among the elite players.

She said: "I have expectations of myself because I know what I'm capable of. Will I have those standards? Of course. Will I have to be patient? It's not my greatest strength."

However, renewing her battle with world number one and 23-time major winner Serena Williams, who has won each of their past 18 meetings and holds a 19-2 record against the Russian, is not weighing heavily on Sharapova's mind.

"We're not celebrated as two women with completely different backgrounds who have created incredible opportunities for ourselves and our families," said Sharapova.

"Instead we are ranked against each other for our differences, our game, our earnings. I think the concept of lists and the amount that players make is b*******.

"It would be so easy when you've gone through injuries and setbacks to just let it all go. But to have that desire still? The amount of respect that I have for her as an athlete is enormous."

Evert has no issue with Sharapova wildcards

(3/18/17) Former American great Chris Evert has no issue with tournaments handing Maria Sharapova wildcard entries as the Russian former world number one makes her way back from a doping ban, she said on Wednesday.

Evert, an 18-times grand slam champion who retired in 1989, was the latest to weigh into a debate in which many leading players have criticized tournament organizers for not making Sharapova earn her way back.

Wildcards are currently the only way Sharapova, who is unranked and serving a 15-month ban, can play in the big events and she has accepted invitations to tournaments in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome in the next two months.

"You can't blame the tournaments really for wanting to be successful and wanting to enhance their tournament by having a big draw like Maria Sharapova," Evert said on a conference call from Indian Wells, where she is a television commentator for ESPN at the BNP Paribas Open.

"She is doing everything within the rules and she (will have) fulfilled her obligation of 15 months so I am not critical of that decision that the tournament made whatsoever."

Sharapova was among the top 10 players in the world when she tested positive for the banned substance meldonium at last year's Australian Open.

The 29-year-old Russian's two-year ban by the International Tennis Federation was later reduced to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Sharapova said this year that she would return to competition at the Stuttgart Grand Prix, the main draw for which starts on April 24, the penultimate day of the five-times grand slam champion's ban.

Men's world number one Andy Murray said he wished players would not get any favors on returning from bans regardless of their popularity while Dane Caroline Wozniacki called the decision to allow Sharapova to play "disrespectful".

At the moment, Sharapova would need a wildcard from the French Tennis Federation to play in the French Open. Her performances in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome could avoid forcing the All England Club into making the same decision regarding this year's Wimbledon.

"It's completely within the rules and fair for the tournament to reward whoever they want," former top-10 player Brad Gilbert said.

"It will be interesting to see what the slams do."

Maria Sharapova has not been handed British wild card offers as yet, LTA confirms

(3/18/17) Despite claims of her agent, Maria Sharapova is yet to receive a wild card offer for any of the upcoming British grass-court events, the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) has confirmed.

The former world number one's 15-month doping ban ends in April and the Russian tennis star has received a few wild card offers for tournaments — which has been hotly debated by current and former players.

The 29-year-old is expected to play at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany which begins on 24 April, and has also been guaranteed slots at the Mutua Madrid Open and Italian Open, both of which take place in May.

There has also been talk of Sharapova being granted a wild card for the upcoming British grass-court events.

If the 29-year-old reaches two semi-finals of the three events that she has received a wild card for, she will then automatically earn a place in the pre-Wimbledon events in Nottingham, Birmingham and Eastbourne as well as the Wimbledon tournament.

However, if she fails to achieve the target, she could still be offered a wild card for all British events. Sharapova's agent, Max Eisenbud recently claimed: "Every WTA tournament called me, every single one."

However, the LTA – who run the pre-Wimbledon events – promptly responded: "We have not made any offer, formally or proactively, to any player with regard to our summer events."

As of now, the All England Club will await Sharapova's results in the tournaments in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome before taking a decision on her entry to Wimbledon, for which the deadline is 22 May.

Roger Federer adds to Maria Sharapova wildcard debate that has tour divide

(3/15/17) Maria Sharapova being awarded a wildcard to return at the Stuttgart WTA event in April has been a topic of discussion among a number of players on the ATP tour with the opinions divided on whether dopers should be granted automatic entry into tournaments.

The Russian former world number one is set to complete her 15-month ban imposed by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) after testing positive for Meldonium at last year's Australian Open.

Sharapova's ban ends on 26 April, which is two days after the tournament in Germany starts, but it has not stopped the organisers handing the former Wimbledon champion a wildcard for the tournament. This has stirred up a debate among fellow professionals about dopers being welcomed to tournaments immediately after their ban is lifted.

Andy Murray and Caroline Wozniacki have voiced their opinion against players being handed a way back into the tour at the cost of others, while the likes of Victoria Azarenka and Venus Williams feel that the tournament director did no wrong by handing one of the biggest draws in the women's game a wildcard.

Roger Federer refused to be drawn into the debate, but admitted that it could be looked at in different ways. The 18-time Grand Slam champion also suggested that the rules allowing tournament directors to take a final call be looked at.

"It´s a tough one. What do you want me to tell you? Like you said, because it´s the first, it kind of is what it is. You know, some people will like it; some people won´t. She paid the price for what she did, so that´s all you can say there," Federer said, as quoted on tennisworldusa.org.

"I see the argument of players being or people being turned off by it to get wildcards, to others who believe, well, she served her time. It´s all cool now. It´s all over.

"You could definitely revisit the rule potentially, which is to decide is it really just up to the tournaments, that one tournament director to decide if maybe Maria, or anybody now, just hypothetically speaking, deserves a wildcard or not, you know, after a ban. Or should wildcards not be part of the equation, certain level of tournaments? I´m not sure. I think it´s a good debate to have, for sure, but at the same time, you know, it´s a tricky one. I´m sure she´s happy that she´s back playing," the 18-time Grand Slam champion added.

Sharapova's wildcard return 'disrespectful' to WTA players - Wozniacki

(3/12/17) Caroline Wozniacki is unimpressed with Maria Sharapova being allowed to make her WTA Tour return in Stuttgart following a 15-month doping ban, labelling the decision as "disrespectful" to other players.

Sharapova's suspension ends next month, having tested positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open in Melbourne, with the former world number one and five-time grand-slam winner unaware the substance had been added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's prohibited list.

The Russian star's return is imminent however her wildcard entry into the Stuttgart Open has divided opinion due to the fact that her ban will end after the tournament's main draw begins.

Speaking at the BNP Paribas Open, Wozniacki said: "I think obviously she's a good draw to tennis, women's tennis in general. That's one.

"But, two, I think it's very questionable allowing - no matter who it is - a player that is still banned to play a tournament that week. I think, from the tournament side, it's disrespectful to the other players and the WTA.

"It is what it is. Obviously rules are twisted and turned in favour of who wants to do what.

"I think everyone deserves a second chance and I think that she's going to come back and she's going to fight her way back. I'm sure she's going to play well.

"But at the same time, I feel like when a player is banned for drugs, I think that someone should start from the bottom and fight their way back because it's different from an injury or where someone is out because they had hurt themselves. That way, I feel like a player should be able to receive as many wildcards.

"But when someone has been banned for drugs and something that is performance-enhancing, I think you deserve a second chance like everyone else, people make mistakes, but I think you should fight your back from the bottom."

Wozniacki added: "I think she should be able to start the following week. Once a tournament has started and a player is banned, I don't think that player should be allowed to play that week. That's how I see it."

Players divided on Sharapova wild cards

(3/9/17) The wild card tournament invitations awaiting Maria Sharapova when she returns from a 15-month doping ban next month divided opinion among players at Indian Wells.

"This is, all over, a strange situation," Germany's Angelique Kerber said of the Stuttgart WTA tournament's decision to issue a wild card to Sharapova, who will play her first match since the 2016 Australian Open on April 26 -- just hours after her ban for using meldonium ends.

"I don't know what to say about this because it's a little bit strange for the other players that somebody can just walk on site Wednesday and play Wednesday," added Kerber, who is set to return to number one in the world after Serena Williams' withdrawal from the tournament in the California desert.

"This is a German tournament," said Kerber, the reigning Stuttgart champion who indicated that there were plenty of German players who could benefit from a wild card.

Sharapova, without any world ranking to gain direct access to tournaments in the wake of her ban, has also been issued wild cards to play in Rome and Madrid.

She was also to meet with the French Tennis Federation to plead her case for a wild card at Roland Garros, where she is a two-time champion, although federation officials have voiced reservations about issuing a wild card to someone convicted of a doping offense.

France's world number eight Jo-Wilfried Tsonga said he didn't think five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova should get a French Open wild card.

"I would not do it," he said. "It's like if you give a sweet to a kid who did a bad thing, it's going to do it again. It sends the wrong message."

Men's number one Andy Murray hit out at the wild cards already issued Sharapova, telling The Times last week that he believed a player "should have to work your way back" from a drugs ban."

Asked about it again at Indian Wells, Murray acknowledged that the logistics of accomodating a star of Sharapova's magnitude could be difficult for the lower-level tournaments she would need to play to rebuild her ranking.

"The tournaments are well within their rights to give a wild card, there's nothing saying they can't," he said.

"There's no rule in place, so the tournaments are going to do what they think is best for their event. But should you get a wild card into every event when you come back? I'm not sure about that. That's something that maybe should be looked at."

- Complicated question -

Romanian Simona Halep thinks Sharapova's past achievements justify the wild cards.

"She was number one in the world and won Grand Slam titles," Halep said. "But even without wild cards she could come back easily.

"Her return is good for tennis. She is impatient, she wants to play and win."

But a tweet from the WTA, since taken down, indicating that Sharapova's fellow players were all eagerly awaiting her return, drew a sharp response from French player Alize Cornet who tweeted: "@WTA excuse me ....??"

Cornet's tweet was also deleted -- a sign perhaps of the divisiveness of the issue.

"The question of wild cards is complicated, I'm glad I'm not in charge of their attribution," said Russian veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova.

"I've been supportive to her because I don't think this thing was really that serious," Kuznetsova said of Sharapova, whose two-year ban was reduced to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

"I understand, because if we talk about cheaters, people who cheat, you would say, 'Why would cheaters get a wild card?'

"But then if there is some mistake, you know, it's a little bit of a different story. But it's really hard to say. I understand all the sides."

French Open reluctant to hand Sharapova wild card

(3/2/17) French Open chiefs said Thursday they are reluctant to grant Maria Sharapova a wild card into this year's Grand Slam event despite the two-time champion returning from a doping ban.

The Russian superstar will return to the tour on April 26 in Stuttgart, the day that her 15-month ban for testing positive for the banned substance meldonium ends.

But French Tennis Federation (FFT) president Bernard Giudicelli said organisers would face a moral dilemma if they handed Sharapova a wild card which she would need as her world ranking has disappeared during her absence.

"It's complicated. We prefer that she returns completely rehabilitated," said Giudicelli, who was only elected to the FFT hotseat on February 18.

"Integrity is one of our strong points. We cannot decide, on the one hand, to increase the amount of funds we dedicate to the anti-doping battle and, on the other, invite her," added Giudicelli, who was keen to stress that a decision on whether or not to hand Sharapova a spot in the main draw has not yet been taken.

Five-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova, the winner at Roland Garros in 2012 and 2014, has already been handed wild cards into the Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome tournaments with organisers fully aware of the former world number one's immense pulling power.

Should the 29-year-old fail to win over Roland Garros organisers, she would have to take her chances in the qualifying tournament held at the Paris venue in the week preceding the main draw.

However, to even make the qualifying event, Sharapova would still need to build up her ranking points -- and that can only be done by winning the Stuttgart title.

The cut-off for French Open qualifying falls just after the Stuttgart tournament but before Madrid (May 7-13) and Rome (May 15-21).

This year's French Open runs from May 28 until June 11.

Sharapova deserves second chance, says Becker

(2/14/17) Boris Becker believes Maria Sharapova has paid her dues and deserves a second chance when she returns to tennis in April at the end of her 15-month doping ban.

Sharapova, a five-times grand slam champion, failed a dope test for the drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open and was suspended for two years by the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

The Russian's ban was then cut by nine months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) last October, meaning the Russian is free to return from April 26.

Becker, a three-times Wimbledon champion, said it was right that Sharapova was allowed to return to the sport and hopes her comeback will not cause problems in the locker room.

"In principal I am all for a second chance," Becker told Reuters at the Laureus World Sports Awards in Monaco.

"She (Sharapova) paid her dues, she was suspended for quite a long time. I don't know about the reaction of the other players, it's up to them.

"Everyone has their own choice. Hopefully the atmosphere (inside the locker room) will be good. We can move on and have good women's champions."

Sharapova, 29, had called the ITF's original ruling "unfairly harsh" because she had not intentionally violated anti-doping rules.

Meldonium was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency list of banned substances only at the start of 2016 after mounting evidence it boosted blood flow and enhanced performance.

CAS cut Sharapova's suspension but said she "bore some degree of fault" by relying on agent Max Eisenbud to check the banned list for changes and failing to ensure he had done so.

Despite Sharapova's suspension, Becker feels tennis is a clean sport and that the testing system works.

"I think most tennis players are responsible. If you see in the men's side there is no one inside the top 100 (that isn't clean) and in the women's side -- I think Maria is the exception -- all of the other tennis players are clean," he said.

"Tennis is an Olympic sport so the tests are very severe and strong and the penalties are strong. I think the system works. Maybe it speaks volumes of the system because a high-profile player like Sharapova was caught."

German Becker coached current world number two Novak Djokovic for three years until the pair split in December.

Sharapova handed Madrid Open wildcard

(2/8/17) Former world number one Maria Sharapova has been invited to play at the Madrid Open in May, which takes place less than two weeks after her 15-month doping ban expires, tournament organizers said on Wednesday.

The five-time grand slam winner has been given a wildcard for the event, which begins on May 5.

It is scheduled to be her second comeback tournament after her suspension for doping, with the Russian set to return to action at the Stuttgart Grand Prix in April.

"Sharapova requested an invitation to play... (She) is one of the best players of the last 15 years and also a past winner of our tournament," said event director Manolo Santana.

"In Madrid she always plays well and I'm sure she will come back to the courts highly motivated and hoping to do well."

Following a positive test for the drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open, the Russian was suspended for two years by the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

The Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) cut the ban by nine months last October, allowing her to return from April 26.

Her case divided opinion in the sport.

The Florida-based Sharapova, who turns 30 on April 19, had called the ITF's original ruling "unfairly harsh" because she had not intentionally violated anti-doping rules.

Meldonium was only added to the World Anti-Doping Agency list of banned substances at the start of 2016 after mounting evidence it boosted blood flow and enhanced performance.

CAS cut Sharapova's suspension but said she "bore some degree of fault" by relying on agent Max Eisenbud to check the banned list for changes and failing to ensure he had done so.

Sharapova boxes clever as return nears

(2/1/17) Maria Sharapova said Wednesday she refused to feel sorry for herself during her doping ban, occupying her time by studying at Harvard, writing a book and even learning how to box.

The former world number one and five-time Grand Slam title winner told a Russian chat show that she particularly enjoyed lacing up a pair of boxing gloves as part of her fitness regime.

"I tried boxing as I needed to keep myself in good form. It was great as I could imagine some particular people whom I wanted to hit," said the 29-year-old, without elaborating on the identity of her imagined targets.

Sharapova was banned from the sport after testing positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open last year.

However, she will return to action at the Stuttgart claycourt tournament on April 26 after her initial two-year ban was cut to 15 months.

He reappearance in the sport will come seven days after her 30th birthday.

"I found out that I'm very good in resting," added Sharapova when she was asked what lessons she had learned during her enforced absence from the tour and which has left her now without a world ranking.

"Formerly I couldn't imagine what to do during such a huge period of free time. I had almost 12 months to think, to read books etc."

She added: "I also had a vacation in Croatia, I celebrated the New Year in Hawaii. I've never been in London as a tourist before. I've seen almost nothing there while playing at Wimbledon."

Sharapova, who has studied at Harvard Business School to help expand her candy business, is also involved in a book about her life.

"I wrote a book which will be out in September. First it will be issued in English and then translated into Russian."

Maria Sharapova Talks Preparing for Her Return to Tennis: I've Really Missed Competing

(1/11/17) Maria Sharapova is getting back into the swing of things.

The all-star tennis player announced yesterday that she will return to the sport in April at Stuttgart's Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, more than a year after she competed in her last match. E! News recently chatted with Sharapova at the Supergoop! Barre to Bar Beauty Set launch in L.A., where she talked to us exclusively about what goes into preparing for her comeback.

"Obviously I've had a long time away from the game so I'm just really excited to get back into the routine of playing tournaments and matches," Maria, 29, shared.

The Russian stunner also shared that she's more excited than nervous about stepping back onto the court, and is taking her training slow.

"It's still a couple of months away and in terms of preparation I think I still have some time to get there," Maria explained.

Maria Sharapova, Supergoop!

She continued, "Obviously from a mind frame point of view, I'm so excited and so looking forward to competing again. It's one of the things I've really missed in the last year so it'll be really great to have that back."

One aspect of returning to tennis that Maria won't have to worry about thanks to her partnership with Supergoop!? A painful sunburn!

Supergoop! founder Holly Thaggard told us Sharapova has used her sunscreen for years. "Our every day formula is one that she found she could wear on the tennis court and not get in her eyes and sweat and really perform at the level that she performs at," the beauty guru recalled.

In Maria's own words, "Supergoop! was really the first formula that I tried that was 50 SPF and allowed me to be in the sun for up to 90 minutes without feeling any burning effects, without getting it in my eyes and feeling like it was irritating me."

Sounds like a grand slam!

Sharapova to return from ban in April

(1/10/17) Maria Sharapova will return from her 15-month doping ban at a tournament in Germany in April.

Car manufacturer Porsche, which sponsors both Sharapova and the event in Stuttgart, said Tuesday that Sharapova has been given a wild-card entry into the tournament. It will be her first official competition since she tested positive for meldonium at last year's Australian Open.

"I could not be happier to have my first match back on tour at one of my favourite tournaments," said the 29-year-old Sharapova, who won the Stuttgart tournament from 2012-14. "I can't wait? to see all my great fans and to be back doing what I love."

Sharapova will be eligible to return on April 26, the third day of main-draw play, which could leave her facing a busy schedule of matches in order to win a fourth Stuttgart title.

"I'm sure the fans will be excited to see her play," WTA CEO Steve Simon said in a statement.

The Russian will have to rely on wild-card invites to tournaments, including Grand Slams, for a while because her ban means she has fallen out of the world rankings, which only count tournament performances over the preceding 12 months.

Sharapova was originally banned for two years but that was reduced on appeal in October. She said she had used meldonium for years for medical reasons and was not aware it had been banned for 2016.

During her ban, she has played in some exhibition events. Known for setting up her own confectionary brand and for an interest in the commercial side of tennis, Sharapova also enrolled in a two-week program at Harvard Business School last year.

SHARAPOVA TO MAKE UP FOR LOST TIME?

(1/2/17) A sombre Sharapova stunned the sporting world when she revealed testing positive for banned substance meldonium during the Australian Open.

The five-time major champion had a two-year ban reduced to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport after lodging an appeal.

Sharapova will be clear to return to action in April, but could take a while to get back to anything like her best after such a long spell out of the game.

The 29-year-old said she was "counting the days" until her comeback and it will be interesting to see what sort of reception the Russian gets.

Maria Sharapova to take on Monica Puig in Puerto Rico

(12/17/16) Maria Sharapova's reintegration into the tennis world will take a big step forward when she takes on Olympic champion Monica Puig in Puerto Rico Thursday.

The former top-ranked Russian will play the island's first Olympic champion in the inaugural Monica Puig Invitational in the capital city San Juan.

Sharapova, who last played an official match in January, said in a press release she was "excited to visit Puerto Rico for the first time and help Monica inaugurate her event."

She added: "Monica's Olympic story brought so much joy and pride to the people of Puerto Rico and I am happy to support her dream of playing tennis in her homeland."

Reduced ban

Sharapova, 29, was suspended by the International Tennis Federation for failing a doping test in March. She said she had been taking the banned substance meldonium for health reasons but failed to notice it had been added to the banned list earlier this year.

She is set to return to the women's tour in April after the Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced her two-year sentence to 15 months in October, saying she bore "no significant fault or negligence."

Sharapova and Puig, both represented by management company IMG, have played each other only once with the Russian winning on the clay of Rome in 2014.

Puig victory

The day Puig faced Angelique Kerber for the tennis gold medal at the Rio Olympics, the streets in her native Puerto Rico were unusually calm.

Puerto Ricans were glued to their television sets as they watched the then 34th-ranked underdog stun the Australian Open champion from Germany to clinch the country's first ever gold medal.

In a US territory struggling with recession and a crippling debt crisis that has seen many leave, Puig's shock win offered a rare reason to celebrate.

Festive homecoming

After half a million people welcomed her home in August, Puig is giving something back: she's playing in her home country for the first time since 2011.

"Knowing that during the Olympics, the Island kind of 're-united' and people were, for a short while, able to forget the tough times and celebrate all together," Puig said in an email exchange last month. "I realized even more than before that I have a responsibility which I do not take lightly."

"I want to use my role, especially at home, to continue to bring happiness and success to Puerto Rico," added Puig, who was crowned best female athlete of the Rio Games by the Association of National Olympic Committees in November.

Housing projects

Although the 23-year-old Puig was born on the Caribbean island, she moved to Florida when she was a baby.

The Monica Puig Invitational will be held in Coliseo de Puerto Rico, the island's biggest indoor arena with a capacity of more than 16,000.

Puig said one level of the stadium will be used for people from public housing projects in San Juan, while she'll also host a kids' clinic with Sharapova.

Before Puig's victory, Puerto Rico had won eight Olympic medals. None of them were gold and they were all won by men.

Unusually, on the day of the Olympic women's tennis finals there were no reported murders in Puerto Rico, something the local police chief linked to the match.

Although tennis isn't widely played in Puerto Rico, Puig is hoping her success will give it a boost.

"I am very fortunate to be in the position that I am -- both in life and as an athlete," she said. "I want to bring tennis to Puerto Rico, help grow the sport, and have people enjoy and take pleasure out of this great sport and also for the next generation to be able to learn to play tennis, and use it as a tool to be successful in life."

Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep are the fastest players in tennis, find out who made the list

(11/30/16) Tennis players are known for their high levels of intensity and speeds as their game is based on how they combine both of them into one perfect package. Speed is measurable and according to a new study from Tennis Australia's Game Insight Group, Serbian Novak Djokovic and Romanian Simona Halep are the world's fastest tennis players.

The Game Insight Group (GIG) undertook a study that measured players while running across a distance of 3m or more, involving the use of statistics from the Australian Open over the years. The study found that Djokovic has the highest top speed (36.0km/h) while current world number one Andy Murray has a higher average top speed (15.89km/h) as compared to the Serb.

Tennis legends Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal came in second and third in the list of the average top speed with timings of 15.55km/h and 15.38km/h respectively. Their top speed figures were not too flattering though, with Federer coming 17th in the list and Nadal finishing in 12th position.

In the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) circuit, Angelique Kerber had the highest average top speed with 14.27km/h while Julia Goerges (13.85km/h) came in second followed by Agnieszka Radwanska (13.79km/h) and Simona Halep (13.69km/h).

Halep finds herself on top of the list when it comes to highest top speed with 23.04km/h with Carla Suarez Navarro (22.48km/h) coming in second and Dominika Cibulkova finding herself in third place. Research on two of the most popular players on the circuit, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, was also done, with the Russian surprisingly posting better numbers in both higher top speed and average top speed.

List of Top Speed and Average Top Speed timings of players (in km/h)

ATP (Men's)

1) Novak Djokovic (36.02/14.89)

2) Andy Murray (34.87/15.89)

3) Lleyton Hewitt (31.24/15.24)

4) Gilles Simon (30.76/14.93)

5) Grigor Dimitrov (28.91/15.05)

6) David Ferrer (27.82/14.71)

7) Stan Wawrinka (27.66/15.17)

8) Tomas Berdych (27.28/14.49)

9) Milos Raonic (27.28/15.36)

10) Kei Nishikori (27.17/14.52)

12) Rafael Nadal (26.84/15.38)

17) Roger Federer (26.03/15.55)

WTA (Women's)

1) Simona Halep (23.04/13.69)

2) Carla Suarez Navarro (22.48/13.56)

3) Dominika Cibulkova (21.98/13.43)

4) Agnieszka Radwanska (21.82/13.79)

5) Eugenie Bouchard (21.82/12.95)

6) Ajla Tomljanovic (21.69/13.33)

7) Angelique Kerber (21.46/14.27)

8) Garbine Muguruza (21.32/13.21)

9) Ana Ivanovic (20.9/13.64)

10) Julia Goerges (20.75/13.85)

11) Maria Sharapova (20.61/13.6)

13) Serena Williams (20.52/13.5)

Sharapova to return as UN goodwill ambassador

(11/11/16) Maria Sharapova will once again be a UN goodwill ambassador when her doping ban expires in April and she returns to international tennis competition, a UN statement said Thursday.

The United Nations had suspended Sharapova's role as goodwill ambassador in March after she failed a drug test, putting a hold on a nine-year partnership with the UN Development Programme.

"UNDP was glad to learn that Maria Sharapova can return to the sport she loves sooner than expected and we will lift the suspension of her role as our goodwill ambassador once the reduced ban expires in April 2017," said a UNDP spokesperson.

"We understand that Ms. Sharapova will be focused on resuming her tennis career and we look forward to discussing her role and engagement with UNDP at an appropriate date."

Last month, the Russian star's 24-month ban for testing positive for meldonium was cut to 15 months by the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Sharapova, 29, had admitted using meldonium for 10 years to help treat illnesses, a heart issue and a magnesium deficiency.

As a goodwill ambassador, Sharapova has been active in helping recovery efforts after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

The tennis sensation has made visits to Belarus and donated $100,000 to support youth projects in rural areas that suffer from the after-affects of the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

Sharapova's family fled the city of Gomel in Belarus in 1987 after the Chernobyl disaster, moving to Siberia where the tennis star was born.

The family lived in Nyagan, Siberia for two years and then moved to Sochi on the Black Sea where Sharapova took her first tennis lessons.

WTA chief 'looking forward' to Maria Sharapova's return from doping ban

(11/9/16) Steve Simon, the CEO of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA), has said he is "looking forward" to seeing Maria Sharapova back on the circuit once she has served her drugs ban.

The Russian star, who has five grand slam titles to her name, is eligible to compete again on April 26 2017.

The penalty followed a positive test for banned substance meldonium at this year's Australian Open.

"I believe that the game, the fans, the tour ... everybody is going to welcome Maria back," Simon told CNN's Open Court host Pat Cash at this year's WTA Finals in Singapore.

"We're looking forward to seeing her back on tour. I do believe that the fans and everyone else is going to be excited to see her back as well."

Sharapova's original two-year ban was reduced to 15 months in October, meaning she will be able to compete in the French Open in May.

Simon spoke of his admiration for the way Sharapova has conducted herself since receiving the ban.

"She's gone through a long and difficult year going through this process," he said. "I think she's shown a tremendous level of integrity.

"Maria owned up to everything she did. We wish all athletes and people would own up to what they do and take responsibility for their actions.

"She did. She's gone through the process. She received no special considerations due to her celebrity status."

Simon acknowledged the impact the ban has had on the Russian's career.

"She's paid a hefty fine," he said. "She's lost all her ranking; she's lost 15 months of income. That's a significant hit for anybody. She's paid her dues and she's available to come back when her suspension will end in the spring."

Simon is not the only CEO in world tennis to welcome Sharapova's comeback. Johan Eliasch, CEO of tennis manufacturer Head who sponsor Sharapova, congratulated the Russian star after her ban was reduced.

Maria Sharapova on Becoming a Champion with Lewis Howes

(10/19/16) Maria Sharapova on Becoming a Champion with Lewis Howes: Video.

Smiling Sharapova plays Las Vegas charity event

(10/11/16) (Pic) Maria Sharapova set foot on a tennis court for the first time since her positive drug test at the Australian Open on Monday, smiling throughout an appearance in the World Team Tennis Smash Hits charity event in Las Vegas.

The Russian star, who last week earned a reduction in her drug ban that will allow her to return to tennis in April, played in two light-hearted doubles matches in the event at Caesar's Palace to benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Sharapova lost her doubles match with American youngster Taylor Johnson when they faced Martina Navratilova and Liezel Huber.

The 29-year-old indicated had felt a hint of nerves along with her 16-year-old doubles partner Johnson.

"It was a big occasion for her (Johnson) and also for me," Sharapova told ESPN.

"I haven't been on a court for a while, for both of us, it was to have some fun and a bit of laughs," she added.

Sharapova later paired with US legend John McEnroe in the evening's final game against Navratilova and Andy Roddick.

Sharapova had not played since testing positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in January.

Her initial 24-month ban was slashed to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport last Tuesday, a ruling which has divided opinion among her peers.

Sharapova to test comeback waters in Las Vegas exhibition

(10/9/16) Maria Sharapova, targeting an April return to the WTA after the reduction of her doping ban, will try to start sharpening her game on Monday in the friendly confines of a charity event in Las Vegas.

The Russian superstar will play in the World Team Tennis Smash Hits event at Caesars Palace, which is hosted by Billie Jean King and Elton John for the benefit of the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Her appearance alongside such stars as Martina Navratilova and Andy Roddick will delight her legion of fans, who remain faithful despite the controversy Sharapova stirred last week with her charge that the International Tennis Federation wanted to make an example of her in her doping case.

"I got a 24-month suspension, but they (the ITF) wanted four years for me," Sharapova said in an interview with US broadcaster PBS, a claim ITF officials denied.

In the same media offensive last week, Sharapova indicated to ESPN she wasn't convinced the drug meldonium, newly banned this year by the World Anti-Doping Agency, enhances performance.

"I think the one thing that I'd love to see -- and if anyone could show me -- is evidence on the performance-enhancing effect that it has," she told the US sports network.

Sharapova's initial 24-month ban for testing positive for meldonium was cut to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport last Tuesday.

That CAS decision divided opinion among her peers.

"I can’t believe it actually," Australian Samantha Stosur said at a tournament in Hong Kong, calling it "remarkable" that Sharapova's ban was reduced on the argument she didn't realize a drug she'd long used had been added to the banned list.

Stosur, in comments reported in Tennis Magazine, said she thought most WTA players felt the same.

"So I wouldn’t imagine there’s a whole lot of support from the playing group," the Aussie said.

But five-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova can likely expect a warm welcome in Las Vegas, where she'll arrive after a stop-off in Henderson, Nevada, to promote her candy company Sugarpova.

"Important to put this behind us for tennis and Maria," King tweeted after Sharapova's ban was reduced. "Look forward to her return to the WTA Tour@wta."

Navratilova added on Twitter: "A big price to pay for a big mistake, it will still be hard to come back for Maria. But we know how tough she is..."

Samantha Stosur: Maria Sharapova shouldn't ‘get away with that excuse,’ won't be backed by WTA players

(10/9/16) At the WTA event in Hong Kong, Samantha Stosur said she was surprised by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) decision on Maria Sharapova, adding that Sharapova should not have been allowed to "get away" with saying she did not know the product had recently become banned.

Sharapova tested positive for meldonium, saying she had taken it for many years for medical reasons. It was prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) at the beginning of the 2016 season.

"I can’t believe it, actually,” Stosur said. “I don’t even know what to say ... I don’t know how you can get away with that excuse and have that overturned ... I think it’s remarkable that you can use that excuse and get away with it ... It really sets a bad precedence for athletes moving forward, where you can almost put your hands up and say it was not my fault."

Sharapova initially received a two-year ban from an independent International Tennis Federation (ITF) tribunal. The CAS reduced it to a 15-month suspension, and noted, among other things, that she had not received significant warning from the ITF or WADA about the change.

Stosur indicated that she and other WTA players are not likely to get behind Sharapova.

"I’ve spoken to a few people and we all seem to have the same idea," she said "...We had the same idea beforehand, and now we have the decision. So I wouldn’t imagine there’s a whole lot of support from the playing group."

Gasquet says return will be 'tough' for Sharapova

(10/7/16) French tennis player Richard Gasquet -- who was once banned after testing positive for cocaine -- said Wednesday that Maria Sharapova will face a "tough" return when her 15-month doping ban ends next year.

Gasquet faced an emotional comeback himself after he tested positive for cocaine at the Miami Open in 2009.

"It is never easy to come back, of course. I think she had 15 months... it's quite long to come back (after that). Mentally and physically it will be tough for her," Gasquet told AFP in Beijing.

The 30-year-old Frenchman was banned for just two and a half months after he persuaded the International Tennis Federation's tribunal panel that he had inadvertently ingested cocaine during a nightclub kiss with a girl who had taken the drug.

Sharapova had her two-year doping ban cut to 15 months by the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on Tuesday, after it ruled she was not an "intentional doper".

The 29-year-old Russian tennis star -- who is estimated to be worth $200 million -- said she aims to return to the tour in April next year.

At the time of his court comeback, Gasquet said that he had been too upset to pick up a tennis racket during his suspension.

But his career has since rebounded. He has ended three of the last four years inside the top ten and achieved his best ever Grand Slam performance this year, reaching the quarter finals at Roland Garros.

"(Sharapova needs) to play enough and of course it will be ok for her in the future. We will see... for every case it is different," Gasquet added.

Russian two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova said Sharapova would not be planning a comeback if she wasn't confident she could return to the top of women's tennis.

"Maria is (a) very good player and a hard worker. She won't be coming back if she (didn't) think she can be the top," Kuznetsova said.

ITF hits back at Sharapova over tribunal claims

(10/6/16) Maria Sharapova's claims that the International Tennis Federation (ITF) tried to enforce a lengthier ban for her doping rule violation have been rejected by the governing body.

The Russian's suspension for using the banned substance meldonium was on Tuesday reduced by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) from two years to 15 months, but the former world number one said the ITF had pushed for a four-year sanction.

In addition to rejecting that suggestion, the ITF dismissed the notion that it could have done more to inform the five-time grand slam champion and other eastern European athletes about meldonium's inclusion on the banned list.

"The ITF did not try to ban Ms Sharapova for four years, as has been suggested," read a statement. "The ITF stated clearly that it was the responsibility of the Independent Tribunal - and subsequently the CAS Panel - to determine what the appropriate sanction should be.

"Ms Sharapova has stated that the Independent Tribunal was 'not neutral'. Ms Sharapova's legal team was given the opportunity to object to the appointment of any member of that Tribunal in advance of the hearing and they agreed in writing that they had no such objection.

"It has also been suggested that the ITF should have given specific notice to eastern European athletes relating to the change in status of meldonium, because it was in common use by those athletes, and that this was known by the ITF prior to 2016.

"This is not true. In fact, it was accepted by Ms Sharapova in the hearing before CAS that the ITF did not know before 2016 about the extent to which meldonium was used by athletes from any region, or that Ms Sharapova herself was using meldonium.

"In addition to Ms Sharapova's failure to declare her use of meldonium on any of her doping control forms, the WADA monitoring program is conducted anonymously, so even WADA itself does not know the names of athletes using the substances being monitored.

"Furthermore, WADA does not inform any anti-doping organisation about the prevalence of such use until it publishes the results of the monitoring program, which for the 2015 monitoring program was in May 2016."

Thursday's statement was prompted by remarks from Sharapova on the Charlie Rose Show, in which the former world number one addressed the question of whether she felt she was being made an example of.

"I never wanted to believe that, but I am starting to think that," said the 29-year-old.

"I got a 24-month suspension, but they wanted four years for me. The ITF wanted to ban me for four years.

"I went through the ITF arbitration which was chosen by the ITF. I'm in a hearing knowing that the people I am speaking to were chosen by the people I am in a fight with. That's not neutral.

"CAS is neutral and this is what CAS awarded."

Sharapova's reduced ban expires in April 2017.

WTA chief Simon wants to provide more education to avoid Sharapova repeat

(10/5/16) WTA chief executive Steve Simon says the organisation will take a greater role in educating players on doping rules to avoid a repeat of the Maria Sharapova case.

Sharapova was handed a two-year ban after testing positive for banned substance meldonium at this year's Australian Open, but the former world number one claimed to be unaware it had been added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's list of prohibited substances on January 1.

The five-time grand slam winner's suspension was reduced to 15 months on Tuesday following an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, clearing her to return to action next April.

Simon called on competitors to be more mindful of the regulations but revealed the WTA intends to offer increased help from now on.

He said: "Well I think it is really clear that not only does the athlete need to pay attention to what the latest rules are and what they are ingesting into their systems, but I also think there is a take away for us at the WTA that we cannot sit back and wait for the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme or the ITF [International Tennis Federation] to give their education to the players.

"We need to take a stronger role in that.

"You will see an increased effort from the WTA to ensure that we never see another positive drugs test because a player was uninformed. Nobody wins and nobody benefits when things like this happen."

Simon is pleased the case has reached a conclusion and believes Sharapova will be welcomed back and is looking forward to seeing her back on court.

"Obviously it's been a time coming for sure. I am glad to see it has come to a conclusion. We are looking forward to seeing Maria [Sharapova] back on the court in 2017," he added.

"More importantly I think the process worked right. It came out with a decision and we are very supportive of the decision and we look forward to seeing Maria back in 2017.

"Anytime you lose a star to injury or suspension it's not a good thing. You miss them, the fans and the sport wants to see them. It will be great to see her back on court and I am sure she will be welcomed back with open arms."

Sharapova to play at WTT Smash Hits in Las Vegas

(10/5/16) Maria Sharapova returns to the court for the first time since her doping ban was reduced when she makes her World Team Tennis Smash Hits debut next week in Las Vegas.

WTT announced Wednesday that Sharapova will play in the charity event, co-hosted by Billie Jean King and Elton John, on Monday at Caesars Palace. Proceeds go to the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Sharapova says she’s "really excited to get back on the court for a great cause" and "looking forward to a great night of tennis."

She joins a field that includes John McEnroe, Andy Roddick, Martina Navratilova, Mardy Fish, Mark Philippoussis and Liezel Huber.

Sharapova's two-year ban was reduced to 15 months on Tuesday by a sports court. She tested positive for the prohibited heart medication meldonium at the Australian Open in January.

Maria on Today

(10/4/16) Tennis star Maria Sharapova will sit down with Matt Lauer in her first live television interview since her two-year doping suspension from tennis was reduced to 15 months. The live, in-studio interview will air tomorrow, Wednesday, October 5 on NBC News’ TODAY.

Maria on Charlie Rose

(10/4/16) @MariaSharapova: I'll be appearing on @charlierose Show tonight,10/4 on @PBS. Have been a huge fan of his show for a long time! Hope you tune in!!

Sharapova: CAS ruling provides one of my happiest days

(10/4/16) Maria Sharapova says the Court of Arbitration for Sport's (CAS) decision to reduce her doping ban from two years to 15 months has provided her with "one of my happiest days".

The Russian was initially suspended until January 2018, after testing positive for the banned substance meldonium at this year's Australian Open.

However, Sharapova claimed to be unaware that meldonium had been added to WADA's prohibited list at the start of 2016 and an appeal to CAS has resulted in her sanction being reduced by nine months.

Sharapova will therefore be free to return to the court in April 2017 and said in a statement: "I've gone from one of the toughest days of my career last March when I learned about my suspension to now, one of my happiest days, as I found out I can return to tennis in April.

"In so many ways, I feel like something I love was taken away from me and it will feel really good to have it back.

"Tennis is my passion and I have missed it. I am counting the days until I can return to the court."

The 29-year-old says that her case should be a lesson to the International Tennis Federation and other anti-doping agencies to ensure other players avoid a similar fate.

The statement added: "I have learned from this, and I hope the ITF has as well. CAS concluded that 'the Panel has determined it does not agree with many of the conclusions of the [ITF] Tribunal…'

"I have taken responsibility from the very beginning for not knowing that the over-the-counter supplement I had been taking for the last 10 years was no longer allowed.

"But I also learned how much better other Federations were at notifying their athletes of the rule change, especially in Eastern Europe where Mildronate [another name for meldonium] is commonly taken by millions of people.

"Now that this process is over, I hope the ITF and other relevant tennis anti-doping authorities will study what these other Federations did, so that no other tennis player will have to go through what I went through."

Sharapova also she had a message of thanks to her fans.

"And to my fans, (Hello SharaFamily!), I thank you so much for living and breathing so many of these tough months together," she said.

"During this time, I have learned the true meaning of a fan and I am so fortunate to have had your support.

"I'm coming back soon and I can't wait."

Reacting to the news, WTA CEO Steve Simon said in a statement: "The TADP has a comprehensive and fair process in place and we support the final result. We are pleased that the process is now at completion and can look forward to seeing Maria back on court in 2017."

Maria Sharapova’s doping ban cut from two years to 15 months

(10/4/16) Maria Sharapova’s doping ban was reduced from two years to 15 months on Tuesday, meaning the Russian tennis star can come back in April and return to Grand Slam play at the French Open.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport cut nine months off the suspension imposed on Sharapova, who tested positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in January.

Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1-ranked player, appealed to CAS in June seeking to overturn or reduce the two-year suspension imposed by the International Tennis Federation.

The CAS panel found that Sharapova "bore some degree of fault" for the positive test, saying a 15-month sanction was "appropriate."

The ban took effect on Jan. 26 and was originally due to run until Jan. 25, 2018. Now she will be eligible to return nearly a year earlier.

"I've gone from one of the toughest days of my career last March when I learned about my suspension to now, one of my happiest days, as I found out I can return to tennis in April," Sharapova said in a statement.

"In so many ways, I feel like something I love was taken away from me and it will feel really good to have it back," she added. "Tennis is my passion and I have missed it. I am counting the days until I can return to the court."

Steve Simon, CEO of the WTA tour, welcomed the ruling.

"We are pleased that the process is now at completion and can look forward to seeing Maria back on court in 2017," he said.

An independent ITF panel had found that Sharapova did not intend to cheat but that she bore "sole responsibility" and "very significant fault" for the positive test.

The panel also said the case "inevitably led to the conclusion" that she took the substance "for the purpose of enhancing her performance."

Sharapova acknowledged taking meldonium before each match at the Australian Open, where she lost in the quarterfinals to Serena Williams.

Sharapova said she was not aware that meldonium, also known as mildronate, had been included on the World Anti-Doping Agency's list of banned substances from Jan. 1, 2016.

The ITF said she also tested positive for meldonium in an out-of-competition control in Moscow on Feb. 2.

The 29-year-old Sharapova missed this year's French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open, as well as the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Sharapova said she was first prescribed the Latvian-made drug, typically used for heart conditions, by her family doctor for various medical issues in 2006. She cited a bout of the flu, possible onset of diabetes and a magnesium deficiency.

Meldonium increases blood flow, which improves exercise capacity by carrying more oxygen to the muscles.

More than 100 athletes, including many Russians and other eastern Europeans, tested positive for meldonium early in the year. Some escaped with no sanctions because they argued successfully that they stopped taking the drug before Jan. 1 and that traces had lingered in their system. Sharapova, however, acknowledged that she used meldonium after Jan. 1.

Sharapova to learn appeal verdict Tuesday

(10/3/16) The verdict in Maria Sharapova's appeal against a two-year doping ban will be announced Tuesday.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport says it will issue the decision at 9am et.

Sharapova challenged an International Tennis Federation ban imposed after she tested positive at the Australian Open for meldonium.

An ITF panel found that the Russian did not intend to cheat, but was at "very significant fault."

Sharapova acknowledged taking meldonium before each match in Melbourne, claiming she was not aware it had been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Sharapova said she was prescribed the Latvian-made heart drug since 2006. Meldonium, also known as mildronate, is not approved for use in the United States where she lives.

Her ban expires in January 2018.

UFC Adds Hollywood, Music, And Sports Stars To Its Ownership Roster

(10/1/16) UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) just added some celebrity glitter to its ownership ranks following the $4 billion acquisition in July by an investor group led by WME | IMG.

The mixed martial arts power says today that its owners now include Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye, Adam Levine, Anthony Kiedis, Ben Affleck, Calvin Harris, Cam Newton, Conan O’Brien, Flea, Guy Fieri, Jimmy Kimmel, Li Na, LL Cool J, Maria Sharapova, Mark Wahlberg, Michael Bay, Rob Dyrdek, Robert Kraft, Serena Williams, Sylvester Stallone, Tom Brady, Trey Parker, Tyler Perry, and Venus Williams.

“Expanding our ownership group to include this caliber of talent and entrepreneurs is a strong indicator of UFC’s fast-growing global presence,” UFC President Dana White says. “Our new investors bring an incredible depth of knowledge and experience to help us continue to elevate this brand and capitalize on its entertainment and sports crossover appeal.”

The sports company, founded in 1993, has soared in popularity in recent years with crossover stars including former champion Ronda Rousey (Furious 7) and Randy Couture (Expendables 3).

It has more than 40 live events a year and boasts that it’s the world’s largest Pay-Per-View event provider with broadcasts in 29 languages to more than 156 countries and territories with 1.1 billion-plus television households.

Maria Sharapova to find out decision on doping appeal in October

(9/13/16) The verdict in Maria Sharapova’s appeal against a two-year ban for doping has been delayed for a second time.

Sharapova should now find out the decision in her case against the International Tennis Federation early next month, the Court of Arbitration for Sport said Tuesday.

The Russian tennis star had initially hoped to get fast-track verdict in July before the Rio de Janeiro Olympics began. After both sides’ lawyers said they needed more time to prepare their case, the target was then set for Sept. 19.

Now, CAS plans to issue its verdict during the first week of October.

Sharapova was banned in June by the ITF after testing positive for meldonium at the Australian Open.

She acknowledged taking meldonium before each match in Melbourne, claiming she was not aware that the drug, also known as mildronate, had been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency as of Jan. 1.

An independent three-person panel appointed by the ITF ruled that Sharapova did not intend to cheat, but that she bore "sole responsibility" and "very significant fault" for the positive test.

Sharapova said she first was prescribed the Latvian-made drug, typically used for heart conditions, for medical reasons in 2006.

Her ban is due to end on Jan. 25, 2018, which would force her to miss eight Grand Slam tournaments. She would turn 31 before the 2018 French Open begins.

No tennis, no problems for shopaholic Maria Sharapova

(9/1/16) Maria Sharapova’s new drug of choice: retail.

The tennis superstar, who is serving a two-year suspension after testing positive for the banned substance meldonium in January, indulged at luxury label Isabel Marant on Wednesday in West Hollywood.

Pairing her cream color blazer with a white T-shirt, pale pink skirt and brown booties, Sharapova’s attire is severely different from the skin-tight styles she might flaunt on the courts at the US Open.

While tennis rivals Coco Vandeweghe and Serena Williams, among others, are competing in Queens, Sharapova is keeping busy with shopping and studying.

The 29-year-old beauty enrolled in a two-week program at Harvard Business School this summer, and recently completed a three-day internship with the NBA in New York.

“She took part in many of our department meetings to learn about NBA operations,” a spokesperson for NBA commissioner Adam Silver told The Post. “She’s very smart, incredibly inquisitive about our process and initiatives.”

Sharapova’s agent confirmed she wants to focus on business ventures once she retires.

Maria Sharapova is spending her summer as an intern

(8/29/16) Maria Sharapova was in New York City this month on a sports venture that had nothing to do with tennis or the U.S. Open.

As Sharapova prepares for her post-playing career, the Russian tennis star completed a three-day informal internship with the NBA in Manhattan, working closely with commissioner Adam Silver.

Sharapova is barred from the U.S. Open after testing positive for a drug — meldonium — that’s deemed a performance-enhancer and recently was placed on the WTA’s banned list. The two-year suspension currently is under appeal.

The 2006 Open champion attended several high-level meetings and met with executives for the NBA, WNBA and D-League. She was recommended for the internship by a friend, Sophie Goldschmidt, who formerly ran the league’s European office.

“She took part in many of our department meetings to learn about the NBA operations,” Mike Bass, a spokesman for Silver, told The Post. “She’s very smart, incredibly inquisitive about our process and initiatives.”

According to an NBA source, meldonium will be placed on the NBA’s banned list in time for the coming season.

Sharapova has kept busy since her ban, which began in June, diving into academia. She took a two-week class at the Harvard Business School in July and had an internship this summer at an ad agency and Nike.

She already is running one business, candy company Sugarpova. Her agent, Max Eisenbud, said she’s focused on a business career after she retires.

She will not be in New York during the Open.

Sharapova could return in January - tennis chief

(8/15/16) Five-times grand slam winner Maria Sharapova, banned in June for two years for doping offences, may be allowed to return in January, according to Russian Tennis Federation president Shamil Tarpishchev.

"Everything will be decided in September. It is impossible to say for certain but I think she will start playing again by January," Tarpishchev was quoted as saying by the TASS news agency on Monday.

Former world number one Sharapova was suspended following a positive test for the banned drug meldonium during January's Australian Open.

The 29-year-old was named in Russia's official entry list for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro but the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) decided in July to defer its decision on her appeal against the ban until Sept. 19.

Sharapova is seeking to have her suspension, which was handed down by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) in June, wiped out or reduced.

The postponement of the ruling came because Sharapova and the ITF needed more time to "complete and respond to their respective evidentiary submissions", the CAS said in a statement.

Maria on CHELSEA

(8/4/16) CHELSEA, Netflix

Friday, August 12: Maria Sharapova

Sharapova out of Rio as CAS delays doping decision

(7/11/16) The Court of Arbitration for Sport said Monday it has put back its ruling on the two-year doping ban for Maria Sharapova for two months to September, ruling the tennis superstar out of the Rio Olympics.

The 29-year-old Russian tested positive for the banned medication meldonium during January's Australian Open, in a severe blow to her reputation.

If the ban -- which Sharapova has called "unfairly harsh" -- is upheld it would almost certainly end one of sport's most celebrated and high-profile careers.

"Maria Sharapova and the International Tennis Federation (ITF) have agreed to defer the CAS decision until September 2016," said a CAS statement.

"Due to the parties requiring additional time to complete and respond to their respective evidentiary submissions, and several scheduling conflicts, the parties have agreed not to expedite the appeal.

"A decision is expected to be issued by September 19, 2016."

The original ruling was expected by July 18, with Sharapova hoping that a successful appeal would have allowed her to spearhead the Russian tennis team in Rio.

CAS confirmed to AFP that Sharapova will not be able to compete at the Olympics.

Russia's participation at the Games, which begin on August 5, is already under fierce scrutiny after its track and field team was banned for separate state-sponsored doping.

The Russian tennis federation chief said Sharapova's absence in Rio would badly dent their medal hopes.

"(It is) a serious loss for our team at the Olympics as we counted on her medal in women's singles," TASS news agency quoted Shamil Tarpishchev as saying.

Sharapova's ban was backdated to January 26 this year, when she tested positive for the prohibited substance.

Meldonium was added to the world anti-doping WADA list on January 1. Sharapova said she had been taking it for 10 years to help treat illnesses, a heart issue and a magnesium deficiency.

The CAS statement added: "In her appeal to the CAS, Ms Sharapova seeks the annulment of the (ITF) tribunal’s decision to sanction her with a two-year period of ineligibility further to an anti-doping rule violation.

"Ms Sharapova submits that the period of ineligibility should be eliminated, or in the alternative, reduced. The final decision will be announced and published by CAS when it is available."

- 'Huge mistake' -

The former world number one and five-time Grand Slam champion, who is based in the United States, told a packed press conference in Los Angeles in March that she had failed a dope test at the Australian Open and admitted making a "huge mistake".

"I let my fans down. I let my sport down that I've been playing since the age of four that I love so deeply," added Sharapova, her voice wavering.

"I know that with this, I face consequences and I don't want to end my career this way -- and I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game."

Sharapova burst onto the international scene as she giggled and grunted her way to the Wimbledon crown in 2004.

She won the US Open in 2006, the Australian Open in 2008 and the French Open in 2012 and 2014.

Her ferocity on the court, business acumen and glamorous looks have all combined to make her a marketing juggernaut and the overseer of such successful ventures as her Sugarpova line of candy.

She has 35 WTA singles titles and more than $36 million in career earnings.

'Hey Harvard!' Maria Sharapova Attending Business School for 2-Week Program During Tennis Ban

(6/29/16) Maria Sharapova is heading to Harvard Business School during her time off the court.

The 29-year-old Russian native announced the news on Twitter recently, posing next to a sign on the school's Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus.

"Not sure how this happened but Hey Harvard! Can't wait to start the program," she wrote alongside the image.

According to the Associated Press, Sharapova will participate in a two-week program. Her agent, Max Eisenbud, said that the program involves two classes on campus.

Sharapova's enrollment comes as the tennis star is forced to refrain from professional tennis for at least two years – she was banned by the International Tennis federation after failing a doping test at January's Australian Open – leaving plenty of time for higher education.

Sharapova tested positive for Meldonium, a drug that can help an athlete's endurance and rehabilitation. Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion, said she had been taking Meldonium for the past decade, as it was not banned in the tennis world until this year.

"I have let my fans down, and let the sport down that I have been playing since the age of four that I love so deeply," Sharapova said in March of the scandal. "I know that with this I face consequences and I don't want to end my career this way. I really hope to be given another chance to play this game."

Sharapova attending Harvard Business School during ban

(6/27/16) Maria Sharapova says she’s headed to Harvard Business School while she serves a two-year doping ban.

The 29-year-old Russian tennis star posted on Facebook and Twitter on Saturday a picture of her seated next to a sign for the school and the message: "’Not sure how this happened but Hey Harvard! Can’t wait to start the program!"

Representatives for Harvard and Sharapova didn’t immediately comment Monday.

Sharapova tested positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in January, taking it before each match at that tournament even though the substance was banned at the start of 2016.

The five-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1-ranked player has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland. She is trying to overturn or reduce the suspension, which was imposed by the International Tennis Federation.

Sharapova lawyer blasts WADA chief over income comment

(6/20/16) Maria Sharapova's attorney John Haggerty hit out at World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) head Craig Reedie for comments he made about the Russian tennis star's earnings.

Speaking at a WADA symposium in London on Monday, Reedie complained that his organisation's yearly budget of $30 million (26.5 million euros) was potentially less than Sharapova's annual earnings.

But that brought a furious rebuke from Haggerty.

"The statement made today by the WADA president is unprofessional," said the attorney in a statement.

"Justice, whether in the eyes of WADA or a court, must be blind, including being blind to a player's earnings.

"Mr. Reedie owes an apology to Maria and to all successful tennis players unless he wants fans to think WADA has different standards for players depending on their ranking and earnings."

Sharapova was banned for two years by the International Tennis Federation earlier this month after admitting in March she had taken the banned medication meldonium.

The 29-year-old has vowed to contest her ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Reedie said on Monday that WADA was punching above its weight due to its limited budget but suggested that it was a satisfaction to have caught Sharapova despite her potential to earn more than that in a year.

Maria Sharapova appeals to CAS in doping case; ruling by July 18

(6/14/16) Maria Sharapova appealed her two-year doping ban to the highest court in sports on Tuesday, with an expedited ruling to be issued next month ahead of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Sharapova filed an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport seeking to overturn or reduce the suspension imposed by the International Tennis Federation last week after the Russian tested positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in January.

CAS said both sides agreed to an "expedited procedure" which will allow the court to issue its ruling by July 18, at the latest.

The timing means that, if the suspension is thrown out, Sharapova would be eligible to compete at the Rio Games, which open on Aug. 5.

CAS said it hasn't decided whether to hold a hearing or not.

Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion, announced she would appeal following last Tuesday's announcement of her suspension.

An independent three-person panel appointed by the ITF said Sharapova did not intend to cheat because she didn't know meldonium was banned, but that she bore "sole responsibility" and "very significant fault" for the positive test.

Sharapova was provisionally suspended by the ITF in early March, when she announced at a news conference in Los Angeles that she failed a doping test in January.

Sharapova said then she was not aware that the World Anti-Doping Agency barred athletes from using meldonium, also known as mildronate, from Jan. 1.

In addition to testing positive at the Australian Open, the ITF said she also failed a test for meldonium in an out-of-competition control in Moscow on Feb. 2.

Sharapova's ban is due to end on Jan. 25, 2018.

Sharapova said she first was prescribed the Latvian-made drug, typically used for heart conditions, for medical reasons in 2006. She could have been barred from competing for up to four years.

Racket sponsor keeps backing Sharapova despite 2-year ban

(6/9/16) Maria Sharapova’s racket supplier reinforces its support of the five-time Grand Slam champion, one day after she was banned for two years for doping.

Head CEO Johan Eliasch calls the suspension imposed by an ITF anti-doping tribunal "a flawed decision," repeating his comment that the substance Sharapova tested positive for, meldonium, shouldn’t be on WADA’s banned list because of a lack of scientific evidence for its supposed performance-enhancing effect.

Eliasch says his company "will continue to stand by Miss Sharapova."

Earlier, Nike also announced its continued support for Sharapova after initially putting their long-term deal on hold in March, when she revealed she failed a doping test at the Australian Open in January.

Sharapova has said she will appeal the suspension.

Nike 'will continue to partner' with Sharapova

(6/8/16) Nike says it "will continue to partner" with Maria Sharapova, despite her two-year suspension for failing a drug test.

The sportswear giant said in a statement Wednesday: "We hope to see Maria back on court."

Sharapova was punished by a three-person Tennis Anti-Doping Program tribunal appointed by the International Tennis Federation, which concluded she took meldonium "for the purpose of enhancing her performance." She had been taking it since 2006.

Meldonium was banned as of Jan. 1. Sharapova tested positive at the Australian Open on Jan. 26, and said later she didn't know the substance was newly banned.

In March, when Sharapova announced she failed a drug test, Nike said it had "decided to suspend our relationship with Maria while the investigation continues" but that it would "monitor the situation."

Factbox: Banned player Maria Sharapova

(6/8/16) Factbox on Russia's Maria Sharapova who was banned until January 2018 on Wednesday after testing positive for the banned drug meldonium at this year's Australian Open:

Born: April 19, 1987 in Nyagan, Russia

GRAND SLAM TITLES: Five: Wimbledon (2004); U.S. Open (2006); Australian Open (2008); French Open (2012, 2014)

MAKING HER NAME

* Born in Siberia, moves to Black Sea coastal resort of Sochi aged two.

* Moves to Florida in 1996 to train at Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy in Bradenton. Sharapova's father Yuri, armed with just $700, moves to U.S. with her. Her mother Yelena has to stay in Russia due to visa restrictions.

* Turns professional in 2001.

TENNIS CAREER

* Wins first tour title in Tokyo in 2003. Finishes inside top 50 for first time.

* Becomes first Russian woman to win Wimbledon in 2004 aged 17, beating holder Serena Williams 6-1 6-4 in the final.

* In August 2005 becomes first Russian woman to reach the top of the world rankings.

* Wins her second grand slam after defeating second seed Justine Henin 6-4 6-4 in the 2006 U.S. Open final.

* Beats Ana Ivanovic of Serbia 7-5 6-3 in 2008 to win her third grand slam title, and first Australian Open.

* Regains number one ranking by beating Petra Kvitova in the French Open semi-finals in 2012 before defeating Sara Errani 6-3 6-2 in the final to complete her collection of grand slam trophies.

* Wins a silver medal in her Olympic debut at the 2012 Games in London, losing the final against Serena Williams 6-0 6-1.

* Wins fifth grand slam title at 2014 French Open.

OTHER NOTES

* Has shoulder surgery in 2008 followed by a nine-month injury layoff.

* Misses second half of 2013 season with a shoulder injury.

* Is the richest woman in sport and, with more than 15 million fans, she is the most followed female athlete on Facebook.

FAILED TEST

*Sharapova tells a news conference in Los Angeles in March that she tested positive at this year's Australian Open for meldonium, which is used to treat diabetes and low magnesium and has been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) since Jan. 1.

*She is provisionally banned by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) pending the outcome of an anti-doping hearing in London in May

*ITF announces a two-year ban for Sharapova backdated to Jan. 26. Sharapova says she will appeal against the length of the ban.

Sharapova, rags to riches to doping shame

(6/8/16) From the shadow of Chernobyl's nuclear wasteland to international super-stardom and from penniless arrival in the United States, without a word of English, to a fortune nudging the $200 million mark.

It may sound like the stuff of Hollywood dreams, but the story of Maria Sharapova, the world's richest sportswoman, was a testament to the power of one individual to make it, whatever the odds.

However, on Wednesday, the 29-year-old Russian's rags-to-riches story was seemingly at an end when she was banned for two years for failing a drugs test at January's Australian Open.

Sharapova shot to international fame as a giggly 17-year-old Wimbledon winner in 2004 -- the third youngest player to conquer the All England Club's famous grass courts.

She would go on to win once in Australia and once at the US Open while claiming two titles at the French Open, despite famously likening her movement on Roland Garros's crushed red brick as a "cow on ice."

Siberia-born Sharapova first picked up a racquet at the age of four when she was living in Sochi, where her Belarus-born parents had settled after escaping the deadly clutches of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Spotted by Martina Navratilova, she was encouraged to move to Nick Bollettieri's Florida academy, the proving ground of Andre Agassi and Monica Seles.

Father Yuri and the seven-year-old Maria left for the US in 1994 with just a borrowed $700 to their names.

"I was living a normal, average, everyday life back in Russia and we had a dream," she recalled.

Yuri took odd jobs like dishwashing to finance his daughter's dreams although visa restrictions meant mother Yelena was back in Russia, separated from her daughter for two years.

When Sharapova was nine, the mighty IMG group spotted her talent, funded the $35,000 fees required for the Bollettieri school and the young Maria was on her way.

- Wimbledon celebrity -

She made her professional debut at 14 in 2001 and by 2003 she reached the world top 50. She won her first tour titles in Japan and Quebec.

Then in 2004, the tennis world was turned upside down when her Wimbledon final triumph over Serena Williams made her an overnight international celebrity.

One year later, she became the first Russian woman to be ranked at number one in the world while, in 2006, she won her second major at the US Open.

But in 2007 and 2008, she began her long, on-off battle with shoulder trouble.

She still had time to win the Australian Open before a second shoulder injury kept her off tour for the second half of the season, including missing the US Open and Beijing Olympics.

A 10-month absence from the sport, as she recuperated from surgery, saw her ranking slip to 126, but she was back in 2012, capturing the French Open to become the 10th woman to complete a career Grand Slam and adding Olympic silver to her resume that year.

Her 2014 French Open title was another high after a dispiriting injury low.

More injury troubles followed before the bombshell announcement of her positive test for the banned heart drug meldonium at the Australian Open -- where she fell in the quarter-finals to Williams.

- Serena rivalry -

With Williams, she endured her most testing rivalry -- on and off the court.

The two famously exchanged personal barbs over their private lives when Sharapova began a two-year romance with Bulgarian player Grigor Dimitrov, a rumoured previous boyfriend of the American.

Sharapova had previously been engaged to former Los Angeles Laker basketball star Sasha Vujacic.

She may have been unlucky in love, but Sharapova hit the jackpot in her commercial affairs. She made almost $30 million in 2015, according to Forbes, with $23 million of that coming from endorsements.

Sharapova was a brand ambassador for Porsche, Cole Haan and in 2010 signed a contract extension with Nike worth a reported $70 million.

"Beauty sells. I have to realize that's a part of why people want me. I understand it. It's fine. I'm not going to make myself ugly," she said.

She has two luxury homes -- one in Florida, one in California -- and is making a lucrative career as an entrepreneur. In 2012, she launched her own line of candy, Sugarpova, selling 30,000 bags in the first six months.

She acknowledged in Melbourne that she never expected still to be playing tennis at the age of 28, but when she revealed her positive drugs test at a news conference in Los Angeles on March 7, she said she wasn't ready to leave the game.

"I don't want to end my career this way," Sharapova said. "And I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game."

Maria Sharapova doping timeline

(6/8/16) Timeline on Maria Sharapova doping case after the Russian star was banned for two years on Wednesday:

2016

Jan 26 - Sharapova loses to old rival Serena Williams in the Australian Open quarter-finals.

March 7 - Sharapova calls press conference at a Los Angeles hotel where she reveals that after her loss in Melbourne she tested positive for meldonium, a substance placed on the WADA banned list at the start of the year.

March 8 - Nike, Tag Heuer and Porsche halt their lucrative relationships with Sharapova.

March 8 - Sharapova's old rival Williams praises the Russian's "courage" in fronting up to developments.

March 9 - World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) president Dick Pound describes Sharapova's actions as "reckless beyond description".

March 10 - Sharapova's racquet manufacturer Head says it will stand by the Russian.

March 12 - Sharapova insists that contrary to media reports, she had not received five separate warnings about changes to anti-doping rules. "I should have paid more attention to it. But the other 'communications'? They were buried in newsletters, websites, or handouts," the Russian star said. "I guess some in the media can call that a warning. I think most people would call it too hard to find."

March 15 - United Nations suspends Sharapova as a goodwill ambassador.

March 24 - World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) says 123 cases involving meldonium recorded since the endurance-boosting drug was banned on January 1.

April 13 - WADA says athletes could escape a ban for taking meldonium because it does not know for sure how long it takes the substance to leave the body.

April 14 - Russian President Vladimir Putin declared athletes' use of the performance-boosting drug does not constitute doping.

May 26 - Named on Russian Olympic tennis team

June 7 - Sharapova earned $21.9 million (19.2 million euros) over the past 12 months, down almost $8 million from the previous year, according to Forbes Magazine.

June 8 - Banned for two years by ITF, Sharapova announces she will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Maria’s statement on twitter about 2 Year Ban

(6/8/16) Maria Sharapova: Today with their decision of a two year suspension, the ITF tribunal unanimously concluded that what I did was not intentional. The tribunal found that I did not seek treatment from my doctor for the purpose of obtaining a performance enhancing substance. The ITF spent tremendous amounts of time and resources trying to prove I intentionally violated the anti-doping rules and the tribunal concluded I did not. You need to know that the ITF asked the tribunal to suspend me for four years – the required suspension for an intentional violation -- and the tribunal rejected the ITF’s position.

While the tribunal concluded correctly that I did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules, I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension. The tribunal, whose members were selected by the ITF, agreed that I did not do anything intentionally wrong, yet they seek to keep me from playing tennis for two years. I will immediately appeal the suspension portion of this ruling to CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

I have missed playing tennis and I have missed my amazing fans, who are the best and most loyal fans in the world. I have read your letters. I have read your social media posts and your love and support has gotten me through these tough days. I intend to stand for what I believe is right and that’s why I will fight to be back on the tennis court as soon as possible.

Love, Maria

P.S. My lawyer prepared a short summary of how the ITF process works so I thought I would pass it along to my fans so you too can be aware of what the ITF rules call for (Read)

Maria Sharapova banned two years by ITF for doping violation

(6/8/16) Maria Sharapova was suspended from tennis for two years Wednesday for testing positive for meldonium at the Australian Open, and immediately responded by saying she would appeal the decision to sport’s highest court.

The ruling by an independent three-person panel appointed by the International Tennis Federation said Sharapova did not intend to cheat, but that she bore "sole responsibility" and "very significant fault" for the positive test.

"While the tribunal concluded correctly that I did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules, I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension," Sharapova said in a statement. "The tribunal, whose members were selected by the ITF, agreed that I did not do anything intentionally wrong, yet they seek to keep me from playing tennis for two years. I will immediately appeal the suspension portion of this ruling to CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport."

The five-time Grand Slam champion was provisionally suspended by the ITF in early March, when she announced at a news conference in Los Angeles that she failed a doping test in January.

Sharapova said then she was not aware that the World Anti-Doping Agency had barred athletes from using meldonium, also known as mildronate, as of Jan. 1.

Her lawyer, John Haggerty, said Sharapova took the substance after that date.

Lawyers representing the ITF argued their side, while Haggerty argued hers. He said she spoke at the hearing.

In addition to testing positive at the Australian Open, the ITF said she also failed a test for meldonium in an out-of-competition control in Moscow on Feb. 2.

Sharapova said she first was prescribed the Latvian-made drug, typically used for heart conditions, for medical reasons in 2006. She could have been barred from competing for up to four years.

"Today with their decision of a two-year suspension, the ITF tribunal unanimously concluded that what I did was not intentional," Sharapova said. "The tribunal found that I did not seek treatment from my doctor for the purpose of obtaining a performance enhancing substance.

"The ITF spent tremendous amounts of time and resources trying to prove I intentionally violated the anti-doping rules and the tribunal concluded I did not."

The ban throws into doubt the on-court future of Sharapova, a 29-year-old Russian who is one of the most well-known and — thanks to a wide array of endorsements — highest-earning athletes in the world.

She is a former top-ranked player who is one of 10 women in tennis history with a career Grand Slam — at least one title from each of the sport’s four most important tournaments. So much came so easily for her at the start: Wimbledon champion in 2004 at age 17; No. 1 in the rankings at 18; U.S. Open champion at 19; Australian Open champion at 20.

An operation to her right shoulder in 2008 took her off the tour for months, and her ranking dropped outside the top 100. But she worked her way back, and in 2012, won the French Open, then added a second title in Paris two years later.

Sharapova hasn’t played since a quarterfinal loss to Serena Williams at this year’s Australian Open, and she is ranked 26th this week.

Meldonium increases blood flow, which improves exercise capacity by carrying more oxygen to the muscles.

In April, citing a lack of scientific evidence about how long the drug remains in a person’s system, WADA said that provisional suspensions may be lifted if it is determined that an athlete took meldonium before it went on the list of banned substances.

About 200 athletes tested positive for meldonium this year from various sports and countries — many, like Sharapova, were Russian — and some said the drug stayed in their systems for months even though they stopped using it in 2015.

But, according to Haggerty, that was not the case for Sharapova.

Serena usurps Sharapova as highest-paid sportswoman

(6/6/16) Serena Williams has replaced Maria Sharapova as the world's best-paid female athlete.

The women's tennis' number one reached the French Open final on Saturday, only to lose out to Garbine Muguruza at Roland Garros.

It was her second major final defeat of the year, after losing out to Angelique Kerber at the Australian Open, as her search for a record-equalling 22nd grand slam goes on.

Williams, who won three out of four majors in 2015, has moved to the top of the list ahead of Sharapova, who has been out of action since January after she tested positive for banned substance meldonium at the Australian Open.

In the 12-month period from June 1 last year, Williams' earnings totalled $28.9million - $20m of which was endorsements.

Sharapova raked in $21.9m while UFC superstar Ronda Rousey ($14m) completes the top three.

American race driver Danica Patrick is fourth, having earned £13.9m, while the remainder of the top 10 are all tennis players, including Muguruza - seventh with $7.6m - although those earnings will not include prize money garnered from her French Open win.

Suspended Sharapova named on Russian Olympic team

(5/26/16) Russia have included Maria Sharapova in their Olympic tennis team despite the star player being suspended over a positive test for the banned drug meldonium, the country's tennis federation said on Thursday.

"By the end of the first week of Roland Garros, the question of Sharapova's participation at the Olympic Games should be resolved," Shamil Tarpischev, the head of Russia's tennis federation, told R-Sport news agency.

"She has been put on our Olympic application. It has to be submitted by June 6."

Sharapova, who won silver at the 2012 London Olympics, was suspended in March after she admitted she had tested positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in January.

Since then, a string of high profile Russian athletes -- including Olympic swimmer Yulia Efimova -- also tested positive for meldonium.

But the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which had only banned the Latvian-made drug from January 1, said in April that athletes could escape a ban for taking meldonium because of uncertainty about how long it takes for the substance to leave the body.

Many athletes who had been suspended for testing positive for meldonium have since been absolved.

In April, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) said that Sharapova's case would be heard in accordance with WADA's recommendations on how to deal with cases involving meldonium.

Russia is poised to send its four highest-ranked players to compete in the singles event at the Rio Olympics, which as of Monday were Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Ekaterina Makarova.

If Sharapova cannot compete, Tarpischev said, the team would select the fifth highest-ranked player in the WTA rankings, 19-year-old Daria Kasatkina.

Russia has been rocked by a series of doping scandals, including recent allegations by the former head of Russia's national anti-doping lab, Grigory Rodchenkov, about a doping cover-up scheme that involved at least 15 medallists at the 2014 Sochi Games, as well as the sports ministry and the FSB security service.

The country is also striving to reinstate its athletics federation, suspended in November over evidence of state-sponsored doping and mass corruption in Russian track and field, in time for Rio.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) is set to rule next month on Russia's participation in the Games.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is expected to soon announce the number of failed doping tests from the 2012 London Olympics that have been found during the retesting of samples.

The IOC has already revealed the existence of 31 new suspect cases from the 2008 Beijing Games, 14 of which involve Russian athletes, Russia's Olympic Committee has said.

Head of Russian tennis backtracks on Sharapova retirement claim

(5/19/16) The head of the Russian Tennis Federation backtracked on his comments Thursday, saying he didn’t mean to suggest that Maria Sharapova’s failed doping test could spell the end of her career.

Russian news agency R-Sport had quoted Shamil Tarpishchev on Thursday as saying that Sharapova’s situation is "bad" and that it is "very doubtful" that she will resume her career.

"I only said that she can’t play now because no ruling on her case has been issued," Tarpishchev later told the Tass news agency.

Sharapova tested positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in January. She said she had taken the drug for a decade for medical purposes and didn’t know it had been banned for 2016.

Sharapova remains provisionally suspended from competition pending a ruling from the International Tennis Federation.

Sharapova may not play again, says Russia's Tarpishchev

(5/19/16) Maria Sharapova may not play again after testing positive for the banned substance meldonium, the president of the Russian tennis federation was quoted as saying on Thursday.

Shamil Tarpishchev told the R-Sport news agency that Sharapova's situation was "bad".

The five-times grand slam champion faces a possible ban of up to four years for failing a drugs test at the Australian Open in January.

British media reported that she had been due to attend an International Tennis Federation (ITF) anti-doping hearing in London on Wednesday.

There has been no subsequent comment by the ITF.

Sharapova stunned the world in March when she said she had returned a positive test for the Latvian-made heart medication which was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA's) banned list from Jan. 1.

The world's highest-paid sportswoman claimed to have been taking meldonium on doctor's orders for 10 years and had failed to note that it had become a banned substance until hearing of her failed test at the year's first grand slam.

She was provisionally suspended on March 12 pending the hearing, and has lost a number of her lucrative sponsorship deals.

She said at the time that she hoped she would be allowed to play again.

The World Anti-Doping Agency WADA said in April, after hundreds of athletes had tested positive for meldonium, that bans might be overturned due to a lack of clear scientific information on how long the drug takes to be excreted.

Sharapova hearing not before June - Russia tennis chief

(5/18/16) Maria Sharapova's meldonium hearing may not take place until June, says Shamil Tarpishchev, the president of the Russian Tennis Federation (RTF).

It was revealed in March that the Russian failed a drugs test at the Australian Open in January, with meldonium having been added to the banned substance list at the start of the year.

Sharapova claimed she had been taking meldonium for health reasons and was not aware it had been placed on the prohibited list.

She was subsequently suspended, and a hearing into the matter was reportedly expected to take place this week.

However, RTF chief Tarpishchev has cast doubt on a swift conclusion, explaining that the matter is not a straightforward one.

"Sharapova's situation is complicated," he told TASS. "The thing is that she admitted that she had taken meldonium.

"The case will not be considered so long as the two laboratories do not study the preparation. I believe that's not going to happen earlier than June."

Sharapova to face anti-doping hearing in London

(5/18/16) Maria Sharapova will attend an International Tennis Federation anti-doping hearing in London on Wednesday, British media reported, with the Russian facing a possible ban of up to four years for failing a drugs test at the Australian Open.

The five-times grand slam champion stunned the world in March when she said she had returned a positive test for meldonium, a Latvian-made heart medication which was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA's) banned list from Jan. 1.

Sharapova, the world's highest-paid sportswoman, claimed to have been taking meldonium on doctor's orders for 10 years and had failed to note that it had become a banned substance until hearing of her failed test at the first grand slam of the year.

She was provisionally suspended on March 12 pending the hearing.

Hundreds of athletes have tested positive for meldonium this year but WADA admitted last month that their bans might be overturned due to a lack of clear scientific information on how long the drug takes to be excreted from the body.

The drug's manufacturer said traces could remain in the body for several months depending on dosage, duration of treatment and sensitivity of testing methods.

The ITF's anti-doping program calls for a four-year suspension for a failed test but it can be reduced in various circumstances, such as for first-time offences or if the player shows no significant fault or negligence.

Maria Sharapova: Could Tennis Star Play Wimbledon?

(5/17/16) Maria Sharapova’s hearing for her positive testing meldonium case should take place this week, the next and most crucial step in deciding the tennis superstar’s fate.

A report in The Independent says the Russian, who tested positive at the Australian Open in January, will appear in London, probably on Wednesday.

Here, then, is a breakdown of her case.

What is the hearing about?

Sharapova is under investigation for her use of meldonium, a substance banned under the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) code since 1 January of this year.

Sharapova said she took meldonium, an anti-angina drug developed and manufactured in Latvia, from 2006 to treat a range of conditions including the possible onset of family-related diabetes, and was unaware it had been placed on WADA’s banned list.

How might Sharapova go free?

There has been some confusion—including at WADA—about exactly how long meldonium remains in the body after consumption, not to mention what kind of performance enhancement it actually provides.

Grindeks, the manufacturer of Mildronate, the make of meldonium taken by Sharapova, says the drug can remain in the body for months.

That is why WADA, in April, changed its guidelines for how sports governing bodies should approach sanctions over meldonium. Responding to the vast number—at that time, 172—positives for the drug since it was banned, WADA said punishments might be waived if the sample showed between 1 and 15 micrograms and the test was conducted before March 1.

Sharapova’s lawyers are expected to use this lack of scientific clarity at the hearing, to argue that the positive test at the Australian Open may have been from prior usage, before meldonium became a banned substance.

So could she play at Wimbledon?

A decision on Sharapova’s immediate future is likely to be processed within two weeks. Should the positive test be upheld, then a maximum ban of four years for a first offence is possible.

But if her lawyers can exercise that lack of scientific certainty to convince the International Tennis Federation (ITF) that she ingested the drug before the start of 2016, or that it was present in a small enough amount in her body to fall under WADA’s amnesty guidelines, then a vastly reduced ban is possible—enough, potentially, for her to appear at the All England Club.

Go Behind the Scenes As Maria Sharapova Gets Ready for the Met Gala!

(5/4/16) (Pic1, Pic2, Pic3) Maria Sharapova loves to dress up – and she takes PEOPLE behind the scenes of her preparation for the Met Gala to prove it.

A team of stylists helped her perfect her look, although the work started long before Monday night’s event. When choosing her dress, she chose a red satin slip dress by Colombian designer Juan Carlos Obando. (She considered wearing the same dress in black, but ultimately that the red popped more.)She accented the outfit with some of the designer’s bold gold jewelry. She finished the look with a pair of Gianvito Rossi heels.

“I like to take chances with my style,” the 29-year-old tennis star tells PEOPLE. Case in point: she eschewed a long dress for this year’s Oscars Vanity Fair Party, instead choosing a short white dress. “I like to do different things. Sometimes my dresses are short; other times, they’re long and people step on them on the red carpet.”

Sharapova’s hairstylist, Adir Abergel, pulled back Sharapova’s hair to better display her jewelry. Her makeup artist, Kara Yoshimoto Bua, used Chanel products to give her a smooth, natural look.

“When it comes to my style, I really like to switch things up,” she told PEOPLE before the Oscars this year. “I could look the same every time, but what’s the fun in that?”

ITF president says hearing scheduled in Sharapova case

(4/20/16) A disciplinary hearing has been scheduled in Maria Sharapova’s doping case, with a ruling possible before Wimbledon starts.

International Tennis Federation president David Haggerty said Wednesday that the Tennis Integrity Unit typically takes "two to three months" to process a case. That could deliver a verdict in June.

Haggerty said he has not been told details by the independent investigation unit, including when and where the hearing will be held.

Sharapova was provisionally suspended after announcing on March 8 that she tested positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in January.

The Russian said she had been prescribed the blood-flow boosting drug since 2006, and had been unaware the World Anti-Doping Agency had prohibited its use from Jan. 1.

Russian officials want Sharapova to play at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August.

Sharapova will not have her provisional ban lifted pending the verdict, despite WADA publishing new guidelines to sports bodies last week amid uncertainty over how long meldonium remains in an athlete's body.

Some athletes among nearly 200 who have tested positive claim they had not taken the drug this year.

Haggerty said Sharapova's case "will continue to he heard."

"For her, given her levels (of meldonium), it is not even a question," incoming WADA director general Olivier Niggli told The Associated Press this week.

Elected as ITF president last year, Haggerty said the governing body and its integrity unit will be more transparent in communicating about cases.

On Tuesday, the ITF announced a 10-year ban for a Croatian umpire who continued to work, including at the 2015 U.S. Open, while he was serving a one-year suspension which was never publicly disclosed.

"We don't always get things 100 per cent but you learn through this," Haggerty said in a briefing on the sidelines of the SportAccord conference.

On potential match-fixing cases, the TIU received more than 40 alerts of suspicious betting patterns in matches played in the first three months this year, Haggerty said.

Haggerty is due in Rio on May 4 to assess Olympic preparations which are "in progress, but not finished," including court surfaces and lighting at the Olympic Park venue.

"If you have a night session and you don't have lights, you have a problem," the American official said. "They are being installed."

Sharapova still faces meldonium hearing, says ITF

(4/15/16) Maria Sharapova still faces a hearing after testing positive for meldonium, despite the World Anti-Doping Agency issuing fresh rules for athletes who tested positive for the banned substance before March 1, the International Tennis Federation has said.

Five-times grand slam tennis champion Sharapova tested positive for the drug at this year's Australian Open after it was added to WADA's list of banned substances in January.

WADA said in a notice on Wednesday that athletes who tested positive for meldonium before March 1 could have bans overturned as the agency was unable to establish how quickly the drug cleared the human body.

But the change in policy will have no bearing on Sharapova's case, the world tennis governing body said.

"In light of the recent notice from WADA regarding the process for dealing with cases involving meldonium, the ITF can confirm that the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme case involving Maria Sharapova will proceed to a hearing in accordance with WADA's recommendations," the ITF said in a statement on Wednesday.

"The ITF does not intend to make any further statement until completion of this process due to the confidentiality of the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme."

WADA makes meldonium U-turn, could affect Sharapova ban

(4/13/16) Athletes who tested positive for meldonium before March 1 could have their bans overturned less than four months before the Rio de Janeiro Olympics after WADA said it was unable to establish how quickly the drug, outlawed since Jan. 1, cleared the system.

The World Anti-Doping Agency's notice to national anti-doping bodies is expected to have a major impact on many of the 172 athletes who have tested positive for the performance-boosting drug since January.

They include five-times grand-slam tennis champion Maria Sharapova, who was among 40 Russian athletes to test positive for the drug after it was added to WADA's list of banned substances in January.

Sharapova's lawyer John Haggerty accused WADA on Wednesday of "poorly" handling the issue and said they were now "trying to make up for it".

WADA said there was "currently a lack of clear scientific information on excretion times".

"As a result it is difficult to know whether an athlete may have taken the substance before or after January 1, when it became illegal.

"In these circumstances, WADA considers that there may be grounds for no fault or negligence on the part of the athlete," it said in a statement sent to anti-doping agencies and sports federations, adding that the presence of less than one microgram of meldonium in the samples was acceptable.

The anti-doping body's notice also gave hope to athletes who have tested positive for the drug since March 1, depending on studies being carried out to determine how long it stays in the body.

Sharapova, who said she had been taking meldonium for more than a decade because of health problems, was provisionally suspended by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) in March after announcing she had failed a test at the Australian Open.

"The fact that WADA felt compelled to issue this unusual statement now is proof of how poorly they handled issues relating to meldonium in 2015," Haggerty said in a statement.

"Given the fact that scores of athletes have tested positive for taking what previously was a legal product, it's clear WADA did not handle this properly last year and they're trying to make up for it now."

Russian Tennis Federation President Shamil Tarpishchev said Sharapova's ban could be addressed in a meeting with ITF head David Haggerty later this month.

"The situation with Sharapova could be resolved after April 21 when we meet with the head of the international federation. It is too early to talk about Sharapova competing at the Olympic Games," Russia's TASS news agency quoted Tarpishchev as saying.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko welcomed WADA's decision.

"The Russian Sports Ministry supports and welcomes the decision made by WADA because it has shown a willingness to understand the situation, rather than stick to the rulebook," Mutko said in a statement.

"WADA has demonstrated impartiality and being objective in the fight against doping."

Alexei Kravtsov, president of the Russian Skating Union (RSU), said that five-times world champion Pavel Kulizhnikov and 2014 Olympic short track gold medallist Semen Elistratov -- both found to have taken meldonium -- should be allowed to compete again after the WADA decision.

"These sportsmen should be allowed to fall under the amnesty due to the amount found in their doping tests," Kravtsov was quoted as saying by the R-Sport news agency.

Two more Russian federations -- rugby and cycling -- said their athletes who had tested positive could be free to return to competition.

They include rugby player Alyona Mikhaltsova and cyclists Anastasia Chulkova and Pavel Yakushevsky who all tested positive for less than one microgram.

Meldonium, manufactured for people suffering from heart problems, can also increase blood flow and improve exercise capacity.

Russia says Sharapova in Olympic plans despite doping case

(4/12/16) Russia says Maria Sharapova is still in its plans for the Olympic tennis tournament in August despite her provisional suspension for failing a drug test.

Sharapova has been suspended since last month, when she admitted she tested positive for the banned substance meldonium at January's Australian Open.

Sharapova said she had been taking meldonium for medical reasons for 10 years and had not seen a World Anti-Doping Agency ruling last year that it would be banned for 2016.

Russian Tennis Federation president Shamil Tarpishchev says in a statement ''we really hope that Sharapova will still be allowed to take part in the Olympic Games.''

No date has been announced by the International Tennis Federation for a hearing into the case of Sharapova, who won Olympic silver in 2012.

Doping-Morality police should not judge Sharapova - GB Olympian

(4/7/16) Tennis player Maria Sharapova should not be judged by sport's 'morality police' for taking meldonium for 10 years before it was banned, according to British Olympian Susan Egelstaff.

Egelstaff, a badminton player, says the former world number one has been unfairly accused of acting against the spirit of sport.

Sharapova, the biggest name to test positive for meldonium since it was officially banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in January, admitted using the drug, which boosts aerobic performance, for health reasons.

The Russian, who is provisionally banned pending an International Tennis Federation (ITF) investigation, said she had not read an email saying meldonium had been added to WADA's list of banned substances.

"When Maria Sharapova tested positive for meldonium the backlash was immediate and fierce," Egelstaff told The Mixed Zone website.

"The outcry focused more on the fact she had been taking meldonium, reportedly prescribed by a doctor for a decade without an apparent medical need for the drug, rather than the fact she failed a doping test.

"The morality police were out in force, decrying Sharapova for taking a drug for its performance-enhancing qualities," added Egelstaff, a Commonwealth Games bronze medallist in 2006.

"This condemnation amazed and frankly stupefied me. There was a remarkable number of people who believed themselves qualified to judge what is morally acceptable in sport."

There have been more than 100 positive tests since then but in some countries meldonium was routinely used as a supplement before it was added to the WADA list.

Egelstaff argues there is no difference between athletes who took meldonium to boost aerobic performance and the use of other legal treatments.

"During qualifying for London 2012 (Olympics) I had severe pain in my foot...I got a cortisone injection and within 24 hours I was completely pain-free," she said.

"This injection was, indisputably, performance-enhancing. Without it I'm not sure I could have continued playing, with it I qualified for Team GB.

"I didn't feel the tiniest pang of guilt about having the injection and neither should I, it was legal after all," added Egelstaff.

On Thursday, Russia's Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said hundreds of sportspeople in his country used meldonium before it was prohibited.

"Anything that is not banned by WADA is fair game," Egelstaff said.

"WADA has a banned list for a reason, and testing positive for a substance on that list will, quite rightly, result in a ban. There is not another list entitled 'Legal But Morally Wrong'".

'Arrogant, conceited and cold', Cibulkova slams Sharapova

(4/5/16) Dominika Cibulkova said she does not feel for suspended former world number one Maria Sharapova, adding the five-time grand-slam champion is a "totally unlikeable person".

Sharapova was provisionally suspended from March 12 after testing positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in January.

Many past and present players had their say on Sharapova, who said she had been taking the substance for 10 years due to health reasons and was unaware it had been added to WADA's list of prohibited substances on January 1.

But 2014 Australian Open runner-up Cibulkova did not hold back when asked about the Russian, insisting she is not missed on the WTA Tour.

"I was surprised that most of the reactions were so diplomatic, because everyone's opinion is actually totally different," the 26-year-old Slovakian said via sport.sk.

"I didn't make any statement, as I didn't want to be the only person to openly say what they think about this case.

"I will only say that I don't feel sorry at all for Sharapova and I don't miss her on the tour.

"She's a totally unlikeable person. Arrogant, conceited and cold. When I sit beside her in the locker room, she won't even say hello."

Sharapova doping hearing could be in June

(3/30/16) The president of the Russian tennis federation says Maria Sharapova could have her disciplinary hearing for doping in June.

Sharapova has been provisionally suspended and faces a possible ban of up to four years after testing positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in January, though a reduced punishment is possible if she can show she did not intend to cheat.

Shamil Tarpishchev tells the state Tass news agency that "the hearings could be put off until June," adding that was "not official information, but my opinion."

Tarpishchev says he is in regular contact with Sharapova and says she is continuing to train.

Sharapova has said she took meldonium for medical reasons and was not aware it had been banned for 2016.

Nike brand chief leaves door open to Sharapova after doping scandal

(3/17/16) Nike Inc, which suspended ties with Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova after she failed a drug test, believes disgraced athletes can redeem themselves, global brand head Trevor Edwards said in an interview.

"Each time those situations happen, you are saddened and disappointed," Edwards said on Wednesday at a New York event where the world's biggest sportswear company announced new products like self-lacing shoes. "At the same time, there are many athletes that inspire us."

Edwards, a 53-year-old from Britain, has held his position since 2013 and is seen as a contender to succeed Chief Executive Officer Mark Parker one day. He oversees an annual marketing budget of more than $3 billion and has helped make deals with top athletes like basketball star LeBron James.

Earlier this month, Nike suspended its sponsorship of Sharapova, the highest-paid woman in sports, after she said she had failed a drug test at the Australian Open due to a substance she was taking for health issues.

However, Edwards hinted Sharapova could return to the Nike fold, as the company allowed U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin to do after he twice served doping suspensions.

Asked about Sharapova, he said: "At the end of the day, athletes are humans just like the rest of us, and they have the same frailties that the rest of us have. And sometimes those moments become teaching moments."

Doping scandals surrounding Russian and Kenyan athletes could cast a shadow over the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. A top official for the Nike-sponsored Kenya athletics federation has said he fears his country could be banned from the games.

There are also concerns that the Zika virus, which is linked to a surge in the birth of babies with abnormally small heads, could deter athletes and visitors from traveling to Rio.

The Rio Games will be the first for Nike as official apparel partner since Sydney 2000. Rival Adidas, which was the sponsor for the three previous games, said it decided not to bid as the brand had plenty of exposure in Brazil during the 2014 soccer World Cup.

Edwards said it was up to individuals to make up their own minds about Zika, but he is still optimistic for the games.

"Brazilians are passionate for sport," he said. "They will host an incredible event."

Edwards said the introduction on Wednesday of a new version of its Nike+ running app should be a bridge between amateur runners and the stars of Rio, offering customized training tips and product recommendations as well as invitations to local events.

"Consumers are looking for services: Don't just tell me to 'just do it,' help me to 'just do it,'" he said in a reference to the Nike slogan.

UN agency stops work with ambassador Maria Sharapova

(3/15/16) A United Nations agency says it has stopped working with Maria Sharapova pending the tennis star's doping case.

Sharapova faces being banned by tennis authorities after testing positive for meldonium, a blood-flow enhancing medication.

The New York-based United Nations Development Program says ''in light of Ms. Sharapova's recent announcement, we last week suspended her role as a Goodwill Ambassador and any planned activities while the investigation continues.''

The UNDP ''remains grateful to Maria Sharapova for her support of our work, especially around the Chernobyl nuclear disaster recovery.''

Since 2007, Sharapova has been an ambassador for the agency which works to combat poverty and inequality.

Her charitable foundation worked with the UNDP to fund education scholarships for people from Chernobyl-affected areas of Belarus.

Doping-Evert stunned by Sharapova news; not by doping in tennis

(3/15/16) Chris Evert said on Monday she was stunned to hear that Maria Sharapova failed a doping test, but not by the fact that there is doping in tennis, claiming that she knew players who doped during her career.

Evert, an 18-times grand slam champion who retired in 1989, said the use of performance-enhancing drugs in tennis went on during her career - which was before the sport adopted current anti-doping rules - and that it likely goes on in all sports.

"You'd have to have your head in the sand if you didn't at least assume that every professional sport might have some sort of performing-enhancing drugs being used," Evert told a conference call from Indian Wells, where she will do TV commentary for ESPN at the BNP Paribas Open.

"Honestly, in every professional sport I think this goes on to a certain extent. In tennis it doesn't worry me as much. This went on when I was playing."

"I know players on the women's tour who were using -- who were using performance-enhancing drugs and we didn't even have drug testing."

Sharapova faces up to a four-year ban by the International Tennis Federation for testing positive for meldonium in January, a drug she had taken for 10 years due to health problems and which was banned on Jan. 1.

Evert feels the length of Sharapova's ban will hinge on her medical records and that the former Russian world number one may only deserve to be barred for the rest of the year.

"It all comes down to viewing the medical records from the doctors that took care of her 10 years ago and examining exactly what her case is," said Evert.

"This drug is used for angina and severe heart issues. There's always suspicion when you hear what the drug is used for. That's why her defense needs to show medical records, and (her) dosage.

"If it does come out cleanly, I would say banning her for the rest of year would be enough."

Evert's ESPN colleague Patrick McEnroe said players always look for an advantage.

"Players of course are going to look to get an edge, whether in how they train, or in how they eat and how they recover," the former U.S. David Cup captain said.

"Do I think it's a major problem in tennis? No, I don't. I think the testing is very tough in tennis."

McEnroe doubts Sharapova was unaware of meldonium ban

(3/13/16) Tennis great John McEnroe finds it hard to believe that Maria Sharapova was unaware she was taking a banned drug that led to her suspension, the seven-times grand slam champion said on Saturday.

The player-turned-commentator weighed in on the recent news that Sharapova tested positive for a newly banned drug meldonium that went into effect on January 1.

"Would be hard to believe that no one in her camp, the 25 or 30 people that work for her, or Maria herself had no idea that this happened," McEnroe told the Tennis Channel Saturday during the BNP Paribas Open.

McEnroe noted that at the 1990 Australian Open he was ejected from a match after he did not realize a rule change that reduced a player's default from four steps to just three.

"Nobody told me, so it is possible that Maria did not know that, though it's extremely doubtful," he said.

Sharapova, 28, is facing a suspension of up to four years by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and has already lost numerous sponsorships in the aftermath.

McEnroe joked that Sharapova should only be banned for two years because she says she did it unknowingly.

"Lift the ban, there's no suspension if when she comes back she promises not to grunt," McEnroe added in jest. "If you don't grunt Maria, no suspension. If you continue to grunt, two years."

New Maria Facebook Message

(3/11/16) (Facebook.com) To My Fans:

I want to reach out to you to share some information, discuss the latest news, and let you know that there have been things that have been reported wrong in the media, and I am determined to fight back.

You have shown me a tremendous outpouring of support, and I’m so grateful for it. But I have also been aware that some – not all, but some – in the media distort, exaggerate and fail to accurately report the facts about what happened.

A report said that I had been warned five times about the upcoming ban on the medicine I was taking. That is not true and it never happened.

That’s a distortion of the actual “communications” which were provided or simply posted onto a webpage.

I make no excuses for not knowing about the ban. I already told you about the December 22, 2015 email I received. Its subject line was “Main Changes to the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme for 2016.” I should have paid more attention to it.

But the other “communications”? They were buried in newsletters, websites, or handouts.

On December 18, I received an email with the subject line “Player News” on it. It contained a newsletter on a website that contained tons of information about travel, upcoming tournaments, rankings, statistics, bulletin board notices, happy birthday wishes, and yes, anti-doping information. On that email, if a player wanted to find the specific facts about medicine added to the anti-doping list, it was necessary to open the “Player News” email, read through about a dozen unrelated links, find the “Player Zone” link, enter a password, enter a username, read a home screen with more than three dozen different links covering multiple topics, find the “2016 Changes to Tennis Anti-Doping Program and Information” link, click on it and then read a page with approximately three dozen more links covering multiple anti-doping matters. Then you had to click the correct link, open it up, scroll down to page two and that’s where you would find a different name for the medication I was taking.

In other words, in order to be aware of this “warning”, you had to open an email with a subject line having nothing to do with anti-doping, click on a webpage, enter a password, enter a username, hunt, click, hunt, click, hunt, click, scroll and read. I guess some in the media can call that a warning. I think most people would call it too hard to find.

There was also a “wallet card” distributed at various tournaments at the beginning of 2016, after the ban went into effect. This document had thousands of words on it, many of them technical, in small print. Should I have studied it? Yes. But if you saw this document (attached), you would know what I mean.

Again, no excuses, but it’s wrong to say I was warned five times.

There was also a headline that said, “4-6 Weeks Normal Treatment for Drug in Maria Sharapova Case.” That headline has been repeated by many reporters who fail to tell their viewers and readers what the rest of the story says. The story quotes the manufacturer of my medicine as saying: “Treatment course can be repeated twice or thrice a year. Only physicians can follow and evaluate patient's health condition and state whether the patient should use meldonium for a longer period of time."

That’s exactly what I did. I didn’t take the medicine every day. I took it the way my doctor recommended I take it and I took it in the low doses recommended.

I’m proud of how I have played the game. I have been honest and upfront. I won’t pretend to be injured so I can hide the truth about my testing.

I look forward to the ITF hearing at which time they will receive my detailed medical records.

I hope I will be allowed to play again. But no matter what, I want you, my fans, to know the truth and have the facts.

- Maria

WADA: 99 meldonium cases found this year

(3/11/16) There have been 99 positive tests this year for meldonium, the drug found in Maria Sharapova’s sample at the Australian Open, the World Anti-Doping Agency said Friday.

WADA spokesman Ben Nichols told The Associated Press in an email that since the drug was banned on Jan. 1 "there have been 99 adverse analytical findings for Meldonium recorded."

Nichols did not provide details of who has tested positive.

Meldonium, a blood-flow boosting drug produced in Latvia, is most common in Eastern European and former Soviet countries, where it is often available over the counter.

Seven of the 16 confirmed cases come from Russian athletes, including Sharapova, who admitted she had tested positive on Monday at a news conference. Sharapova said she has been taking meldonium for 10 years for various health issues and did not know it had been banned.

Other cases involve athletes from Ukraine, Georgia and Sweden.

Athletes who fail doping tests can face a ban of up to four years for a first offence, but substantial reductions can be imposed if they demonstrate that they did not intend to enhance their performance.

Sharapova is one of four Olympic medallists to have tested positive for meldonium. The others are Russian speedskater Semyon Elistratov, Russian ice dancer Ekaterina Bobrova and Georgian wrestler Davit Modzmanashvili.

WADA announced in September that meldonium, which was once used to help boost the endurance of Soviet troops, would be banned from 2016, citing evidence of the drug's performance-enhancing benefits and widespread use in international sports.

Since Sharapova announced that she tested positive, WADA has been criticized by the Russian government. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday that meldonium should never have been banned, arguing that it doesn't enhance performance.

Murray says Sharapova scandal sends message to drugs cheats

(3/10/16) Andy Murray says Maria Sharapova should face the music for testing positive for a banned drug and that snaring the Russian sports icon sends a strong message to would be drugs cheats. World number two Murray applauded doping officials on Thursday for catching one of tennis' most high-profile stars. "The positive thing about what has happened to Maria is she is one of the biggest female athletes on the planet," Murray said on Thursday at the Indian Wells tournament. "If you take performance-enhancing drugs and you fail a drug test then you should be suspended." Former world number one Sharapova announced Monday that she failed a drug test at the Australian Open in January. Sharapova tested positive for Meldonium, which was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned list this year.

Sharapova's peers stunned, but support doping system

(3/10/16) While Maria Sharapova's fellow players were shocked by the Russian's announcement that she failed a drug test at the Australian Open, most of them felt the "huge mistake" could have been avoided.

World number three Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland described it as "a very sad day for tennis" but expressed the views of many by saying it was down to every player, via their doctor, to check whether prescribed medications were legal.

Five-times grand slam champion Sharapova tested positive for meldonium, which some researchers have linked to increased athletic performance and endurance, after failing by her own admission to realise that it had been outlawed since Jan. 1.

"I don't check those emails," Radwanska told reporters on Wednesday about receiving notification of which substances and medications were on the banned list before the start of every year. "That is what my doctor is doing and my agent.

"I am scared because I know every pill can have something in it so when I am sick I am just taking aspirins 100 percent because I am always afraid that it is going to be something else. (To be safe) I had better play with the flu."

Men's world number five Rafa Nadal pointed to Sharapova's negligence while also hoping that the Russian had made an innocent mistake.

"Everybody can have mistakes," the Spanish left-hander said at Indian Wells. "I want to believe for sure that it is a mistake for Maria, she didn't want to do it.

"But it is obvious that it is negligence. The rules are like this. It is fair and now she must pay for it."

SYMPATHY FOR SHARAPOVA

Eighth-ranked Czech Petra Kvitova, Wimbledon champion in 2011 and 2014, expressed sympathy for Sharapova but felt that the doping system was working well.

"Of course it's not great for her," the 26-year-old left-hander said. "It's something which we all should know, what we are taking and what we are putting into the body.

"It's a huge mistake unfortunately and she has taken responsibility for it. We see that they (doping authorities) are trying to have a clean sport. The system is working, they are doing a good job on that."

Sharapova, who faces a ban of up to four years pending an investigation by the International Tennis Federation, has got vocal support from fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova but other players have taken a less charitable view.

Three-time grand slam champion Jennifer Capriati tweeted earlier this week: "I'm extremely angry and disappointed. I had to lose my career and never opted to cheat no matter what. I had to throw in the towel and suffer.

"I didn't have the high priced team of drs that found a way for me to cheat and get around the system and wait for science to catch up."

In stark contrast, twice grand slam champion Kuznetsova tweeted on Wednesday: "First of all, I want to say that Maria is a great athlete, and even this "strange mistake" will not be able to outshine all of what she has achieved in tennis.

"And most importantly, none of us, especially me, have no rights to comment this story - not to criticize or evaluate Maria. Doping agency has to see this case, not others."

Sharapova also has been backed by both world number ones, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams.

"I obviously wish her all the best," Djokovic told TMZ Sports. "I've known her for a long time and I feel for her for what's happening. I just hope she gets out of this stronger."

Williams said: "It's just taking responsibility, which she admitted that she was willing to do and ready to do. She showed a lot of courage and a lot of heart. She's always shown courage and heart in everything she's done, and this is no different."

Racket sponsor backs Sharapova despite failed drug test

(3/10/16) Maria Sharapova's racket supplier became the first main sponsor to publicly back the five-time Grand Slam champion after she admitted to failing a doping test.

Austria-based company Head announced Thursday it was planning to extend its sponsorship deal, three days after Sharapova revealed her use of the banned substance meldonium.

Head CEO Johan Eliasch said Sharapova has made ''a manifest error'' by her continued use of the drug after it was banned, but added there was no ''evidence of any intent by Maria of enhancing her performance or trying to gain an unfair advantage.''

Eliasch said his brand, which started sponsoring Sharapova in 2011, ''is proud to stand behind Maria, now and into the future and we intend to extend her contract. We look forward to working with her and to announcing new sponsorships.''

Several other brands, including sports gear giant Nike, watch maker TAG Heuer, and sports car company Porsche, were quick to suspend their support of the world's highest-earning female athlete after her announcement Monday that she failed the drug test at the Australian Open in January, days after the substance was banned.

A former No. 1 for a total of 21 weeks, Sharapova earned an estimated $29.5 million last year alone, mostly off the court. Sharapova has 35 career singles titles and more than $36 million in career prize winnings.

Sharapova said she has taken meldonium for 10 years for various health issues and that she neglected to click on a link in a late December email to check the new list of banned substances. She faces a lengthy ban, which could prevent her from competing for Russia at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

''She has and still is dealing with the medical conditions she described,'' Eliasch said. ''Prior to 2016, we believe that Maria has never throughout her career been taking any WADA banned substances or any other illegal substances.''

Eliasch said Sharapova was taking meldonium in such low doses that the drug couldn't possibly have had a stimulating effect on her performance, and that ''we further conclude this falls into the category of 'honest' mistakes.''

According to Eliasch, it ''is common ground within the scientific community'' that for meldonium to provide ''any relevant performance enhancing effect it has to be taken in daily dosages in excess of 1,000 to 2,000mg.''

The dosages Sharapova had been taken ''were significantly short of performance enhancing levels,'' according to the CEO.

''The honesty and courage she displayed in announcing and acknowledging her mistake was admirable,'' Eliasch said. ''Maria may have made a mistake, but she has earned the benefit of the doubt and we are extending it to her.''

Maria's Facebook Statement

(3/9/16) (Facebook.com) I woke up yesterday morning with an inbox, in full capacity of love and compassion.

The first email I immediately opened was from my best friend, you know, the type of person who can make you smile and cry with only one word and who I spent the evening on the phone with, checking up on me, how was I doing?

On average, I love the mornings. New day, new start. It is fair to say that this day was not average. Nothing came to mind at 6am, except that I am determined to play tennis again and I hope I will have the chance to do so. I wish I didn't have to go through this, but I do - and I will.

I needed to sweat, to push through and grind as I have done most of my life, so I made my way to the gym. That's when I realized a bunch of tinted windowed cars were following me. The good old paparazzi, back on the trail.

I have not been online much except the odd search for a new antique coffee table (random, I know), but my friends made a collage for me with all your beautiful messages and hashtags that you created (?#?IStandWithMaria? and ?#?LetMariaPlay?). I spent the afternoon reading them next to my dog, who couldn't quite understand why this was more important than the walk he was expecting to take.

In this moment, I am so proud to call you my fans. Within hours of my announcement, you showed me support and loyalty, which I could only expect to hear when someone would be at the top of their profession.

I wanted to let you know that your wonderful words put a smile on my face. I'd like to play again and hope to have the chance to do so. Your messages give me great encouragement. This message isn't anything else but to say thank you. Thank you very much.

- Maria Sharapova

Djokovic sympathises with Sharapova

(3/9/16) Novak Djokovic has sympathised with Maria Sharapova after she failed a drugs test at the Australian Open in January.

The Russian announced in a media conference on Monday she had tested positive for meldonium at the first grand slam of 2016.

The substance was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's list of prohibited substances on January 1, a fact Sharapova claims she overlooked having used the medication for 10 years due to health reasons.

Sponsors of the former world number one, Nike, TAG Heuer and Porsche have all since distanced themselves from the tennis star.

Djokovic, who won his 11th grand slam at this year's Australian Open, hopes Sharapova returns from the controversy stronger.

"I obviously wish her all the best. I know her for a long time and I feel for her, for what's happening," the Serbian told TMZ Sports.

"I just hope she gets out of this stronger, that's all I can say."

Players shocked, saddened by Maria Sharapova's 'big mistake'

(3/9/16) Agnieszka Radwanska said she was ''shocked, like everyone else'' when Maria Sharapova revealed Monday that she failed a drug test in January at the Australian Open. ?

''It was a very sad day for tennis, that's for sure,'' Radwanska said Wednesday at BNP Paribas Open at The Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep used much the same words while discussing Sharapova's positive test for the drug Meldonium.

Sharapova said she had been taking the drug since 2006 to help deal with a magnesium deficiency and other health issues, but wasn't aware the World Anti-Doping Agency had added it to the list of prohibited substances this year because she hadn't looked at the updated list.

Halep, the defending women's champion in the Indian Wells event that started Wednesday, called it ''a tough moment for the sport, a bit disappointing,'' and Kvitova said ''I hope it will not affect the tennis world. I hope that the fans will still like tennis.''

Men's star Rafael Nadal termed it ''terrible for the world of sport in general and for our sport especially.''

''It's terrible because the sport must be clean and must look clean,'' Nadal said. ''We have a good anti-doping program and the players who are not doing the right things are going on trial, so we will see how it goes.''

Nadal said he lets his doctor keep track of the changes on the prohibited substance list and is ''100 percent confident with my team'' and knows everything he is taking. But he also knows that nothing is foolproof.

''It's difficult to imagine that something like this can happen, but there's always mistakes. Everybody can have mistakes. I want to believe that for sure it's a mistake for Maria, she didn't want to do it, but there's always (the possibility) that it's negligence.

''The rules are like this and now she must pay for it.''

Halep said she personally checks the WADA update each year and ''always when I take something I turn to the people that are taking care of this, the anti-doping, and everything is sure. If you take something you have to check very carefully before.''

Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, said: ''I think it's something which we all should know, what we are taking and what we are putting into the body,'' and thinks Sharapova made ''a huge mistake.''

Radwanska called it a mistake as well, but she can understand how it happened.

''I'm scared because I know every pill can have something (prohibited) in it,'' said Radwanska, who said she has been tested three times this year. ''So when I'm sick I'm just taking aspirin because I'm always afraid there's going to be something else in it (medication). ''

Kvitova said in one way the incident can be a positive for the sport because ''I think this is the kind of example that we see that they are trying to have a clean sport. I think the system is working and they are doing a good job.''

What none of them knows or would even speculate on is what penalty Sharapova might face. The International Tennis Federation's anti-doping program regulations recommend a four-year ban if the violation was intentional and a two-year ban if it was accidental.

''For sure it's a sad day for tennis but what can I say more? We're all waiting for what they're going to do about it and that's it,'' Radwanska said. ''I don't know. I have no idea what they going to do.''

Maria Sharapova Spotted Out in L.A. After Doping Suspension

(3/9/16) (Pic) Maria Sharapova is still serving up a smile.

The five-time Grand Slam champion was spotted out in Los Angeles on Tuesday, just one day after announcing that she failed a doping test at January's Australian Open.

The Russian tennis star looked to be in good spirits as she left Whole Foods carrying a grocery bag.

The 28-year-old sported an all-black ensemble (except a pair of white sneakers) with dark sunglasses.

Sharapova admitted on Monday that she tested positive for meldonium, a drug that can boost an athlete's endurance and rehabilitation by increasing blood flow.

"I did fail the test and I take full responsibility for it," she said during a news conference in Los Angeles Monday. She noted that she has taken the drug – prescribed by her doctor under the name Mildronate – for the past decade.

It had not been a banned substance in the tennis world until this year.

"I received an email on 22 December from WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency] about the changes happening to the banned list and you can see prohibited items, and I didn't click on that link," she said Monday.

The International Tennis Federation subsequently suspended the athlete, while Nike and other sponsors distanced themselves from the star.

Another tennis superstar, Serena Williams, addressed the controversy at a news conference on Tuesday alongside Caroline Wozniacki, saying Sharapova showed "a lot of courage and heart" in making the announcement, the Associated Press reports.

"I think most people were happy that she was upfront and very honest and showed a lot of courage to admit to what she had done and what she had neglected to look at in terms of the list at the end of the year," Williams, a 21-time Grand Slam champion, said.

"As Maria said, she's ready to take full responsibility and I think that showed a lot of courage and a lot of heart. And I think she's always showed courage and heart in everything that she's done and this is no different."

Sharapova thanks her fans for support and loyalty

(3/9/16) Days after stunning the sports world by announcing she had failed a drug test at the Australian Open in January, Maria Sharapova thanked her fans for their "wonderful words" that put a smile on her face.

The Russian faces a ban of up to four years pending an investigation by the International Tennis Federation after testing positive for meldonium, which some researchers have linked to increased athletic performance and endurance.

"I woke up yesterday morning with an inbox, in full capacity of love and compassion," five-times grand slam champion Sharapova, 28, posted on Facebook. "In this moment, I am so proud to call you my fans.

"Within hours of my announcement, you showed me support and loyalty, which I could only expect to hear when someone would be at the top of their profession. I wanted to let you know that your wonderful words put a smile on my face.

"I'd like to play again and hope to have the chance to do so. Your messages give me great encouragement. This message isn't anything else but to say thank you. Thank you very much."

Sharapova, who has struggled with multiple injuries in recent years but is known for her never-say-die approach to the game, said she was prepared to battle through her latest setback.

"New day, new start," the former world number one wrote on Facebook. "It is fair to say that this day was not average.

"Nothing came to mind at 6am, except that I am determined to play tennis again and I hope I will have the chance to do so. I wish I didn't have to go through this, but I do - and I will.

"I needed to sweat, to push through and grind as I have done most of my life, so I made my way to the gym. That's when I realized a bunch of tinted windowed cars were following me. The good old paparazzi, back on the trail."

Sharapova, the world's highest-earning sportswoman, has accepted full responsibility for her mistake in taking a drug that has been outlawed since Jan. 1, having previously used it on the advice of her family doctor for a decade.

The International Tennis Federation's anti-doping program calls for a four-year suspension for a positive test. That ban can be reduced in various circumstances, such as if the player shows no significant fault or negligence.

WTA players stunned by Sharapova's failed drug test

(3/9/16) WTA Tour players rocked by Maria Sharapova's admission that she had failed a drug test are now waiting to see what sanction the Russian superstar will face.

Sharapova's positive test for meldonium was the talk of the locker room as the hardcourt tournament at Indian Wells got underway on Wednesday.

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova said she was "shocked" and world number three Agnieszka Radwanska described it as a "sad day for tennis".

Radwanska said she was in the locker room in Indian Wells with a group of WTA players getting ready train for this week's tournament in southern California when she heard the news on Monday.

"It is a sad day for tennis," she said on Wednesday. "Nobody expected that. We are all waiting to see what they are going to do about it."

Czech Kvitova said Sharapova has made a "huge mistake" by not paying more attention to what drugs are on the banned list.

"We should all know what we are putting into our body," she said. "It was a huge mistake and she is taking responsibility for it."

Sharapova revealed on Monday that she had failed a drug test at the Australian Open in January, saying she had taken the circulation-boosting drug used to treat heart ailments since 2006, but had not spotted that it was added to the banned list as of January 1.

Sponsors of the world's highest-earning sportswoman immediately distanced themselves, with Nike, Porsche and TAG Heuer all halting their relationships with the former world number one.

The five-time Grand Slam winner could face a ban of up to four years, although her lawyer John J. Haggerty told the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday that he believed she can plead mitigating circumstances and receive a lesser punishment.

"There is no evidence whatsoever that this was intentional on Maria's behalf," Haggerty said.

Sharapova, whose on-court prowess and business savvy have brought her an estimated personal fortune of $200 million (180 million euros), wrote on her Facebook page that she woke up early Wednesday morning determined to fight through the scandal and eventually continue her storied career.

"New day, new start. It is fair to say that this day was not average," Sharapova wrote. "Nothing came to mind at 6am, except that I am determined to play tennis again and I hope I will have the chance to do so.

"I wish I didn't have to go through this, but I do - and I will."

- 'Must look clean' -

Spain's Rafael Nadal, who has won 14 Grand Slam titles, said Sharapova's positive test is a black eye on the sport.

"It is terrible news for our sport," Nadal said. "It is terrible because our sport must be clean and look clean.

"The good news is we have a good anti-doping programme."

The majority of the players who spoke to reporters on Wednesday chose their words carefully when speaking about Sharapova, most expressing shock but adding that it is up to the individual to check which drugs are on the banned substance list.

The players were speaking at the tournament in the California desert which which brings together the top players from both the women's and men's tours.

The women's main draw began Wednesday while the men kick off their first round Thursday in one of the biggest events of the season outside of the four Grand Slams.

Kvitova said Sharapova's failed test shows that the doping control officials are on top of things.

"This is an example that they are doing everything to have a clean sport. I think the system is working."

The 28-year-old Sharapova admitted she has been taking the now banned drug for about 10 years.

Former US Open singles champion Svetlana Kuznetsova said Sharapova should not be tried in public and her fate should be left in the hands of tennis officials.

"First of all, I want to say that Maria is a great athlete and even this "strange mistake" will not be able to outshine all of what she has achieved in tennis," Russia's Kuznetsova said on her Twitter account.

"And most importantly none of us, especially me, have no rights to comment on this story - not to criticize or evaluate Maria. The doping agency has to see this case not others."

Experts perplexed over why Sharapova was taking banned heart drug

(3/9/16) The medicine Maria Sharapova says she has taken for 10 years due to a family history of heart issues and diabetes is an old drug sold in just a few Eastern European countries that can also boost exercise tolerance.

The tennis star tested positive for the banned drug meldonium, or Mildronate, in a sample taken on January 26, the day of her Australian Open quarter finals defeat to Serena Williams.

She said her family doctor had first given her the drug 10 years ago after she frequently became sick, had irregular electrocardiogram results, a magnesium deficiency and a family history of diabetes.

The 28-year old Russian, a five-time grand slam champion and the highest paid woman in sports, will be provisionally suspended starting March 12, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) said.

For the health conditions Sharapova says she has, however, doctors say the scientific evidence for Mildronate is limited compared with many medicines widely available in Europe and the United States, where Sharapova trains, which have full regulatory backing and years of robust safety and efficacy data.

LATVIAN DRUG

Meldonium is cheap and available over the counter without a prescription in some eastern European countries, where it is marketed as Mildronate by the Latvian pharmaceutical firm Grindeks.

The drug, originally developed by scientists at the Latvian Institute of Organic Synthesis, is not licensed by two of the world's biggest medicines regulators: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States where Sharapova trains, and the EU's European Medicines Agency.

A spokeswoman for Grindeks said the firm had not applied for a license for Mildronate from either the FDA or the EMA, but said the drug is registered in Latvia, Lithuania, Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union.

She said it is designed to treat patients with certain cardiovascular diseases, including angina, chronic heart failure, cardiomyopathy and other cardiovascular disorders.

Grindeks' also promotes it for people with reduced working capacity from physical or psycho-emotional "overload," and during recovery from cerebrovascular disorders, head injury and encephalitis. It is not indicated for diabetes.

Tim Chico, a consultant cardiologist at Britain's Sheffield University, said it was unlikely that such a young and extremely fit woman would be suffering from a serious heart condition like angina, or would be able to play top level tennis if she were.

Asked how long the drug should be given to a patient, the Grindeks spokeswoman said in an emailed statement: "Depending on the patient health condition, treatment course of meldonium preparations may vary from 4 to 6 weeks." Such courses could be repeated two or three times in a year.

In an emailed reply to questions from Reuters about her medical reasons for using the drug, Sharapova's lawyer John Haggerty said: "While I cannot go into detail out of respect for the ITF process, I can confirm that Ms Sharapova had abnormal EKG tests in 2006 and was also diagnosed with asthenia (a lack of energy or strength), decreased immunity and diabetes indicators."

"She also had a family history of heart conditions," Haggerty said. "The Mildronate and the other medicines recommended by her doctor treated these conditions."

Munir Pirmohamed, a professor of molecular and clinical pharmacology at Britain's University of Liverpool, said the crucial issue with Mildronate for him is its lack of approval from EU and U.S. regulators.

"As a physician, this is not something I have, or would ever, prescribe," he said.

Others noted it was rare for a doctor treating illness to prescribe a drug that is unavailable in the country where the patient lives.

"Sharapova has been a U.S. resident since early in her career, which does bring in a question of how or why she is using a drug that is not licensed there," said Tom Bassindale, a lecturer in forensic science at Sheffield Hallam University.

Sharapova's agent Max Eisenbud was not available at his Miami office and did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment.

HELPS MUSCLES COPE

Whatever its medical benefits, research suggests Mildronate may have potential as a performance-enhancing drug for sports.

It reduces the level of a metabolite called carnetine in muscles, and by doing that helps muscles cope better with high levels of stress and low oxygen levels.

"Because it affects the cellular metabolism, it would increase energy production within cells and therefore make oxygen utilisation more efficient," said Pirmohamed.

In a 2010 academic paper published in a review journal called Seminars in Cardiovascular Medicine and cited on the Grindeks company website, it has been shown to improve exercise tolerance in patients with heart problems.

The World Anti-Doping Agency, which banned the drug in January after previously having it on a "watch list," ranks it as a prohibited metabolic modulator and cites "evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance."

Grindeks says the drug could protect athletes from cell damage, but says it would be unlikely to improve their competitive performance.

It would be "reasonable to recommend (sports people) to use meldonium as a cell protector to avoid heart failure or muscle damage in case of unwantedoverload," the spokeswoman said.

Athletes "should not expect increase of physical capacity, but, for sure, they will be protected against ischemic damages of cells in case of overload."

Proud Latvia regrets ban on meldonium drug its scientists invented

(3/9/16) Latvia expressed sadness on Wednesday over the banning of the drug that has cast a pall over the career of tennis star Maria Sharapova, describing it as "one of the most significant accomplishments" of the tiny nation's scientists.

The five-time grand slam champion has revealed she tested positive in January for the drug meldonium, which its Latvian inventor once said had been used to toughen up Soviet troops fighting at high altitudes three decades ago.

Latvia, a Baltic nation of under 2 million people that won independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, is relatively unknown to outsiders apart from visitors who use the capital Riga as a destination for partying.

So meldonium, which is marketed as Mildronate by the Latvian pharmaceutical firm Grindeks, is a source of some national pride.

"It's sad that there is such a situation, that this drug has been banned," said Andrejs Vaivars, a spokesman for Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis. "Especially given that is one of the most significant accomplishments of Latvian scientists in general."

Meldonium, which is available cheaply over the counter without a prescription in the Baltic states and Sharapova's native Russia, is normally used to treat heart conditions such as angina.

But the drug, which boosts blood flow and may enhance athletic performance, was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) as of Jan. 1. Sharapova said she had missed an email informing her about the ban.

Scientist Ivars Kalvins invented the drug in mid-1970s when Latvia was still a Soviet republic. Kalvins told the local newspaper Diena in 2009 that it had been used to boost troops' fighting stamina in the 1980s. At that time Soviet forces were battling insurgents in Afghanistan.

"There are high mountain conditions, lack of oxygen," Kalvins said. "They were all given Mildronate. They didn't know what they were using themselves. Nobody asked them anything back there."

Kirovs Lipmans, chairman of Grindeks and its biggest shareholder, said use of the drug did not constitute doping and he criticized the government for not defending its reputation against WADA.

"The government is not fighting against it, it is not doing anything, they are absolutely not interested in this. How can they act like that?" said Lipmans, who also heads the Latvian Ice Hockey Federation and is a member of the country' Olympic Committee. Government officials said WADA was acting independently and they could not influence its decisions. Grindeks is seeking to register Mildronate in China, and Lipmans said he would like to see it also registered in the future in western Europe. The company has said it was looking to diversify its sales as its revenues in Russia were hit by the fall in rouble.

Kremlin says Sharapova doping case doesn't reflect Russia

(3/9/16) The Kremlin says Maria Sharapova's doping case and others like it should not be considered a reflection of Russian sport as a whole.

Sharapova is the most prominent name to test positive for heart medicine meldonium since it was banned this year, but there have been five other reported cases in Russia across various sports.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday that the meldonium cases shouldn't be ''projected onto all of Russian sport'' and do not ''cast a shadow on Russian sport, on the amazing achievements of our athletes.''

Sharapova and the others who have tested positive are ''individual athletes, individual situations.''

Many athletes used Sharapova drug meldonium during 2015 European Games: study

(3/9/16) The use of meldonium - the banned drug taken by Russian tennis champion Maria Sharapova - was widespread among elite athletes competing at the European Games in Baku last year, according to research in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM).

The study, based on information volunteered by athletes and individual medical teams, and on laboratory data from doping tests from the Games in Azerbaijan, suggested up to 490 athletes may have been taking the drug during the competition.

The findings showed that during the Baku Games, 13 medallists or competition winners were taking meldonium, 66 athletes tested positive for it, and they said meldonium was detected in athletes competing in 15 of the 21 sports in the competition.

"This study highlights the widespread and inappropriate use and prescribing of this prescription drug in a generally healthy athlete population," said the researchers, led by Klaus Steinbach and Christian Schneider of the European Olympic Committees Medical and Anti-Doping Commission.

Some 6,000 athletes took part in the Games, the first major multi-sports event for the continent, with qualification spots on offer for August's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The BJSM said the research, published online on Wednesday, had been shared with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and had contributed to its decision to ban use of meldonium in competitive sport as of Jan. 1 this year.

Sharapova tested positive for meldonium, also known by the brand name Mildronate, in a sample taken on Jan. 26, the day of her Australian Open quarter-final defeat to Serena Williams.

She told a news conference her family doctor had first given her the drug 10 years ago after she frequently became sick, had irregular electrocardiogram results, a magnesium deficiency and a family history of diabetes.

The 28-year-old Russian, a five-time grand slam champion, will be provisionally suspended starting March 12, the International Tennis Federation said.

Meldonium is marketed as Mildronate by the Latvian pharmaceutical firm Grindeks , which told Reuters the drug could protect athletes from cell damage, but would be unlikely to improve their competitive performance.

The BJSM study said, however, that "the drug is evidently being used with the intention to either improve recovery or enhance performance - (and) use of a substance with the intention to improve performance is, by WADA's definition, a violation of the spirit of sport".

Mildronate is registered for sale in Latvia, Lithuania, Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union, but does not have a license from either the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the EU's European Medicines Agency.

Steinbach and Schneider said since the samples and data from laboratories were "blinded" of all personal and demographic details, they could not say which specific countries the athletes who tested positive for meldonium came from.

Athletes' self-reported declarations of meldonium use suggested there is higher use in countries where the drug is registered and prescribed then in countries where meldonium is not registered for medical use, they said.

They added, however, that "athletes and healthcare providers from any country where the drug is not officially registered for medical use could easily obtain the drug through medicines importation and exportation routes, and even more easily through online purchases".

Russia says repeatedly warned athletes about Sharapova drug

(3/9/16) Russia's athletics federation, facing exclusion from the Rio Olympics over previous doping scandals, said on Wednesday it had repeatedly warned athletes and coaches not to take meldonium, the banned substance used by tennis player Maria Sharapova.

Since former world number one Sharapova admitted using meldonium, Russian sports officials have said a number of other competitors have taken the substance, which is used to treat diabetes and low magnesium, and more names could emerge.

So far none of the Russian sports people named have been involved in track and field, but if any are found to have used the drug it would set back what is already an uphill struggle by Russian athletics to prove it is tackling doping in time for the Rio Games in August this year.

In an announcement entitled: "To the attention of sports people and coaches," the Russian athletics federation, or ARAF, said it was reminding people in the sport yet again that meldonium is on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned list.

"The ARAF has on multiple occasions warned sports people, coaches, and support staff that, since Jan. 1 this year meldonium is included in the list of the banned substances."

The announcement said on several occasions last year items were posted on the federation's website stating meldonium was banned, the message was also passed on at a conference of coaches last October and at three training camps.

The governing body of world athletics, the IAAF, last year suspended Russian athletics from international competition after a report commissioned by WADA alleged there was a culture of doping in Russian athletics and that sports administrators helped cover up positive tests.

Russian sports officials say they are doing everything asked of them to comply with the IAAF's demands so they can return to competition. But they have only a few months left to get reinstated before the Rio Games.

Dick Pound, author of the report on Russia commissioned by WADA, said on Wednesday that Russia may not make it back in time for Rio.

Inventor of drug in Sharapova case says it's 'not doping'

(3/9/16) Meldonium doesn't enhance the performance of athletes, the Latvian scientist who invented the drug at the center of Maria Sharapova's doping case told The Associated Press.

Ivars Kalvins said that the drug ''is not doping,'' but added it does protect athletes against heart damage during extreme physical exercise.

If the heart is working very hard, the drug ''protects the heart cells ... against ischemia,'' a blood circulation condition, Kalvins said. ''This is not the same as increase of performance.''

Meldonium, a heart medicine that improves blood flow, was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency on Jan. 1. WADA says it was prohibited ''because of evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance.''

Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion, admitted she failed a doping test at the Australian Open in January for meldonium, which she said she had been using for 10 years for various medical issues.

The drug, which is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, was once common in the Soviet military, Kalvins said.

He said he believes many militaries around the world are still giving the drug to soldiers ''because if the ischemia is caused by, let's say, the lack of oxygen in the air in mountains or whatever, in planes or in submarines, etc., it will protect the soldiers against damages.''

Also known as mildronate, the drug was banned because it aids oxygen uptake and endurance, and several athletes in various international sports have already been caught using it since it was prohibited.

It is normally prescribed for four to six weeks.

Grindeks, the Latvian company that manufactures mildronate, says it was one of the most important drug research centers in in the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It changed its name to Grindeks when Latvia regained independence in 1991. The company was privatized in 1997 and listed on the Latvian stock exchange a year later.

Mildronate is Grindeks' top-selling drug and a promotional video on the company website calls it a ''great pride for Grindeks and Latvia as a whole.''

The company doesn't disclose sales figures for individual drugs but its total sales of drugs and pharmaceutical ingredients in 2015 exceeded 82 million euros ($90 million).

Pound: Sharapova guilty of 'willful negligence' in drug test

(3/9/16) The former head of the World Anti-Doping Agency says Maria Sharapova was guilty of ''willful negligence'' for using meldonium, and international tennis officials knew that many players were taking the drug before it was banned this year.

Pound tells The Associated Press that Sharapova could face a ban of up to four years unless she can prove mitigating circumstances to explain her positive test for meldonium at the Australian Open in January.

Meldonium, a Latvian-manufactured drug designed to treat heart conditions, was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned list on Jan. 1 after authorities noticed widespread use of the substances among athletes.

Sharapova said she had been using the drug for 10 years for various medical issues. She said she didn't realize it had been banned this year.

Pound says ''it was willful negligence to miss that.''

Sharapova's failed drugs test is 'nonsense', says RTF president

(3/8/16) Russian Tennis Federation (RTF) president Shamil Tarpischev believes Maria Sharapova could still play at the Olympic Games in Rio later this year after labelling the former world number one's failed doping test as "nonsense".

Sharapova stunned the sporting world on Monday, revealing she failed a drugs test at the Australian Open in January, having been notified by the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

The five-time grand-slam champion said she had been taking Meldonium for a decade due to health reasons and had not realised the substance was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) list of prohibited substances as of the start of this year.

However, outspoken Russian Tarpischev remains hopeful of having the 28-year-old at the Games in Rio in August.

"I think that it's nonsense. Athletes take what their physiotherapists advise them," Tarpischev told TASS.

"I believe that Sharapova will still have a chance to play at the Olympics though we will see how things are going to develop."

Tarpischev is no stranger to controversy, having landed himself in hot water for comments made about Serena and Venus Williams in 2014.

The 68-year-old was fined $25,000 and suspended from WTA Tour involvement for a year after calling the American pair the "Williams brothers" on a Russian television show.

Lengthy ban for Sharapova would be devastating: Bollettieri

(3/8/16) A lengthy ban for doping would be devastating for five-times grand slam champion Maria Sharapova but she would survive it, Nick Bollettieri, the man who discovered her, said on Tuesday.

Sharapova, 28, rocked the sporting world on Monday when she announced that she had tested positive for the banned substance meldonium at this year's Australian Open after failing to read an email saying it had been added to WADA's prohibited list.

She will be provisionally suspended from playing tennis on March 12 and could be hit with a four-year ban.

"I think it would be devastating if they didn't allow her to come back," Bollettieri, who spotted Russian Sharapova's potential when she arrived in Florida with her father in 1994, told Sky Sports.

"It's up to the testing people. But I don't think she should be banned for life because of this. I think Maria will find a way to survive what is happening to her."

Former world number one Sharapova, who won Wimbledon as a 17-year-old, told a news conference on Monday that she had made a "huge mistake", saying that she had been taking the drug for 10 years to combat health problems.

Meldonium was only added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned list on Jan. 1.

Bollettieri, who also nurtured the likes of Andre Agassi and Monica Seles at the academy he started in Bradenton, Florida and later sold to IMG, said Sharapova should not be judged too harshly.

"This will be devastating for Maria," he said. "She really has been an outstanding character on and off the court for all of these years.

"I'm not trying to say she's right or wrong, but she doesn't do discos, no drinking sprees, she has been an outstanding character on and off the court all these years.

"Maria's whole career has been one of dedication."

Doping now shadows Sharapova's rags-to-riches story

(3/8/16) From the shadow of Chernobyl's nuclear wasteland to international super-stardom; from penniless arrival in the United States, without a word of English, to a fortune nudging the $200 million mark.

It may sound like the stuff of Hollywood dreams, but the story of Maria Sharapova, the world's richest sportswoman, is a testament to the power of one individual to make it, whatever the odds.

The ending of the story is now shrouded in doubt after the Russian-born star announced on Monday she had failed a drug test.

She said she wants to stay in tennis -- the sport that has made her rich beyond her wildest dreams even as her talent has arguably gone unfulfilled.

Sharapova has won five Grand Slam titles, but her great rival, Serena Williams, has 21 and is still playing.

And when she shot to international fame as a giggly 17-year-old Wimbledon winner in 2004 -- the third youngest to conquer the All England Club -- no one would have thought that that would remain her only title on the lawns of southwest London.

She would go on to win once in Australia and once at the US Open while claiming two titles at the French Open, despite famously likening her movement on Roland Garros's crushed red brick as a "cow on ice."

Sharapova first picked up a racquet at the age of four when she was living in Sochi, where her Belarus-born parents had settled after escaping the deadly clutches of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Spotted by Martina Navratilova, Sharapova was encouraged to move to Nick Bollettieri's Florida academy, the proving ground of Andre Agassi and Monica Seles.

Father Yuri and the seven-year-old Maria left for the US in 1994 with just a borrowed $700 to their names.

"I was living a normal, average, everyday life back in Russia and we had a dream and I had a talent and we moved to the US," she recalled.

Yuri took odd jobs like dishwashing to finance his daughter's dreams while visa restrictions meant mother Yelena was back in Russia, separated from her daughter for two years.

When she was nine, the mighty IMG group spotted her talent, funded the $35,000 fees required for the Bollettieri school and the young Maria was on her way.

- Wimbledon celebrity -

She made her professional debut at 14 in 2001 and by 2003 she reached the top 50. She won her first tour titles in Japan and Quebec.

Then in 2004, her world turned upside down as her Wimbledon final triumph over Williams made her an overnight international celebrity.

One year later, she became the first Russian woman to be ranked at number one in the world while, in 2006, she won her second major at the US Open.

But in 2007 and 2008, she began her long, on-off battle with shoulder trouble. She still had time to win the Australian Open before a second shoulder injury kept her off tour for the second half of the season, including missing the US Open and Beijing Olympics.

A 10-month absence from the sport, as she recuperated from surgery, saw her ranking slip to 126, but she was back in 2012, capturing the French Open to become the 10th woman to complete a career Grand Slam and adding Olympic silver to her resume that year.

Her 2014 French Open title was another high after a dispiriting injury low.

More injury troubles followed before the bombshell announcement of her positive test for the banned heart drug Meldonium at the Australian Open -- where she fell in the quarter-finals to Williams.

- Serena rivalry -

With Williams, she endured her most testing relationship. The two famously exchanged personal barbs over their private lives when Sharapova began a two-year romance with Bulgarian player Grigor Dimitrov, a rumoured previous boyfriend of the American.

Sharapova had previously been engaged to former Los Angeles Laker basketball star Sasha Vujacic.

She may be unlucky in love, but Sharapova has hit the jackpot in her commercial affairs.

She made almost $30 million in 2015, according to Forbes, with $23 million of that coming from endorsements.

Sharapova is a brand ambassador for Porsche, Cole Haan and in 2010 signed a contract extension with Nike worth a reported $70 million.

"Beauty sells. I have to realize that's a part of why people want me. I understand it. It's fine. I'm not going to make myself ugly," she said.

She has two luxury homes -- one in Florida, one in California -- and is making a lucrative career as an entrepreneur. In 2012, she launched her own line of candy, Sugarpova, selling 30,000 bags in the first six months.

She acknowledged in Melbourne that she never expected still to be playing tennis at the age of 28, but said Monday she wasn't ready to leave the game.

"I don't want to end my career this way," Sharapova said. "And I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game."

Sharapova starts to count cost of failed drug test, likely ban

(3/8/16) Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer cut ties with Maria Sharapova on Tuesday, the latest sponsor after Nike and Porsche to distance itself from the world's highest-paid female athlete following her failed drug test.

The swift response on the heels of Sharapova's announcement on Monday signaled a change in attitude among high-profile corporate backers following a series of doping and corruption scandals in world sports.

"We're now entering a zero tolerance era for sponsors," said Rupert Pratt, co-founder of sports sponsorship agency Generate. "It is now seen as not acceptable to 'stand by your man' because of the amount of scrutiny corporates are now under."

Sharapova's failed drug test at January's Australian Open, one of four annual Grand Slam events, will likely lead to a ban for the 28-year old Russian. The International Tennis Federation's anti-doping program calls for a four-year suspension for a positive test. That ban can be reduced in various circumstances, such as if the player shows no significant fault or negligence.

Loss of sponsor income would be costly for Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam winner who earned $29.7 million last year, according to Forbes magazine, most of it from endorsements, appearances and royalties rather than victories on court.

Sharapova, who lit up women's tennis when she won Wimbledon in 2004 as a 17-year-old, is still ranked among the top players. She was the world's highest-paid female athlete last year for the 11th consecutive year, and Forbes put her off-court career earnings at more than $200 million.

Fellow athletes had mixed reactions to Sharapova's announcement that she had tested positive for meldonium, a drug she said she had been taking for a decade to treat diabetes and low magnesium.

The substance, recently banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), boosts blood flow and can enhance athletic performance. Sharapova, who lives in the United States, is at least the seventh athlete in a month to test positive for meldonium. It is widely available in Eastern Europe but not approved for use in the United States.

"She's ready to take full responsibility and I think that showed a lot of courage and a lot of heart," Serena Williams, the top-ranked player in women's tennis, told reporters at a briefing ahead of a game in New York on Tuesday.

Others were not so sympathetic.

"I'm extremely angry and disappointed. I had to lose my career and never opted to cheat no matter what," tweeted former world No. 1 Jennifer Capriati, in a long series of posts attacking Sharapova.

Aries Merritt, a U.S. hurdler, said there was no excuse for Sharapova to be unaware that WADA added meldonium to its latest list of banned drugs effective Jan. 1, which it circulated to competitors.

"As an athlete it is your responsibility to always know what's being placed on the banned list. Period," said Merritt at the U.S. Olympic Committee summit in Los Angeles.

Sharapova said she had not read an email informing her that meldonium was now banned for use in sport.

She will be provisionally suspended from playing tennis from March 12 and could be prevented from competing for Russia at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics this year.

SOME SPONSORS ON THE FENCE

Sharapova's deal with Tag Heuer, owned by French luxury goods group LVMH, expired at the end of 2015, and the company said on Tuesday it had dropped renewal talks in view of her announcement.

Nike Inc, the world's biggest sportswear brand, and German luxury car maker Porsche, a unit of Volkswagen AG , have said they are suspending their relationship with Sharapova as they gather more information and wait for a decision on a ban.

A person close to Sharapova told Reuters her team was encouraged that none of the sponsors so far have said they were terminating contracts with the player, although they had the right to do so.

"Suspension means to put on hold," the source said, requesting anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation. "Under the circumstances we're very pleased that everybody is willing to stand by and see what facts come out instead of terminating."

Danone SA, the maker of Evian water, a longtime Sharapova sponsor, said on Tuesday it would monitor developments. Avon Products Inc, another sponsor, declined to comment on its endorsements.

Brian Socolow, an expert in sports law and a partner at Loeb & Loeb LLP, said Nike's quick suspension was no surprise after its long support for now-disgraced U.S. cyclist Lance Armstrong.

But he said Sharapova may yet win back sponsors. "She has the chance, like other athletes, to redeem herself and regain her leadership position as an endorser," said Socolow. "She will have to demonstrate that it was an honest mistake and there are no other improper reasons she took the drug."

There was some scepticism about the sponsors' motives from tennis fans on social media.

Ben Stanley (@BDStanley) tweeted on Tuesday, "Nike is in the business of making money, not offering moral guidance. If it paid to keep Sharapova on, they'd do it."

Russia tennis chief still expects Sharapova to play at Olympics

(3/8/16) Russian tennis chief Shamil Tarpishchev expects Maria Sharapova to represent her country at this year's Olympics in Brazil despite being provisionally suspended from the game after testing positive for a banned substance.

Five-times grand slam champion Sharapova said on Monday she had failed a drug test at the Australian Open in January because of a substance, meldonium, she was taking for health issues.

"I think this is just a load of nonsense," Tarpishchev, president of the Russian Tennis Federation, said in an interview with the TASS news agency.

"The sportsmen take what they are given by the physiotherapists and by the doctors. I think Sharapova will play at the Olympics, however, we will need to see how this will develop."

TAG Heuer says will not renew Sharapova contract

(3/8/16) Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer said Tuesday it would not renew its marketing contract with Maria Sharapova after the Russian tennis star announced she had failed a doping test at the Australian Open.

"Maria Sharapova was under contract with TAG Heuer until December 31th, 2015. We had been in talks to extend our collaboration," a company statement said.

"In view of the current situation, the Swiss watch brand has suspended negotiations and has decided not to renew the contract with Ms Sharapova."

Evian owner Danone 'surprised' by Sharapova drug revelation

(3/8/16) Evian water's owner Danone , a longtime sponsor of Maria Sharapova, said on Tuesday it was "surprised" by the tennis star failing a drug test and would monitor developments.

Nike , TAG Heuer and Porsche have all suspended their relationships with Sharapova following the revelation on Monday.

"Evian has been a partner of Maria Sharapova for many years, and until now, we have maintained a trustworthy professional relationship," the company said in a statement.

"Evian attaches great importance to health, to integrity, and transparency, and we will follow closely the development of the investigation."

Sharapova business empire in doping turmoil

(3/8/16) Maria Sharapova's multi-million dollar business empire was in turmoil on Tuesday as sponsors distanced themselves from the Russian tennis star a day after she admitted failing a drug test.?

The world's richest sportswoman announced Monday that she had tested positive for Meldonium, a drug she said she had been taking since 2006 which was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned list this year.

US sportswear giant Nike, German luxury car maker Porsche and Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer all halted their relationship with the former world number one.

The 28-year-old, whose rags-to-riches story was the stuff of Hollywood dreams, now risks a ban of up to four years which could see her carefully constructed marketing empire collapse.

The holder of five Grand Slams and 35 WTA titles, the Russian who arrived penniless with her family in the United States, is as much a businesswoman as a sportswoman.

Despite winning just two WTA titles in 2015 she was the highest paid sportswoman that year, earning $30 million mostly from advertising, according to American magazine Forbes. Her fortune is estimated at $200 million.

Nike was the first sponsor to jump ship, saying Monday night it was "saddened and surprised" by the news.

"We have decided to suspend our relationship with Maria while the investigation continues," the US sportswear giant said.

Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer then said they would break off negotiations to renew their contract with Sharapova.

"Maria Sharapova was under contract with TAG Heuer until December 31th, 2015. We had been in talks to extend our collaboration," a company statement said.

"In view of the current situation, the Swiss watch brand has suspended negotiations and has decided not to renew the contract with Ms Sharapova."

Porsche followed, stating "until more details are known and we can analyse the situation, we have decided to suspend planned activities (with Sharapova)".

Sharapova signed a three-year deal to be brand ambassador for Porsche in April 2013. The Russian also won the WTA indoor tournament in Stuttgart, which is sponsored by the car manufacturers, in 2012, 2013 and 2014, with the champion driving off in a brand-new sports car.

- 'Huge mistake' -

"I did fail the test and I take full responsibility for it," Sharapova said at a quickly convened press conference in Los Angeles on Monday.

"I made a huge mistake. I let my fans down. I let my sport down that I've been playing since the age of four that I love so deeply," she said.

"I know that with this, I face consequences and I don't want to end my career this way -- and I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game."

The ITF confirmed that Sharapova had tested positive on January 26 and had accepted the finding when she was notified on March 2.

"Ms Sharapova will be provisionally suspended with effect from 12 March, pending determination of the case," the ITF said.

Sharapova said she was prescribed the drug, a circulation-booster used to treat heart ailments, because of symptoms including an irregular EKG heart test and a family history of diabetes.

Her attorney, John Haggerty, said mitigating circumstances could result in a lesser penalty.

- Serena lauds Sharapova 'courage' -

Russian officials on Tuesday threw their backing behind Sharapova.

"I feel sorry for Masha. I hope that we will see her back on court and we are prepared to support her," sports minister Vitaly Mutko told state-run TASS news agency, using the Russian diminutive of Sharapova's first name.

"The people in her team should be looking out for her."

Sharapova's great rival Serena Williams applauded the Russian's candor in confirming the positive test.

"I think most people were surprised and shocked by Maria but at the same time most people were happy that she was just upfront and very honest and showed a lot of courage to admit to what she had done and what she had neglected to look at," Williams told reporters in New York, as she prepared for an exhibition event.

"She's always showed courage in everything that she's done. And this is no different," Williams said.

Porsche says suspends sponsorship of Maria Sharapova

(3/8/16) Luxury carmaker Porsche, a division of Volkswagen , said on Tuesday it would suspend tennis player Maria Sharapova as its brand ambassador in light of her admission that she failed a doping test.

The Russian tennis star on Monday admitted she had failed a drug test at the Australian Open due to a substance she was taking for health issues.

"We regret the current news about Maria Sharapova. Until further details emerge and we are able to analyze the situation, we have decided to suspend planned activities," Porsche said in a statement.

Drug Sharapova took used by 1980s Soviet troops

(3/8/16) The drug at the centre of Maria Sharapova’s doping case, regularly given to Soviet troops in the 1980s to boost their stamina while fighting in Afghanistan, is normally prescribed for medical use for periods of four to six weeks.

Sharapova faces possible sanctions after testing positive for meldonium, a drug the Russian tennis star said she had been using for 10 years for various medical issues.

The Latvian company that manufactures meldonium said the normal course of treatment is much shorter.

"Depending on the patient’s health condition, treatment course of meldonium preparations may vary from four to six weeks," Grindeks said in an emailed statement Tuesday to The Associated Press. "Treatment course can be repeated twice or thrice a year. Only physicians can follow and evaluate patient’s health condition and state whether the patient should use meldonium for a longer period of time."

Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion, said Monday she failed a doping test at the Australian Open in January for meldonium, which became a banned substance under the World Anti-Doping Agency code this year.

Meldonium is a heart medicine which improves blood flow and is little-known in the U.S., but it was once common in the Soviet military.

The drug’s inventor, Ivars Kalvins, told Latvian newspaper Diena in a 2009 interview that meldonium was given to soldiers during the 1980s, when Soviet forces were fighting in Afghanistan.

"High altitudes. Oxygen deprivation. If they have to run 20 kilometres with all the gear, at the end they would get ischemia (a blood circulation condition)," Kalvins was quoted as saying.

"They were all given meldonium. They themselves were not aware they were using it. No one was being asked (if they agree to it) back then."

Kalvins said meldonium was "not doping," adding that it "allows you to withstand more physical pressure, but the body still spends its spare reserves."

Sharapova said Monday she had taken meldonium for a decade following various health problems including regular sicknesses, early signs of diabetes and "irregular" results from echocardiography exams.

"I was first given the substance back in 2006. I had several health issues going on at the time," she said. Sharapova didn’t specify whether she had used it constantly since then.

Meldonium was banned because it aids oxygen uptake and endurance, and several athletes in various international sports have already been caught using it since it was banned on Jan. 1.

The wave of meldonium cases has echoes of a doping scandal involving another Soviet military drug, bromantan, which was banned after being found in Russian athletes’ samples at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

While Grindeks has previously stated that meldonium can provide an "improvement of work capacity of healthy people at physical and mental overloads and during rehabilitation period," the Latvian company said Tuesday that it believed the substance would not enhance athletes’ performance in competition and might even do the opposite.

"It would be reasonable to recommend them to use meldonium as a cell protector to avoid heart failure or muscle damage in case of unwanted overload," the company said.

Grindeks said that, in sports activity, the drug slows down how the body breaks down fatty acids to produce energy.

Grindeks did not comment when asked whether someone with the symptoms Sharapova described would be a suitable patient for meldonium. The company said it was designed for patients with chronic heart and circulation conditions, those recovering from illness or injury and people suffering with "reduced working capacity, physical and psycho-emotional overload."

Meldonium is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

While meldonium was put on banned list as of Jan. 1, the decision to ban it had been announced by WADA and sports organizations as early as September 2015. Sharapova said she received an email with information on the changes in December, but did not read the information at the time.

The AP was able to buy vials and tablets of meldonium over the counter in Moscow on Tuesday. Accompanying documentation stated that side effects could include blood pressure changes, irregular heartbeat and skin conditions.

German anti-doping expert Mario Thevis, who helped to develop the test for meldonium, told the AP that testing was reliable despite meldonium’s recent addition to the WADA banned list.

"There is a potential of the substance to enhance performance and it has been described as a means to facilitate recovery and to enhance physical as well as mental workload capabilities," Thevis, a professor at the anti-doping laboratory in Cologne, Germany, said in a telephone interview. "It can be tested as reliably as any other doping agent."

Serena: Maria Sharapova ‘showed a lot of courage’

(3/8/16) Serena Williams says Maria Sharapova "showed a lot of courage" in taking responsibility for her failed drug test.

The 21-time major champion said Tuesday she "hoped for the best" for Sharapova, a day after the Russian star revealed she failed a test the day she lost to Williams at the Australian Open in January.

Sharapova said she tested positive for the little-known drug meldonium, which became a banned substance under the World Anti-Doping Agency code this year. The five-time Grand Slam champ could face a long ban from the International Tennis Federation, possibly ending her season and preventing her from competing at the Olympics.

Williams plays good friend Caroline Wozniacki on Tuesday night in an exhibition at Madison Square Garden.

Nike, other sponsors cut ties with Sharapova

(3/8/16) Three of Maria Sharapova’s major sponsors are cutting ties with the Russian tennis star after she acknowledged failing a doping test at the Australian Open.

Sportswear giant Nike, Swiss watch brand Tag Heuer and German luxury car company Porsche moved quickly to distance themselves from the five-time Grand Slam winner after she announced the positive test at a news conference in Los Angeles on Monday.

"We are saddened and surprised by the news about Maria Sharapova," Nike said in a statement. "We have decided to suspend our relationship with Maria while the investigation continues. We will continue to monitor the situation."

TAG Heuer said its deal with Sharapova will not be renewed. The sponsorship expired at the end of 2015 and discussions had been taking place on how to extend it.

"In view of the current situation, the Swiss watch brand has suspended negotiations, and has decided not to renew the contract with Ms Sharapova," TAG Heuer said in a statement.

Porsche said in a statement Tuesday that it has "chosen to postpone planned activities" with Sharapova "until further details are released and we can analyze the situation."

Sharapova said she failed a doping test at the Australian Open in January for the little-known drug meldonium, which became a banned substance under the World Anti-Doping Agency code this year. The former world No. 1 took full responsibility for her mistake and could face a lengthy ban from the International Tennis Federation, possibly ending her season and preventing her from competing for Russia at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

"I know that with this, I face consequences," Sharapova said. "I don't want to end my career this way, and I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game."

The 28-year-old Sharapova said she has been taking meldonium, a blood flow-promoting drug, for 10 years for numerous health issues. Meldonium was banned because it aids oxygen uptake and endurance, and several athletes across international sports have already been caught using it.

Sharapova and all players were notified of the changes in the WADA banned substances list in December. Sharapova claimed she simply missed the change, neglecting to click on the link.

"I take great responsibility and professionalism in my job, and I made a huge mistake," Sharapova said. "I let my fans down. I let the sport down that I've been playing since the age of 4, that I love so deeply."

Sharapova is one of the top female players of her generation, with 35 career singles titles and over $36 million in career earnings. That earning potential is thought to be easily dwarfed by the earnings she generates from her commercial appeal.

Sharapova is thought to be the world's highest-paid female athlete due to endorsement deals and her extensive business ventures, including a high-profile candy line, Sugarpova. Forbes estimated her earnings at $29.5 million for 2015.

"She's a one-woman marketing machine," said Nigel Currie, an independent British-based sponsorship consultant. "There are lots of male stars in the world, but not many female stars."

Currie said it's "unbelievable" how such a mistake could have happened since Sharapova has such a big support network, adding that it's also "amazing" how quickly sponsors react.

"They are paranoid about their image, and the slightest risk to their image, they run to the hills," he said.

Tennis star Sharapova faces suspension after failing drug test

(3/7/16) Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova, the highest-paid woman in sports, said on Monday that she failed a drug test at the Australian Open due to a substance she has been taking for 10 years for health issues.

The 28-year-old Sharapova, a five-time grand slam champion, will be provisionally suspended starting March 12, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) said.

She is the seventh athlete in a month to test positive for meldonium, which is used to treat diabetes and low magnesium, and was only banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency as of Jan. 1.

"I made a huge mistake. I let my fans down and I let the sport down," said Sharapova, a teenage tennis prodigy who became the third-youngest Wimbledon champion. "I take full responsibility for it."

"I know that with this I face consequences and I don't want to end my career this way. I really hope that I will be given another chance to play this game," former world No.1 Sharapova told a news conference in a downtown Los Angeles hotel.

The ITF's anti-doping program calls for a four-year suspension for a positive test, but that ban can be reduced in various circumstances, such as for first-time offences or if the player shows no significant fault or negligence. If a player bears no fault or negligence, there is no suspension.

According to Forbes, she earned $29.5 million in 2015, mostly from endorsements.

Sharapova said her family doctor had been giving her mildronate, which is also called meldonium, for 10 years after she frequently became sick, had irregular EKG results, a magnesium deficiency and a family history of diabetes.

"It is very important for you to understand that for 10 years this medicine was not on WADA's banned list and I had been legally taking the medicine. But on January the first, the rules have changed and meldonium became a prohibited substance."

The World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA, declined to comment until ITF issues a final decision.

Meldonium is used to treat chest pain and heart attacks among other conditions, but some researchers have linked it to increased athletic performance and endurance. It is listed by WADA among its prohibited metabolic modulators, along with insulin, and some researchers say it can also help recovery.

It is not approved in the United States but is available in Russia, Latvia and other countries in that region. Over the past month, Russian cyclist Eduard Vorganov, Russian figure skater Ekaterina Bobrova and Ethiopia-born athletes Endeshaw Negesse and Abeba Aregawi and Ukraine biathletes Olga Abramova and Artem Tyshchenko have all tested positive for meldonium.

Sharapova is the most prominent tennis player to test positive for a banned substance in recent years.

Croatia's Marin Cilic was banned for nine months in 2013 after testing positive for a prohibited stimulant, though the suspension was cut to four months on appeal.

Former No. 1 Swiss player Martina Hingis retired after receiving a two-year suspension for a positive cocaine test in 2007, though she denied taking the drug.

Last year, the sport banned U.S. player Wayne Odesnik for 15 years after his second doping violation, testing positive for steroids and other banned substances.

Sharapova is the biggest name in sport to test positive since New York Yankees baseball slugger Alex Rodriguez was banned for a year in 2013 after using performance-enhancing drugs and American cyclist Lance Armstrong was banned for life from racing in 2012 after a U.S. Anti-Doping investigation.

Sharapova, one of the most popular figures in global sports, has long been a favorite with her sponsors. Cosmetics maker Avon Products Inc declined to comment on its endorsements. Nike Inc , the world's largest footwear maker and another sponsor, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Steve Simon, CEO of the Women's Tennis Association, said in a statement he was saddened to hear the news.

"Maria (Sharapova) is a leader and I have always known her to be a woman of great integrity," he said. "Nevertheless, as Maria acknowledged, it is every player’s responsibility to know what they put in their body and to know if it is permissible. The WTA will support the decisions reached through this process.”

The news came a day after Sharapova's management team said she was going to make a "major announcement," which had many speculating that she was going to announce her retirement from professional tennis.

Sharapova, who has struggled with a series of injuries in recent years, has not competed since she lost to Serena Williams in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open in January.

Renowned for her never-say-die approach, a gritty baseline game and high-decibel shrieking, Sharapova at 17 became the first Russian woman to win Wimbledon when she beat Serena Williams 6-1 6-4 in the 2004 final.

That victory also made her the third-youngest Wimbledon champion, behind only Lottie Dod and Martina Hingis, and the fourth-youngest grand slam winner in the open era after Hingis, Monica Seles and Tracy Austin.

Profile of Russia's Maria Sharapova

(3/7/16) Profile of Russia's Maria Sharapova who told a news conference on Monday she failed a drugs test at this year's Australian Open due to a substance she has taken for 10 years for health issues.

Born: April 19, 1987 in Nyagan, Russia

GRAND SLAM TITLES: Five: Wimbledon (2004); U.S. Open (2006); Australian Open (2008); French Open (2012, 2014)

MAKING HER NAME

* Born in Siberia, moves to Black Sea coastal resort of Sochi aged two.

* Moves to Florida in 1996 to train at Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy in Bradenton. Sharapova's father Yuri, armed with just $700, moves to U.S. with her. Her mother Yelena has to stay in Russia due to visa restrictions.

* Turns professional in 2001.

TENNIS CAREER

* Wins first tour title at Tokyo in 2003. Finishes inside top-50 for first time.

* Becomes first Russian woman to win Wimbledon in 2004 aged 17, beating holder Serena Williams 6-1 6-4 in the final.

* In August 2005 becomes first Russian woman to reach the top of the world rankings.

* Wins her second grand slam after defeating second seed Justine Henin 6-4 6-4 in the 2006 U.S. Open final.

* Beats Ana Ivanovic of Serbia 7-5 6-3 in 2008 to win her third grand slam title, and first Australian Open.

* Regains number one ranking by beating Petra Kvitova in the French Open semi-finals in 2012 before defeating Sara Errani 6-3 6-2 in the final to complete her collection of grand slam trophies.

* Wins a silver medal in her Olympic debut at the 2012 Games in London, losing the final against Serena Williams 6-0 6-1.

* Wins fifth grand slam title at 2014 French Open.

OTHER NOTES

* Has shoulder surgery in 2008 followed by a nine-month injury layoff.

* Misses second half of 2013 season with a shoulder injury.

* Is the richest woman in sport and with more than 15 million fans, she is the most followed female athlete on Facebook.

FAILED TEST

Sharapova tells a news conference in Los Angeles that she tested positive at this year's Australian Open for meldonium, which is used to treat diabetes and low magnesium and has been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency since Jan. 1.

Reactions to Maria Sharapova's positive dope test

(3/7/16) Five-times grand slam champion Maria Sharapova's failed drug test at this year's Australian Open provoked a flurry of reaction on social media and beyond on Monday.

While most expressed shock and a degree of sympathy for the Russian former world number one, others were less charitable, including three-times grand slam champion Jennifer Capriati.

FORMER WORLD NO.1 JENNIFER CAPRIATI on TWITTER

"I'm extremely angry and disappointed. I had to lose my career and never opted to cheat no matter what. I had to throw in the towel and suffer.

"I didn't have the high priced team of drs that found a way for me to cheat and get around the system and wait for science to catch up. The responses are exactly what i am talking about. Everything based on illusion and lie driven by the media for over 20 yrs. Beyond unfair."

AMERICAN GREAT MARTINA NAVRATILOVA ON TWITTER

"Hold your horses everyone - about Maria - I don't have all the facts, I hope it's an honest mistake, stuff was legal as far as I know till 2015."

FORMER PLAYER JAMES BLAKE on TWITTER

"Wow. Classy of @MariaSharapova to hold a press conference for this and admit making a mistake. Definitely agree that have to be aware though."

CURRENT AMERICAN PLAYER RYAN HARRISON on TWITTER

"Maria handled that so well. In my opinion, honest mistake from a great champion"

FORMER TOP 10 PLAYER AND COACH BRAD GILBERT

"Still stunned that nobody on Shazza team checked new list from WADA, players are responsible but this is big time oversight on team as well."

AUSTRALIAN PLAYER MATT EBDEN

"Doesn't look that innocent for Sharapova or whoever else took it, this Meldonium stuff but who knows?"

BRITISH OLYMPIC HEPTATHLON BRONZE MEDALLIST KELLY SOTHERTON

"I'm pretty sure if this was a track and field athlete they'd be getting a much rawer deal than Sharapova. However it is what it is. #Sharapova"

After Sharapova shocker, what is meldonium?

(3/7/16) Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova says she failed a drug test for meldonium at the Australian Open. The drug was only banned in January and there has been a string of failed tests by athletes in several sports since.

Here are some things to know about meldonium:

WHO’S TESTED POSITIVE?

As well as Sharapova, one of the world’s top ice dancers also said Monday that she tested positive.

Ekaterina Bobrova is a former European champion who was part of the Olympic gold medal-winning Russian team at the 2014 Winter Olympics. She told Russian media the positive test was "a big shock." Another Russian case last month saw cyclist Eduard Vorganov test positive.

Besides notable Russians, Swedish media reported in February that former world champion 1,500-meter runner Abeba Aregawi had tested positive for meldonium. Two other cases involved Ukrainians competing in the winter sport of biathlon.

WHAT DOES IT DO?

Also marketed as mildronate, the website of the drug's Latvian manufacturer Grindeks says meldonium gives sufferers of heart and circulatory conditions more "physical capacity and mental function" -- and a similar boost to healthy people. Meldonium was banned because it aids oxygen uptake and endurance.

WHO TAKES IT?

Meldonium is most commonly used in Eastern European and ex-Soviet countries as a drug for people with heart conditions, but it's also offered for sale online. There are also signs that a sizable minority of athletes were using before it was banned.

In October, the U.S.-based Partnership for Clean Competition, an anti-doping group, said meldonium was found in 182 of 8,300 urine samples from athletes as part of a study part-funded by the PCC.

HOW WAS IT BANNED?

The World Anti-Doping Agency monitored the effects and use of meldonium before announcing in September that it would be declared a banned substance from Jan. 1, 2016.

WADA declared the decision on its website more than three months before the ban, and it was also announced by the Russian anti-doping agency.

Sharapova said she received an email from WADA linking to information that meldonium would be banned ahead of the 2016 season but did not read the information at the time. Sharapova says she has been taking the drug for 10 years for numerous health issues.

Maria Sharapova failed drug test at Australian Open

(3/7/16) Maria Sharapova’s tennis career and Olympic hopes are in jeopardy, and she claims it’s all because she failed to click on a link in an email that would have told her to stop taking meldonium.

The five-time major champion says she failed a doping test at the Australian Open in January for the little-known drug, which became a banned substance under the WADA code this year. The former world No. 1 took full responsibility for her mistake when she made the announcement at a news conference Monday in Los Angeles.

Sharapova could face a lengthy ban from the International Tennis Federation, possibly ending her season and preventing her from competing for Russia at the Rio Olympics.

"I know that with this, I face consequences," Sharapova said. "I don’t want to end my career this way, and I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game."

The 28-year-old Sharapova received notice last week that she tested positive for meldonium, a blood flow-promoting drug she has been taking for 10 years for numerous health issues. Meldonium was banned because it aids oxygen uptake and endurance, and several athletes across international sports have already been caught using it.

Sharapova and all players were notified of the changes in the WADA banned substances list in December. Sharapova claimed she simply missed the change, neglecting to click on the link.

"I take great responsibility and professionalism in my job, and I made a huge mistake," Sharapova said. "I let my fans down. I let the sport down that I’ve been playing since the age of 4, that I love so deeply."

Meldonium, also known as mildronate, is a Latvian-manufactured drug popular for fighting heart disease in former Soviet Union countries. Meldonium treats ischemia, or lack of blood flow, but can be taken in large doses as a performance-enhancer.

Sharapova said she began taking meldonium for "several health issues I had back in 2006," including a magnesium deficiency, regular influenza, "irregular" heart test results and early indications of diabetes, of which she has a family history.

Sharapova’s penalties could range from a multiyear ban to a minimal sanction with no suspension if officials believe she made an honest mistake. WADA President Craig Reedie told The Associated Press that any athlete found guilty of using meldonium would normally face a one-year suspension.

The ITF’s anti-doping program announced in a statement that Sharapova will be provisionally suspended starting this weekend while her case is examined. WADA spokesman Ben Nichols said the organization won’t comment until the ITF makes a decision.

Sharapova and her attorney, John J. Haggerty, declined to say where Sharapova was put on the drug or where she gets it now, citing the ongoing process with the ITF. Meldonium is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"I understand the drug is sold particularly in Eastern Europe," Reedie told the AP in a telephone interview. "You can almost get it over the counter. For stronger versions, you might need a prescription. There has been a whole rash of these cases since the 1st of January when it appeared on the banned list. This might not be happening if athletes would be taking more care of the things that are on the list."

Reedie said meldonium can be "very strong medicine."

Although she has lived in the U.S. since childhood, Sharapova won a silver medal and served as Russia’s flag-bearer at the London Olympics four years ago.

"I think it’s all nonsense," Shamil Tarpshchev, the president of the Russian Tennis Federation, told the state Tass agency. "Athletes take what they’re given by physiotherapists and doctors. I think that Sharapova will play at the Olympics anyway. But we have to see how events develop."

Two Ukrainian biathletes and Russian cyclist Eduard Vorganov have tested positive for meldonium since it was banned. Earlier Monday, Russia’s Ekaterina Bobrova, a European champion ice dancer, told local media she had tested positive for meldonium.

Sharapova said she took the test shortly before she lost to Serena Williams in the Australian Open quarterfinals on Jan. 26. Sharapova hasn’t played since then while recovering from a forearm injury, and she had already dropped out of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, which begins this week.

"She is very organized and she takes her career very seriously," Haggerty told the AP. "When she first started to take this back in 2006, she made sure it was approved, that it wasn’t on the banned list, and checked in future years. Because she had taken it for so many years, and it was OK year after year, it just got off the radar.

"When she got the letter, she was shocked, completely stunned. She takes great pride in her integrity and how she approaches the game, and she immediately wanted to come forward and take responsibility."

Sharapova is one of the greatest players of her generation, with 35 career singles titles and over $36 million in career earnings. She is currently No. 7 in the WTA rankings after playing just three tournaments and the Fed Cup final in the last eight months since Wimbledon due to injuries.

Sharapova is thought to be the world’s highest-paid female athlete due to endorsement deals and her extensive business ventures, including a high-profile candy line, Sugarpova. Forbes estimated her earnings at $29.5 million for 2015.

"I am very saddened to hear this news about Maria," WTA CEO Steve Simon said in a statement. "Maria is a leader and I have always known her to be a woman of great integrity. Nevertheless, as Maria acknowledged, it is every player’s responsibility to know what they put in their body and to know if it is permissible."

Sharapova became a 17-year-old Wimbledon champion in 2004. She ascended to No. 1 in 2005, won the U.S. Open in 2006 and added the Australian Open in 2008 before completing the career Grand Slam with French Open titles in 2012 and 2014.

But Sharapova has struggled with injuries throughout her career, repeatedly forcing her to take extended breaks from competition. She had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, forcing her to change her serving motion, and has struggled with hamstring injuries.

Sharapova was born in Russia before moving to Florida. She lives primarily in Los Angeles now.

The star had a moment of levity when she acknowledged the incorrect assumptions about the reason she had called a news conference.

"If I was going to announce my retirement, it wouldn’t be in a downtown Los Angeles hotel with this fairly ugly carpet," she said.

Sharapova says failed drug test at Australian Open

(3/7/16) Former tennis world number one Maria Sharapova said on Monday that she recently received a letter saying she had failed a drug test at the Australian Open.

The 28-year-old Russian, a five-times grand slam champion, has not competed since she lost to Serena Williams in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open in January and has struggled with a series of injuries in recent years.

Sharapova said she tested positive for meldonium and that she did not look at a list of banned substances for 2016 that the World Anti-Doping Agency had sent last December.

"I was first given the substance back in 2006. I had several health issues going on at the time," Sharapova told a news conference in Los Angeles.

"I was getting sick very often … and I had a deficiency in magnesium and a family history of diabetes, and there were signs of diabetes. That is one of the medications, along with others, that I received."

Maria Sharapova announces failed drug test at Australian Open

(3/7/16) Former world number one Maria Sharapova announced Monday she failed a doping test at the Australian Open, saying a change in the World-Anti-Doping Agency banned list for 2016 led to the violation.

Sharapova said she tested positive for Meldonium, a substance she had been taking since 2006 but one that was added to the banned list this year. She said she did not look at the updated ban list before taking the drug.

"I did fail the test, and I take full responsibility for it," a sombre Sharapova said at a press conference at a downtown Los Angeles hotel.

"I made a huge mistake," she said. "I let my fans down. I let my sport down that I've been playing since the age of four that I love so deeply," added Sharapova, her voice wavering.

"I know that with this I face consequences and I don't want to end my career this way -- and I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game."

The 28-year-old Russian, winner of five Grand Slam titles, said she did not yet know just what all the consequences would be, but said she was cooperating with the International Tennis Federation.

Sharapova says she failed drug test; penalty unknown

(3/7/16) Tennis star Maria Sharapova says she has failed a drug test at the Australian Open.

A five-time major champion made the announcement at a news conference Monday in Los Angeles.

Sharapova said she tested positive for meldonium, which she has been taking for 10 years for health issues. Meldonium became a banned substance this year.

The WTA has not announced a penalty.

Sharapova, currently sidelined with a forearm injury, hasn't competed since losing to Serena Williams in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in January.

Maria Sharapova failed drug test at Australian Open

(3/7/16) (Press Conference Video - Maria starts around 43min mark) Maria Sharapova tested positive for a banned substance at the Australian Open the Russian tennis star said in a news conference on Monday.

Sharapova calls Monday news conference amid retirement rumours

(3/6/16) Speculation over Maria Sharapova's future has surfaced following confirmation that the five-time grand slam champion is to make an announcement at a news conference on Monday.

Injuries have restricted the former world number one to sporadic outings in recent months and she withdrew from the upcoming BNP Paribas Open earlier this week due to a troublesome left forearm problem.

In doing so, Sharapova expressed a willingness to return to the Indian Wells event in 2017.

However, retirement rumours were duly sparked by a brief message on the Russian's official website, which confirmed a news conference with Sharapova will be streamed live from 8pm GMT on Monday.

Sharapova has been one of the leading players on the WTA Tour for more than a decade, having burst onto the scene by winning Wimbledon as a 17-year-old in 2004.

Victory at the 2012 French Open saw Sharapova complete a career Grand Slam and her most recent major title also came at Roland Garros in 2014.

Now 28, she is ranked seventh in the WTA rankings and reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open in her only tournament appearance so far this year.

Sharapova calls news conference to make 'major announcement'

(3/6/16) Maria Sharapova has called a news conference to make what her agent calls a ''major announcement.''

The news conference is scheduled for noon on Monday in Los Angeles. Her agent, Max Eisenbud, declined to say what the subject of the announcement is.

The news conference comes days after Sharapova announced she was pulling out of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells because of a left forearm injury.

She has suffered a string of injuries in recent years, including a right leg injury that caused her to withdrawal from the U.S. Open.

The five-time major champion hasn't competed since losing to Serena Williams in the Australian Open quarterfinals in January.

Sharapova, who is involved in numerous business ventures off the court, is currently No. 7 in the WTA rankings.

Injured Sharapova out of Indian Wells

(3/3/16) World number seven Maria Sharapova has withdrawn from next week's BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells after failing to recover from a troublesome forearm injury, it was confirmed Thursday.

The Russian star said in a statement issued by tournament chiefs she had pulled out in an effort to return to full fitness.

"I am extremely disappointed that I am unable to compete in this year's BNP Paribas Open," said Sharapova.

"I have been focused on healing my left forearm injury and tried to get my body to be 100% ready to play this event, as it is one of my favorite events on the WTA and so close to my home in LA.

"I know the tournament will be a great success this year and I will be anxious to return next year and hopefully many years after."

Sharapova has not played since exiting the Australian Open in the quarter-finals in January.

Her withdrawal from Indian Wells is the third time this year she has withdrawn from a tournament because of her forearm injury, having also missed tournaments in Brisbane and Doha.

Mariana Duque-Marino moves into the main draw for Indian Wells following Sharapova's absence.

This year's tournament takes place from March 7-20.

Injury rules Sharapova out of Qatar Open

(2/10/16) Maria Sharapova will miss the Qatar Open as she continues to recover from the forearm injury she sustained at the Australian Open.

The five-time grand slam winner has not played since her quarter-final defeat to Serena Williams in Melbourne, although she was included in Russia's squad for the Fed Cup last weekend.

She was not used as the 2015 runners-up were dumped out by Netherlands, and her season is not set to resume until the end of the month.

It will be another blow for Sharapova after her 2015 season was hampered by a leg injury, the 28-year-old missing three months towards the end of the year before returning at the WTA Finals.

"Unfortunately, I will not be able to play the Qatar Open because of my left forearm injury," she is quoted as saying by the tournament website.

"I would like to wish the tournament and all the great fans in Doha a great week of tennis and I hope to see them next year."

Sharapova has won the Qatar Open on two occasions – 2005 and 2008 – and was a semi-finalist in her last appearance in 2013.

Netherlands pulls off upset of Russia at Fed Cup

(2/7/16) Last year’s finalist Russia suffered a surprise first-round defeat in the Fed Cup on Sunday as the Netherlands built an unassailable 3-0 lead when Kiki Bertens beat Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-1, 6-4 in the first reverse singles match.

Russian No. 1 Maria Sharapova had been scheduled to play only the final doubles match because of a shoulder injury. But with tie already lost, she was replaced by Ekaterina Makarova, who teamed with Darya Kasatkina to quickly beat Dutch pair Cindy Burger and Arantxa Rus 6-0, 6-2 to give Russia its only point. The second reverse singles was cancelled.

Sharapova had made herself available for Russia in order to be eligible for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Kuznetsova had come into her encounter with Bertens tired from a four-hour marathon loss to Richel Hogenkamp on Saturday, the longest rubber in Fed Cup history. Bertens had dominated Makarova 6-3, 6-4 in the opening rubber.

The Dutch, without a player ranked in the top 100, had been considered major underdogs against a Russian team whose lowest-ranked player, the 18-year-old Kasatkina, is No. 61.

Kuznetsova said she believes Russia sacrificed the Fed Cup so that the players could compete in the Summer Olympics. "It all comes down to the Olympics and these stupid rules," she told journalists.

Sharapova named in Russian Fed Cup team, stays on road to Rio

(2/5/16) Maria Sharapova remained on course for the Rio Olympics as the five-time Grand Slam champion was on Friday named in Russia's doubles team for their Fed Cup first-round tie against the Netherlands in Moscow this weekend.

World number 31 Ekaterina Makarova will take on 106th-ranked Kiki Bertens in the opening singles of the World Group clash on the hardcourt of Moscow's Olympic indoor arena from 1100 GMT on Saturday.

Russia's two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, 17th in the world, will then face 141st-ranked Richel Hogenkamp.

In Sunday's reverse singles, Kuznetsova will face off against Bertens and Makarova will then take on Hogenkamp.

Russian team skipper Anastasia Myskina then announced the country's top-ranked player Sharapova, the world number six, will play in the tie's concluding doubles rubber alongside 18-year-old Darya Kasatkina.

They will face Dutch pair Arantxa Rus and Cindy Burger.

Myskina, the 2004 French Open champion, said that she expected a tough match against the Dutch.

"We've prepared well for this match but I expect a very tough opposition this weekend," Myskina told reporters following the draw.

"Netherlands were victorious in their last Fed Cup matches. They're in good form and brave mood. It's unlikely to be easy. But I hope we will do enough."

Sharapova, who is struggling with a forearm injury suffered at last month's Australian Open, said she wasn't about to call time on her Fed Cup career.

"Our team is strong and any of our girls are capable of winning their rubbers," she said.

"I don't know how long I will be able to play tennis but I will definitely continue to play for my country."

The world's richest sportswoman will remain on course for this summer's Olympic Games even if she doesn't step out on court against the Netherlands.

Under qualification rules, a player must be nominated three times in an Olympic cycle in order to be eligible for the Games in Rio in August.

So far, the 28-year-old star has featured in just two ties since 2012, the year when she won the silver medal at the London Olympics.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF), which oversees the Fed Cup, said that Sharapova did not necessarily need to play the tie in order to fulfil her Olympic criteria.

"The Olympic tennis event qualification regulations require a player to be in the nominated Fed Cup team at the time of the draw on three occasions," a spokesman told AFP on the eve of the draw for the tie.

"A player does not need to play a match."

Sharapova won all four Fed Cup rubbers she played in 2015 including the two singles matches in the final which Russia lost 3-2 to the Czech Republic.

Sharapova plays Russian roulette with Olympic dream

(2/4/16) Maria Sharapova attempts to remain on course for the Rio Olympics when Russia take on the Netherlands in the Fed Cup this weekend even if she courts controversy by not actually playing.

The world's richest sportswoman has been named in the four-woman Russian squad for the World Group clash in Moscow despite insisting that she is unable to play due to a forearm injury suffered in her Australian Open quarter-final loss to Serena Williams.

Under qualification rules, a player must be nominated three times in an Olympic cycle in order to be eligible for the Games in Rio in August.

So far, the 28-year-old star has featured in just two ties since 2012, the year when she won the silver medal at the London Olympics.

Sharapova was warned last week by Russian tennis chief Shamil Tarpishchev that she risked missing out on Rio if she failed to turn out for the Fed Cup tie.

But she was adamant she was unlikely to compete in Moscow to rest her injured arm.

"I'm going to go to Moscow, to be part of the team but I don't think I'll be playing," she said.

Sharapova was as good as her word as she was pictured on social media on Thursday at the Fed Cup dinner in Moscow along with teammates Svetlana Kuznetsova, Ekaterina Makarova, teenager Darya Kasatkina and team captain Anastasia Myskina.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF), which oversees the Fed Cup, said that Sharapova did not necessarily need to play the tie in order to fulfil her Olympic criteria.

"The Olympic tennis event qualification regulations require a player to be in the nominated Fed Cup team at the time of the draw on three occasions," a spokesman told AFP on the eve of the draw for the tie.

"A player does not need to play a match."

Sharapova won all four Fed Cup rubbers she played in 2015 including the two singles matches in the final which Russia lost 3-2 to the Czech Republic.

Russia have defeated the Dutch on all three occasions they have met.

The visitors' task will not get any easier on Saturday and Sunday as their top-ranked player is Kiki Bertens at a lowly 106 in the world.

The Czechs, who have won four of the last five Fed Cups, start their defence against Romania in Cluj with former double Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova (world number nine) and Karolina Pliskova (13) leading their assault.

Romania's top singles player Simona Halep, the world number three, has postponed a nose operation to play in the tie.

Italy, the champions in 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2013, go to Marseille to face five-time winners France.

Newly-crowned Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber, at a high of two in the world, leads Germany's challenge at home to Switzerland in Leipzig.

Teenager Belinda Bencic, the world number 11, is Switzerland's top player while veteran Martina Hingis will feature in the doubles.

Hingis, 35, returned to the Fed Cup last year for the first time since 1998 in order to qualify for the Olympics.

Sharapova named to Russia’s Fed Cup team

(1/27/16) Maria Sharapova was named Wednesday in Russia’s team for its Fed Cup match against the Netherlands despite a dispute with the national federation over her Olympic eligibility.

Sharapova requires one more Fed Cup appearance for Russia in order to be eligible to represent her country at the Olympics in August.

The head of the Russian Tennis Federation, Shamil Tarpishchev, suggested Sharapova was unwilling to play for Russia next week and told Russia’s R-Sport agency that "if we lose and she doesn’t play, that means she won’t play at the Olympics."

Alongside Sharapova, Russia’s team for the Feb. 6-7 match in Moscow includes Svetlana Kuznetsova, Ekaterina Makarova and Darya Kasatkina.

The Dutch will field Kiki Bertens, their only top-100 player, alongside Richel Hogenkamp, Cindy Burger and Arantxa Rus.

Forearm worry puts Sharapova in doubt for Fed Cup opener

(1/26/16) Maria Sharapova said Tuesday she is unlikely to play for Russia in their Fed Cup opening round match against the Netherlands next month, but will be cheering on the team in Moscow. Earlier this month, team captain Anastasia Myskina said the world number five had confirmed she would play, alongside Svetlana Kuznetsova, Ekaterina Makarova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. But after her quarter-final exit at the Australian Open on Tuesday the 28-year-old suggested that would no longer happen, because she has a niggling forearm injury that needs attention. "I'm going to go and take care of my forearm first. I think that's really important," she said after top seed Serena Williams sent her packing from the season-opening Grand Slam.

Sharapova must play Fed Cup or miss Olympics - federation

(1/26/16) Russia's tennis federation chief warned Maria Sharapova she must play for the Fed Cup team or risk missing out on the Rio Olympics in August. Sharapova said that she is unlikely to play for Russia in the Fed Cup opening round against Netherlands on February 6-7, after crashing out of the Australian Open. "If Sharapova wants to compete at the Olympics she has to play for Russia in the Fed Cup," the R-Sport agency quoted tennis boss Shamil Tarpishchev as saying. "That's the rule and she needs either to play against Netherlands or in Russia's next Fed Cup match if we manage to go through."

Back to the drawing board for inspired, frustrated Sharapova

(1/26/16) Maria Sharapova said she was inspired as well as frustrated after losing to Serena Williams in the Australian Open quarter-finals on Tuesday, a defeat which extended her losing streak against the American to 12 years and 18 matches.

The 28-year-old Russian, who last beat Williams at the season-ending tour championships in 2004, kept pace with her 34-year-old opponent for all but the last game of the first set, before crumbling in the second.

"It's obviously always frustrating," she said after her 6-4 6-1 loss. "I mean, it's motivating. It's tough to sit here 30 minutes after the match and talk about the match, but that's part of my job.

"It's motivating because she's at a different level. She makes you go back to the drawing board, not just for me, but for many other players. She makes you work. That's inspiring."

Sharapova's work coming into the tournament had clearly been focused on her serve, which was much improved on the years when she was plagued by shoulder issues and which earned her 21 aces in her fourth round match on Sunday.

When she needed it most, however, facing four set points in the crucial 10th game of the match, her serve failed her and she ceded the opening stanza 6-4.

"I feel like if it was five-all, the momentum would have been a little bit different than going into where she played a really great beginning of the second set," Sharapova said.

"You know, I think at five-all maybe the mentality of her confidence would have changed a little bit."

Two of Sharapova's 18 defeats by Williams have come in the final of the Australian Open. One came in the French Open final and another at the final of the London Olympics.

Instead of hoping to avoid her, however, Sharapova said the only way to break the hex was to keep reaching the latter stages of tournaments, where she would likely face the 21-times grand slam champion.

"Keep setting up opportunities," she said. "Keep getting to the point where I have an opportunity to play against her.

"Keep finding a way to turn that around. If I don't have that chance then I don't have the opportunity to try something different."

Sharapova came into the tournament light on match practice after injuring her left forearm and said getting that treated would be her main priority on her return home.

"I think that's really important," the world number five said. "I think this will be a time to just get myself ready for a long year. I don't see myself playing anything before Indian Wells (in March)."

Williams beats Sharapova to reach Aussie Open semis

(1/26/16) Serena Williams attacked Maria Sharapova’s strength and it helped extend her complete domination of their rivalry, earning the six-time Australian Open champion a place in the semifinals.

Top-ranked Williams beat Sharapova 6-4, 6-1 in the quarterfinals on Tuesday, her 18th consecutive victory and 19th in their 21 career meetings back to 2004.

"It was super intense," Williams said of the replay of last year’s final. "She’s an incredibly intense, focused player who was No. 1 and has won so many Grand Slams for a reason. You have to come out with a lot of fire and intensity."

Each of the six previous times Williams has won a quarterfinal at Melbourne Park, she has won the title at the season-opening Grand Slam tournament.

Up next for her is fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, who beat No. 10 Carla Suarez Navarro 6-1, 6-3 to reach a Grand Slam semifinal for the fifth time.

Sharapova has won five majors, including the 2008 Australian title, and has been in three other finals at Melbourne Park.

In her fourth-round win against No. 12 Belinda Bencic she had a career-high 21 aces. Against Williams, she had three, and seven double-faults. Williams had 13 aces, three double-faults, hit 31 winners to 11, and broke Sharapova's serve four times.

"She played quite explosive," Sharapova said. "She was really explosive off the return. Yeah."

Sharapova broke to open the match and held for a 2-0 lead. But Williams held in the third game and broke to quickly level at 2-2.

Early in the set, points were short. As it progressed, the rallies got longer, the shrieks and grunts got louder and the emotions were fully on display.

Both players struggled with their ball toss at one end, repeatedly practicing their toss to work out the best position to serve into the sun.

Williams also had to concentrate hard to hold in the ninth game, when a baby screamed loudly in the stands as she faced breakpoints.

She was able to protect her own serve, and go on the attack against Sharapova's. It cost her in the eighth game when she had three break-point chances, taking the high-risk rather than the high-percentage option with her return.

But that approach is what has helped win her 21 major titles, and Williams' aggressive returns finally helped her convert on her fourth set point, following a heavy ground stroke to the net and putting away a volley.

She went on a five-game roll until Sharapova held in the second set, and then finished it off in the seventh game after saving break points.

Williams had medical treatment between sets, and again in the second during a changeover, but it wasn't clear what the problem was. She didn't comment on it in her on-court interview.

Sharapova noted Williams started the opening set with four big serves, so she didn't think it hampered the 34-year-old American's game.

She hasn't beaten Williams since back-to-back victories in 2004, when she led their rivalry 2-1. Despite more than 11 years in between, Sharapova isn't giving up hope of breaking that drought.

"It's motivating because she's at a different level," Sharapova said. "She makes you go back to the drawing board, not just for me, but for many other players. She makes you work. That's inspiring."

In men's doubles action, Canadian Vasek Pospisil and American partner Jack Sock fell in three sets to Spain's Marcel Granollers and Uruguay's Pablo Cuevas in quarter-final action.

Sharapova faces nemesis Williams as stakes rise at Open

(1/25/16) The business end of the Australian Open begins in earnest on Tuesday when top seed Serena Williams faces old rival Maria Sharapova for a place in the semi-finals in a repeat of last year's title match.

In the men's draw defending champion Novak Djokovic, taken to five sets in the fourth round, will have to improve as he faces Japanese seventh seed Kei Nishikori while Roger Federer aims to continue his smooth progress against Tomas Berdych.

Sharapova will be desperate to avenge last year's final loss to Williams, although the omens are not good for the Russian.

She has lost her last 17 matches against the 34-year-old Williams and the American 21-times grand slam champion has been in dominant form so far in Melbourne after some pre-tournament injury concerns.

Williams remains wary though, saying such a one-sided statistic can work both ways.

"I think the person who's winning could definitely feel the pressure because there is a lot of expectations," she said. "The person who is losing X amount in a row could think 'I don't have anything to lose.'"

Djokovic's bid for a sixth Australian Open title was nearly sabotaged by Gilles Simon in round four and the in-form Nishikori will pose a serious threat as he attempts to prevent Djokovic reaching a 29th grand slam semi-final.

Nishikori beat Djokovic the last time they met in a grand slam, at the 2014 U.S. Open semi-final, and will need to reproduce that form on Tuesday.

"I think the biggest thing is he doesn't miss," he said. "He doesn't give you easy points, any free points."

Federer takes on a familiar foe in Berdych, with the pair facing each other for the 22nd time.

The Swiss is on a four-match winning streak against the powerful Czech, but has lost their last two grand slam meetings.

Berdych will look to pull off another major upset, as he did at the same stage last year when he ended a 17-match losing streak against Rafael Nadal.

Fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska opens the action on Rod Laver Arena when she battles it out with 10th seeded Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro.

The 26-year-old scrapped through to the quarter-finals after being pushed to her limits by Germany's Anna-Lena Friedsam in the previous round.

Serena-Sharapova rivalry comes again to Australian Open

(1/24/16) Serena Williams says she doesn't remember much about the first time she played Maria Sharapova at the Australian Open.

It was 11 years ago, after all, way back in 2005. But she does remember the outcome.

''I was down a match point. I remember hitting it as hard as I could,'' recalled Williams, who ultimately saved three match points in that semifinal. ''I remember, obviously, winning and that was really great.''

Sharapova remembers it, too. Mainly because her 17-match losing streak against Williams started that day.

Both players advanced Sunday to the Australian Open quarterfinals where they will meet in a high-profile rematch of last year's final and the latest installment in their long running rivalry.

''I look forward to playing the best in the world, and that's what she's proven in the last year - the last many years,'' Sharapova said about Williams after beating Belinda Bencic 7-5, 7-5 in the fourth-round Sunday.

Williams' dominance of the women's game has created a gulf that is enormous between her spot at No. 1 and everyone else.

She has won 21 Grand Slam titles, including last year's Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon. She's won the Australian title a record six times in the Open era.

She came agonizingly close to winning all four majors last year, which would have made her the first person to complete a calendar-year Grand Slam in 27 years.

But losing, Williams said Sunday, just makes her want to win more.

''For my whole career, I have been motivated by losses,'' Williams said after beating Margarita Gasparyan 6-2, 6-1, in just 55 minutes. ''That's just been my thing. When I lose, I just get better.''

Williams has powered through the first week at the Australian Open without dropping a set. Asked if her record against Sharapova gives her extra confidence, she said it doesn't matter to her who she plays.

''I just feel like I'm really confident in my game right now, not against her or against any other opponent'' in particular, William said. ''I'm just really looking at me right now, and I feel like if I can just continue to play well, then it could be good.''

Put another way, when Williams is at the top of her game it is incredibly hard to beat her.

At 34, she is the oldest woman to hold the No. 1 ranking - but age does not appear to matter. Every tournament she plays in, it seems, holds another chance for Williams to make history.

With another championship in Melbourne, Williams would equal Steffi Graf's 22 major singles titles.

Margaret Court, the Australian great who won 24 Grand Slam singles titles and has a stadium named in her honor at Melbourne Park, was in the crowd watching Williams - and waved to her after the match.

''Obviously 24 is close, but, yet it's so far away,'' Williams said, adding that it was an honor to play in front of Court and she wasn't consciously trying to overtake her. ''Honestly, I just focus on each game at a time. I never play thinking I want to be with the great Margaret Court. I just play just want to win a Grand Slam and that's it.''

Before her match, Williams was keeping an eye on Sharapova's match and noted that she ''had a really good win today.''

Sharapova hit a career-high 21 aces and hit 58 winners, converting her second match point when she challenged a line call after her forehand was initially called long.

The five-time Grand Slam winner last won the Australian Open in 2008 and has been a finalist four times.

When her rivalry with Williams started out, she had the lead. Sharapova won consecutive matches against Williams in 2004, at Wimbledon and the season-ending championships, but hasn't won since.

It's a statistic she tries to block from her mind, particularly right before they play.

''It's not like I think about, 'What can I do worse?''' Sharapova said. ''I got myself into the quarterfinal of a Grand Slam. There is no reason I shouldn't be looking to improve and to getting my game in a better position than any previous round. It's only going to be tougher, especially against Serena.''

Sharapova takes down Bencic at Australian Open

(1/24/16) Maria Sharapova held her end of the bargain, beating Belinda Bencic 7-5, 7-5 on Sunday to reach the Australian Open quarterfinals and a possible rematch of last year’s final with Serena Williams.

The fifth-seeded Sharapova fired 21 aces and hit 58 winners but needed 2 hours, 5 minutes to beat Bencic on her second match point, converting it with a successful challenge after her forehand was initially called long but getting it overturned when the ball tracker showed it hitting the baseline.

Sharapova screamed in delight after the successful challenge, and Bencic stood for a while and had to ask the chair umpire if the match was over.

"This must be the first match I won on a challenge but it felt like a clean ball — I felt like it was on the line, I was really positive about it but I thought worst-case scenario we’re back to deuce."

Six-time champion Williams was playing No. 58-ranked Margarita Gasparyan in the next match on Rod Laver Arena. Unlike Sharapova, who had to play under the roof because play started while it was lightly raining, Williams was playing with the roof open on the main arena at Melbourne Park.

Sharapova, who won the title in 2008 and lost three finals at Melbourne Park, predicted a rematch with Williams in the next round.

"I expect to play her — I look forward to playing the best in the world and that’s what she’s proven in the last year," she said.

The 18-year-old Bencic, playing in the fourth round of a major for only the third time, again found herself on the wrong end of an opponent’s aces count. Sharapova had 21, including four on her second serve. Last year, Bencic was on the receiving end of a WTA-record 27 aces from Sabine Lisicki.

Kei Nishikori was the first male player through to the quarterfinals, beating No. 9-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 in front of a partisan crowd filled with flag-waving Japanese fans.

The seventh-seeded Nishikori, the 2014 U.S. Open finalist, also reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open last year and in 2012.

Nishikori has had trouble with Tsonga’s power game in the past, losing most recently to the Frenchman in the quarterfinals of the French Open last year.

But Tsonga lost his serve five times in the match and only managed to break Nishikori once.

No kids, but millions in the bank - Sharapova has no regrets

(1/22/16) A younger Maria Sharapova was convinced she would be retired from tennis and have children by now, but it hasn't quite turned out that way.

Instead, she has five Grand Slam titles and millions in the bank, and is listed by Forbes as the top-earning sportswoman in the world.

All in all, the 28-year-old Russian said she had no regrets about how her life has gone.

"I never thought that I'd be playing at this age, honestly," she said in Melbourne, after moving into the Australian Open fourth round.

"When I was born, my mother was very young. I thought I would, I mean, not have kids at 20, but I would have children at this point.

"When you're younger, that's what I envisioned because that's what my family had. You always look to family traditions."

Her personal life remains out of bounds, although she most recently had a relationship with fellow player Grigor Dimitrov.

Sharapova said she had managed to find a good balance between tennis, her personal life and her flourishing business career as she gets older.

As well as being one of the world's most recognisable athletes, she has become a major force in the business world with a series of successful ventures.

They include Sugapova, a candy line, and a Nike apparel collection. Forbes calculated she earned US$29.7 million in the year to last June, naming her as the highest-paid female athlete for the 11th year in a row.

Despite the luxurious life her money can bring her, she said she still likes nothing more than hitting balls on a tennis court.

"I mean, I really love what I do. Although I'd love to sit on the beach and read a book and drink margaritas, after a few days I get bored," she said.

"I know, especially when I miss a couple of weeks... I get back on the court, it's funny, those first few moments where you feel a bit rusty, but the feeling of hitting the ball, even though you're not playing points, when that comes back to me, I'm like, This is what I love to do.

"There's no better feeling."

A reflective Sharapova credited her parents Yuri and Yelena for much of what she has achieved, calling them her "rock" in a life that has seen countless people come and go.

"I've had many different people in my life. Ultimately my parents are kind of the two, you know, rocks that have really guided me in so many incredible directions," she said.

"My father paved this career for me that I just keep following. He just really opened the door to my dream. I'm just kind of living it.

"My mother opened up the world to me culturally, educationally. So I got very different things from both of them."

Fifth-Seeded Sharapova Reaches 3rd Round at Australian Open

(1/21/16) Maria Sharapova played two nearly flawless sets on either side of the one where she struggled against Lauren Davis in a slight hiccup at the Australian Open.

Sharapova, who won the title here in 2008 and has lost three finals — including last year’s decider to Serena Williams — advanced to the fourth round with a 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-1 on Friday, her 600th tour-level match win.

"Wow. I’ve won 600 matches?" Sharapova asked, responding to a question in an on-court interview. "Is this like a friendly reminder that I’m getting old? Might be."

The 28-year-old, five-time major winner is playing her 13th Australian Open since 2003 so she knew what to expect when she lost concentration in the second set despite being up and break and 30-love.

"You know you're in a Grand Slam environment, third round and against an opponent you haven't played ... that's fired up and is not going to just give you the match and that's exactly what happened," she said. "I am quite happy that I was able to step up in the third set. That was very important."

The first set was over in 26 minutes, with Sharapova getting two service breaks and not facing a break point herself. She was broken twice in the second, when Davis came back hard and eventually won in the tiebreaker, despite conceding a key point after a 27-shot rally when she volleyed into the net, and covered her face with her hand.

Sharapova took a bathroom break before the third set and returned with more composure, making just five unforced errors and breaking Davis three times.

The fifth-seeded Sharapova will next play No. 12 Belinda Bencic, who won the opening match on Rod Laver Arena 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 against Kateryna Bondarenko.

Kei Nishikori had some trouble with his wrist, taking a medical timeout and losing the next set before recovering to reach the fourth round at the Australian Open with a 7-5, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 win Friday over No. 26-seeded Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.

Nishikori reached the 2014 U.S. Open final and the quarterfinals at the Australian and French Opens in 2015 before withdrawing from his second-round match at Wimbledon with an injured left leg.

Returning to the fourth round at Melbourne Park for the fourth straight year was a confidence booster, and he said the right wrist "actually, it was OK."

"In the first set I was sore but after treatment I felt better," he said. "I tried to stay tough, concentrated again -- I played better in last set."

There was a full house on Margaret Court Arena for the match, including a big section of Japanese supporters waving flags, while matches on uncovered outside courts were delayed because of rain. Seven doubles matches were later postponed.

No. 15 David Goffin beat No. 19 Dominic Thiem 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (2), 7-5 -- his first win against a top-20 player at a Grand Slam -- to reach the fourth round in Melbourne for the first time.

He faces a tougher proposition next, against either Roger Federer or Grigor Dimitrov. Federer, who has won four titles in Australia among his 17 majors, enters the third-round contest with 299 wins in Grand Slam singles matches, aiming to be the first man to reach 300.

Defending champions and top-ranked Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic had matches scheduled for the same time later Friday. Williams was on Rod Laver Arena, the main court, against No. 69-ranked Daria Kasatkina, and Djokovic -- who has won 34 of his last 35 matches at Melbourne Park, was on Margaret Court Arena against No. 28 Andreas Seppi.

Fifth-Seeded Sharapova Reaches 3rd Round at Australian Open

(1/19/16) Maria Sharapova advanced to the third round of the Australian Open with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Aliaksandra Sasnovich, staying on course for a potential quarterfinal meeting with Serena Williams.

Sharapova was finished in 71 minutes Wednesday on Rod Laver Arena, the first match completed on day three after light rain caused delays on outside courts.

The fifth-seeded Sharapova won the 2008 Australian title and has lost three finals at Melbourne Park, including last year's decider against Williams.

Sharapova dropped two service games in the first set, including once when serving at 5-1, but was otherwise consistent except for some over-hit ground strokes.

"It's great to be back on this court after a great run last year. It was an incredible moment to be in the final of this event again," said Sharapova, who played her first-round match on Margaret Court Arena, one of three e two other covered stadiums at Melbourne Park. "To come back here and play my first match on Rod Laver is always very special as you always get those first little jitters out of the way."

Six-time champion Serena Williams was playing Hsieh Su-wei in the following match on Rod Laver Arena. Her older sister, seven-time major winner Venus Williams, was fined $5,000 on Wednesday for skipping a mandatory news conference following her first-round exit the previous day.

Kateryna Bondarenko earned one of her biggest wins since returning from retirement after having a baby in 2013, beating two-time major winner and No. 23-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-1, 7-5.

The 92nd-ranked Bondarenko is playing only her second Grand Slam tournament since returning to the tour in 2014.

No. 7-seeded Kei Nishikori, the 2014 U.S. Open finalist, advanced to the third round in the men's draw with a 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3 win over Austin Krajicek of the United States.

The Heart Of Maria Sharapova on woman with drive

(1/19/16) The Heart Of Maria Sharapova on woman with drive: (Video.

Russia's next generation will take time says Sharapova

(1/18/16) Russia's search for its next generation of grand slam champions will take time and the country should not expect the success it enjoyed in the first decade of the 2000s overnight, according to Maria Sharapova.

Playing her first match of 2016 after a sore forearm forced her out of the Brisbane International this month, the Russian hammered Japan's Nao Hibino 6-1 6-3 to make the second round of the Australian Open.

Sharapova, who won her first grand slam title at Wimbledon in 2004 aged 17, was in the vanguard of a successful run of the country's women from the mid-2000s that has dried up in recent years.

Now 28, Sharapova has been the only Russian woman to win a grand slam singles since Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2009.

"Just because you're successful for a certain period of time from a country, doesn't mean there's a younger generation coming up right behind them that's expected and mandatory to do well," she told reporters.

Russian women swept the three Olympic singles medals in Beijing in 2008 and Russia also won four Fed Cup titles in five years from 2004-08 but Sharapova said past success did not point to a conveyor belt of future champions although "ultimately somebody will take your place".

"That's just not the way things work. It takes time, takes experience, takes financial help," she said.

"It takes a lot of the right directions, coaches, infrastructure, everything."

Scintillating Sharapova storms past Hibino

(1/18/16) Maria Sharapova showed few signs of rustiness as she romped to a 6-1 6-3 win over Nao Hibino in the Australian Open first round on Monday.

The fifth seed had not played a competitive match in the build-up to the first grand slam of 2016, having withdrawn from the Brisbane International due to an arm injury.

It was also Sharapova's first slam appearance since the semi-finals of Wimbledon after a leg strain kept her out of last year's US Open, but the Russian's typically powerful ground strokes and baseline dominance punished Hibino and the match was sewn up in just 73 minutes.

Hibino made a poor start as she went long with a forehand to gift Sharapova the first break. The Japanese was under the cosh again in game six and, although she saved four break points, a vicious backhand drew a double-break lead for Sharapova.

The 2008 Australian Open champion broke again at the start of the second set and it was quickly a double-break lead when Hibino put a forehand long, a simple Sharapova hold then making it 4-0.

Hibino drew a big cheer from the Margaret Court Arena crowd when she fought back from 15-40 to finally get on the scoreboard in the second set, and Sharapova uncharacteristically wasted three match points at 5-2 up to give the world number 56 a glimmer of hope.

But that was soon stifled as Sharapova broke straight back, ending the match with a cross-court forehand.

STATISTICAL BREAKDOWN

Sharapova [5] bt Hibino 6-1 6-3

ACES

Sharapova - 11

Hibino - 1

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Sharapova - 28/21

Hibino - 11/18

BREAK POINTS WON

Sharapova - 5/15

Hibino - 1/1

FIRST SERVE PERCENTAGE

Sharapova - 61

Hibino - 72

PERCENTAGE OF POINTS WON ON FIRST/SECOND SERVE

Sharapova - 86/44

Hibino - 42/53

TOTAL POINTS

Sharapova - 65

Hibino - 41

Sharapova set to play in Fed Cup

(1/18/16) Team captain Anastasia Myskina said that world number five Maria Sharapova had confirmed she would play for Russia in the Fed Cup opening round match with Netherlands in Moscow on February 6-7. "We're happy that Russia's top player will be in our squad again," Russia's tennis federation official site quoted Myskina as saying. "It was her own decision. She said it's very important for her to play in front of her home crowd." Myskina added that two-time former Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, doubles specialist Ekaterina Makarova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova would also be in the Russian team.

Walk the Mile with Maria Sharapova

(1/16/16) Walk the Mile with Maria Sharapova: Video.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2016: Capsules on top women's players

(1/16/16) MARIA SHARAPOVA

Seeded: 5

Age: 28

Country: Russia

2015 Match Record: 39-9

2015 Singles Titles: 2

Career Singles Titles: 35

Major Titles: 5 — Australian Open ('08), French Open ('12, '14), Wimbledon ('04), U.S. Open ('06)

Last 5 Australian Opens: '15-F, '14-4th, '13-SF, '12-F, 11-4th

Topspin: Enters the Australian Open with injury concerns after withdrawing as defending champion from the season-opening Brisbane International because of soreness in her left forearm, but says she is 100 percent recovered from injuries which forced her to miss three months late last year, including the U.S. Open. ... Lost final here in straight sets to Serena Williams, and the pair could meet in the quarterfinals this year. ... Hasn't beaten Serena since 2004, losing in their last 17 meetings. ... Is looking forward to competing at the Rio Olympics. She won silver for Russia at the London Olympics in 2012, and despite losing badly to Serena Williams in the final, 6-0, 6-1, she has fond memories. "I had an incredible experience in London," Sharapova says. "It was very special to be an Olympian for the very first time."

Upbeat Sharapova airs laundry mix-ups in public

(1/16/16) Maria Sharapova says her Australian Open preparations have gone smoothly despite her lack of recent on-court action, all barring a mix-up at the Melbourne Park laundry over a pair of leopard print underwear.

Sharapova, Australian Open champion in 2008, pulled out of her title defense at the Brisbane International two weeks ago because of a left forearm problem, one of a string of injuries to have dogged the 28-year-old since the middle of last year.

Nevertheless, the fifth seed said she was good to go in her bid improve on her runner-up finish to Serena Williams in her fourth Melbourne final last year.

"I feel really good. Got to Melbourne earlier than I wanted to. But it gave me a chance to practise here this week. Had great days on a lot of the courts," the Russian told reporters on Saturday.

"I've always been someone that's been able to treat their practice as something meaningful, there's something on the line, you're not just going through the motions.

"That's one of the reasons I believe in myself knowing, okay, I may not have played five matches in Brisbane, but if I commit myself, train well, get some practice sets in, I know with that mindset I'll be able to (compete).

"Yes, I might be rusty, make a few more unforced errors than I would like, but I'm ready to go."

Sharapova, who starts her campaign against Japan's Nao Hibino, said not even playing a warm-up event could prepare a player fully for the challenges of a tournament opener.

"First matches at a grand slam ... it's always tricky, especially going into a match against somebody I've never faced before," she said.

"There's a lot of new things. You have to have a little bit of a different perspective and figure things out quickly as soon as you can."

One thing Sharapova perhaps had not expected on Saturday was a question about laundry mishaps but happily she had an anecdote immediately to hand after the quirky inquiry was made.

"I actually just returned a pair of underwear that wasn't mine, like 45 minutes ago. Funny you ask that," she laughed.

"It was a female pair of underwear, not male. It was leopard. I'm like, 'that's not mine'.

"Any more laundry situations I need to clear up before we get on with our day?"

Practice makes perfect for upbeat Sharapova

(1/16/16) Maria Sharapova Saturday said she is in good shape and not worried about a lack of match practice going into the Australian Open after an injury-hit start to the year.

The fifth seed, attempting to win her first title at Melbourne Park since 2008, pulled out of the season-opening Brisbane International with a left forearm problem, but the upbeat 28-year-old said she's raring to go.

"I feel really good, I got to Melbourne earlier than I wanted to. But it gave me a chance to practice here this week. Had great days on a lot of the courts," she said.

Sharapova has been plagued by injury since July, after she lost in the Wimbledon semi-finals to Serena Williams, but insisted she has shrugged off any lingering effects.

Despite not playing a match this year, she said she was experienced enough to make the best use of her time on the practice courts to compensate.

"You can't replicate what you do out on the court when you're playing a match in front of thousands of people, there's nothing like it, you can never compare it," she said.

"But I've always been someone that's been able to treat their practice as something meaningful, there's something on the line, you're not just going through the motions.

"That's one of the reasons I believe in myself knowing, okay, I may not have played five matches in Brisbane, but if I commit myself, train well, get some practice sets in, I know with that mindset I'll be able to take it.

"Yes, I might be rusty, make a few more unforced errors than I would like, but I'm ready to go."

The latter half of Sharapova's 2015 season was wrecked by injuries, first to her right leg which forced her to miss the US Open.

She retired from her comeback match at the Wuhan Open in China in September with a left forearm injury, only returning for the WTA Tour finals in Singapore at the end of October.

Despite this she managed two tournament wins (Brisbane and Rome) last year, with a 39-9 win-loss record and an extra US$3.9 million dollars in prize money in the bank.

Sharapova gets her Australian Open underway against Japan's Nao Hibino with a potential quarter-final against her nemesis Williams, who beat her in the final last year and has won every match they have played since 2004.

But the Russian said she was not looking beyond her first round clash.

"I can't look too far ahead of myself. I haven't played for a few weeks," she said.

"I have to keep my expectations quite low and just work my way, work my game, work my mindset through this draw."

Sharapova not worried about Australian Open preparation

(1/16/16) Maria Sharapova is not concerned by the lack of competitive tennis in the build up to next week's Australian Open.

World number five Sharapova pulled out of the Brisbane International with an arm injury last week.

As a result, Sharapova has not played a single competitive match in the lead up to Australian Open, which gets underway on Monday.

But Sharapova said: "I feel really good. I got to Melbourne earlier than I wanted to, but it gave me a chance to practice here this week.

"I've had great days on a lot of the courts."

Sharapova said past experience meant it was easy for her to make such calls as she did to withdraw from Brisbane.

"[Withdrawing] always is a really tough decision. When you come to a tournament like Brisbane, where you're defending champion," Sharapova said.

"You find yourself in a tricky situation of, 'can I go out there, should I go out there? I have a pretty big event in 10 or 14 days'.

"I think experience helps in those moments. It's always very difficult because I'm someone that always sticks to the schedule that I make.

"But I think I've been fortunate in my career to have won grand slams and to kind of have a bigger picture of my goals.

"Sometimes I try not to focus on so many tournaments, not focus on rankings, and focus on being healthy, which is really, really important at a high professional sport."

Sharapova takes on Japan's Nao Hibino in the first round.

20 Questions With Maria Sharapova

(1/15/16) 20 Questions With Maria Sharapova: .

Williams, Sharapova in same quarter at Aussie Open

(1/14/16) Defending champion Serena Williams and No. 5-ranked Maria Sharapova were drawn into the same section for the Australian Open on Friday, meaning last year's finalists could meet in the quarterfinals.

Six-time champion Williams has a tough draw starting in the opening round against Camila Giorgi of Italy, who finished 2015 at No. 34 and was the highest-ranked player who was not seeded for the season's first major.

Williams could also meet former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round.

Sharapova fully fit for Australian Open challenge

(1/14/16) Multiple grand slam champion Maria Sharapova has declared herself fully fit and ready for next week's Australian Open after having her preparations hampered by a forearm injury.

The Russian world number five was forced to withdraw from the Brisbane International last week with the ailment, sparking fears she might miss the first grand slam of the year which begins on Monday.

The 2008 Australian Open champion and last year's runner-up opted to arrive in Melbourne early to practice rather than seek matches at one of the other warm-up tournaments taking place across the country this week.

"The injury was a bit of a roadblock but the great thing is that I've been healthy the three days and everyone's been away playing so I've had a lot of court time which has been really beneficial," Sharapova was quoted as saying by Australian Associated Press on Wednesday.

The 28-year-old, who missed the U.S Open last year because of a leg injury, was among a quartet of top players who were a doubt for Melbourne because of nagging ailments.

World number one Serena Williams (knee), Simona Halep (Achilles) and Garbine Muguruza (foot) all pulled out of matches last week but Sharapova said it was understandable for players to be wary ahead of a major.

"I think everyone sees the bigger picture and that's one of the things that I thought about -- you want to do what you can to be healthy and be a part of the grand slam so sometimes that's a decision you have to make."

Australian Open Seeds

(1/14/16) 1. Serena Williams, United States
2. Simona Halep, Romania
3. Garbine Muguruza, Spain
4. Agnieszka Radwanska, Poland
5. Maria Sharapova, Russia
6. Petra Kvitova, Czech Republic
7. Angelique Kerber, Germany
8. Venus Williams, United States
9. Karolina Pliskova, Czech Republic
10. Carla Suarez Navarro, Spain
11. Timea Bacsinszky, Switzerland
12. Belinda Bencic, Switzerland
13. Roberta Vinci, Italy
14. Victoria Azarenka, Belarus
15. Madison Keys, United States
16. Caroline Wozniacki, Denmark
17. Sara Errani, Italy
18. Elina Svitolina, Ukraine
19. Jelena Jankovic, Serbia
20. Ana Ivanovic, Serbia
21. Ekaterina Makarova, Russia
22. Andrea Petkovic, Germany
23. Svetlana Kuznetsova, Russia
24. Sloane Stephens, United States
25. Samantha Stosur, Australia
26. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Russia
27. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, Slovakia
28. Kristina Mladenovic, France
29. Irina-Camelia Begu, Romania
30. Sabine Lisicki, Germany
31. Lesia Tsurenko, Ukraine
32. Caroline Garcia, France.

Sharapova withdraws from Brisbane International with injury

(1/4/16) Maria Sharapova withdrew from her season-opening event at the Brisbane International rather than risk further damage to a sore left forearm ahead of the Australian Open.

Sharapova, the defending champion, was scheduled to play fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova on Tuesday but withdrew hours before the first-round match.

The five-time major winner said she'd hurt her forearm in practice a couple of days earlier and pulled out the Brisbane tournament as a precaution ahead of the first Grand Slam tournament of the season, which starts Jan. 18 at Melbourne Park.

Sharapova won the Brisbane and Rome titles in 2015 and lost the final of the Australian Open to Serena Williams, who added the French Open and Wimbledon titles and was two match victories from a season Grand Slam when she lost to Roberta Vinci in the U.S. Open semifinals.

Williams withdrew from her season-opening match at the Hopman Cup in Perth on Monday because of inflammation in her knee, but was hoping to be fit to play for the U.S. team against Australia Gold on Tuesday.

Vinci, meanwhile, moved into the Brisbane International quarterfinals with a 6-1, 6-1 victory over 2014 Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova. She'll meet either top-seeded Simona Halep or 2009 champion Victoria Azarenka in the last eight.

At the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand, former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone lost 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-3 to Austrian qualifier Tamira Paszek in a first-round match that lasted almost three hours.

Former No.1-ranked players Caroline Wozniacki, Venus Williams and Ana Ivanovic were due on court later Tuesday.

Sharapova only focused on major events

(1/3/16) Maria Sharapova is hoping a more relaxed approach to the new season could yield rewards in the grand slam events.

The world number four took three months off as she struggled with injuries after suffering a semi-final elimination at Wimbledon in 2015.

However, upon her return she charged to the final four of the WTA finals and impressed during the Fed Cup.

Sharapova is keen to tackle this campaign in a measured manner, with her sights largely set on the top competitions – including the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

"I think it will be one of those years where I'll just have to go with the flow and even though you have to commit to a certain schedule and work around a few things, I think I'm really just dedicating myself to the really important events," the Russian said.

"I look at my schedule and do that every single year, but just with the Olympics, it's in a very tricky spot just after two grand slams back to back.

"After the Fed Cup I said that I'll take a little bit of time off after the Australian summer, but you never know how things are going to pan out, so I'll see how it goes.

"I took a lot of positives out of the end of last year, especially the Fed Cup weekend, and it was just great to mentally feel like I was back on the court, withstanding such physical matches and getting through them and feeling really confident and healthy."

Sharapova begins the year with the defence of her Brisbane International title and is hopeful of achieving glory once again.

"I'm not good at comparing, but every year you feel like you're in a different position and in different ground," she added.

"I came here [last year] not as defending champion and now I have a title to defend which is a really special feeling and I played some really high quality tennis. As you return to that place and that centre court you always want to relive those memories."

Sharapova to face Makarova in Brisbane first round

(1/1/16) Maria Sharapova will open her Australian campaign with a match against Ekaterina Makarova following Friday's draw for the Brisbane International.

Defending champion and third seed Sharapova will play world number 23 Makarova in a rematch from last year's Australian Open semi-final.

"This was a grand slam semi-final last year in Australia," five-time grand slam champion Sharapova told reporters.

"For a first match, it's a pretty high-quality match against a pretty tough opponent."

World number four Sharapova, 28, who beat Ana Ivanovic in last year's Brisbane final, leads Makarova 6-0 in their past meetings.

World number two and top seed Simona Halep has drawn a bye for her opening round but could face two-time Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka in the second round.

Spain's Garbine Muguruza is the second seed. After a first-round bye she will face either American Varvara Lepchenko or Slovakian Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

The women's field boasts nine of the world's top 20 as well as former world number ones Azarenka and Jelena Jankovic.

In the men's draw, Australian wildcard Ben Mitchell or a qualifier are in line to become Roger Federer's first opponent in 2016.

The 17-time grand slam champion Federer will receive a first-up bye.

Australia's seventh seed Bernard Tomic will take on Frenchman Nicolas Mahut in the first round.

The tournament begins on Sunday.

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