Maria Sharapova
Siberian Siren
Tennis Champion



Last updated: November 17, 2018 | 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
Book (Hardcover): Unstoppable: My Life So Far
Book (Kindle): Unstoppable: My Life So Far
Book (Audio): Unstoppable: My Life So Far
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

2018 At A Glance

Current WTA Rank: 22
WTA Tournaments Played: 11
WTA Record: 21-10
Hardcourt: 10-5
Clay: 11-4
Carpet: 0-0
Grass: 0-1

Tournaments Won in 2017

Tianjin Open

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2018 Tournament Results

Tournament (Seed) Surface Round Opponent W/L Score
Shenzhen Gemdale Open Hard First Round Mihaela Buzarnescu W 6-3, 6-0
Dec. 31 - Jan. 6 Second Round Alison Riske W 4-6, 6-3, 6-2
Quarterfinals Zarina Diyas W 6-3, 6-3
Semifinals Katerina Siniakova L 2-6, 6-3, 3-6
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Australian Open Hard First Round Tatjana Maria W 6-1, 6-4
Jan. 15 - Jan. 28 Second Round Anastasija Sevastova W 6-1, 7-6 (7-4)
Third Round Angelique Kerber L 6-1, 6-3
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Qatar Total Open Hard First Round Monica Niculescu L 6-4, 4-6, 3-6
Feb. 12 - Feb. 17
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
BNP Paribas Open Hard First Round Naomi Osaka L 4-6, 4-6
Mar. 7 - Mar. 18
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Porsche Tennis Grand Prix Clay First Round Caroline Garcia L 6-3, 6-7 (6-8), 4-6
Apr. 23 - Apr. 29
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Mutua Madrid Open Clay First Round Mihaela Buzarnescu W 6-4, 6-1
May 5 - May 13 Second Round Irina-Camelia Begu W 7-5, 6-1
Third Round Kristina Mladenovic W 6-3, 6-4
Quarterfinals Kiki Bertens L 6-4, 2-6, 3-6
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Internazionali BNL d'Italia Clay First Round Ashleigh Barty W 7-5, 3-6, 6-2
May 13 - May 20 Second Round Dominika Cibulkova W 3-6, 6-4, 6-2
Third Round Daria Gavrilova W 6-3, 6-4
Quarterfinals Jelena Ostapenko W 6-7 (6-8), 6-4, 7-5
Semifinals Simona Halep L 6-4, 1-6, 4-6
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Roland Garros (28) Clay First Round Richel Hogenkamp W 6-1, 4-6, 6-3
May 27 - Jun. 10 Second Round Donna Vekic W 7-5, 6-4
Third Round Karolina Pliskova W 6-2, 6-1
Fouth Round Serena Williams W W/O
Quarterfinals Garbine Muguruza L 2-6, 1-6
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Wimbledon (24) Grass First Round Vitalia Diatchenko L 6-7 (3), 7-6 (3), 6-4
Jul. 2 - Jul. 15
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
Rogers Cup Hard First Round Sesil Karatantcheva W 6-1, 6-2
Aug. 6 - Aug. 12 Second Round Daria Kasatkina W 6-0, 6-2
----- ----- ----- ----- ----- -----
US Open (22) Hard First Round Patty Schnyder W 6-2 7-6(6)
Aug. 27 - Sep. 9 Second Round Sorana Cirstea W 6-2 7-5
Third Round Jelena Ostapenko W 6-3, 6-2
Fourth Round Carla Suarez Navarro L 6-4, 6-3

NEWS

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A-listers toast Billie Jean King at 75th birthday bash

(11/17/18) Billie Jean King celebrated her 75th birthday with her partner of 39 years Ilana Kloss at the New-York Historical Society, we hear.

The evening also served as a party for photo exhibit “Billie Jean King: The Road to 75” and as a fundraiser for the Billie Jean King Leadership Initiative.

The soirée began with a montage of King’s career, then Emma Stone and Alan Cumming performed a duet, and Sara Bareilles and Cyndi Lauper also sang.

Guests included John McEnroe, Maria Sharapova, Robert Kraft, Tony Bennett and Holly Hunter.

Barack Obama and Elton John were part of a video tribute.

Maria Sharapova wants to play 2020 Tokyo Olympics, says tennis insider

(10/22/18) Maria Sharapova was expected to come at the Kremlin VTB Cup as a special guest as she had signed a deal with the tournament to compete there and also promote the event, but it won't happen. The president of the Russian tennis federation Shamil Tarpischev said: 'Maria is very unlikely to come.

She decided to start preparing for the next season. It will be important, she will have to become elegible to play Tokyo Olympics and Maria wants to play there.' The ATP and WTA tournaments at the Kremlin Cup take place in the same week.

Could it change in the future? 'We appreciate that this is the only men's and women's tournament combined in our country. We want to keep this format. We can split the men's and women's events if there is no space for the competition.' Moscow seems to have a stable place on the tennis Tour, unlike the Hopman Cup that could take place for the last time late this year from 29th of December to 5th of January as in 2020, the ATP World Team Cup is set to get re-introduced in the Calendar.

The Hopman Cup tournament director Paul Kilderry hopes that the event will continue to be played after 2019. 'We've got a contract through to 2022 with the government and our intent is to honour that contract,' Kilderry said.

'The world of tennis is more political at the moment than I've ever seen in my 30 years of being around it. The Davis Cup has changed - there's a lot of change at the moment. I don't think anyone has a real clear outlook on it.

We've just got to focus on this year's event, have a great event and our intent is to honour the contract we have.'

Sharapova cuts season short due to shoulder injury recovery

(9/19/18) Maria Sharapova says she will end her 2018 season early, withdrawing from the China Open in Beijing, the Tianjin Open, and the Kremlin Cup in Moscow due to her recovery from a right shoulder injury.

''I will miss competing at each of these tournaments, but it is important that I allow for proper rest and recovery in the upcoming weeks,'' Sharapova said in a statement on the WTA website.

Sharapova, ranked 24th in the world, was the defending champion at Tianjin.

Five-time major champion Sharapova lost in the first round at Wimbledon and the fourth round at the U.S. Open.

The WTA said Sharapova expects to start her 2019 season at the Shenzhen Open, which begins Dec. 31 in the southeast China city.

Maria Sharapova Shuts Down 2018 Season, Withdraws From Tournaments

(9/17/18) Maria Sharapova is shutting down her 2018 season and will withdraw from the three tournaments that she was set to compete in later this year, according to Ben Rothenberg of the New York Times.

Sharapova is looking to get some rest and will not participate in the China Open, Tianjin Open or VTB Kremlin Cup.

Sharapova reportedly plans to start her 2019 season at the Shenzen Open. That same event is where she started her 2018 season and put together one of her best tournament runs of the year as she reached the semifinals.

That was one of two times Sharapova advanced passed the quarterfinals in a tournament this year, but both runs ended in the semifinals.

Sharapova had a mixed bag of results at Grand Slams in 2018. She reached the quarterfinals at the French Open, the round of 16 at the U.S. Open, the round of 32 at the Australian Open and was bounced in the first round at Wimbledon.

Sharapova beaten by birthday girl Suarez Navarro in New York

(9/3/18) Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro celebrated her 30th birthday in style at the U.S. Open on Monday by beating Russian Maria Sharapova 6-4 6-3 to book her place in the quarter-finals.

Sharapova, the 2006 champion, had never lost a night session match in New York prior to her first Grand Slam meeting with Suarez Navarro.

"Thank you so much guys," Suarez Navarro said courtside after being wished happy birthday by the crowd. "It's the first time I've played this year at night. I'm very happy because I played a good match."

Five-times Grand Slam champion Sharapova paid the price for 38 unforced errors and won less than half of her first serve points while committing eight double faults.

"I didn't take care of the chances that I had," the Russian told reporters. "By chances, I mean the balls that were a little bit shorter.

"I hesitated to move forward. The balls where I did attack, I made unforced errors, especially on that inside-out forehand today."

With her most potent weapon not firing, Sharapova succumbed in one hour and 31 minutes under the floodlights at the Arthur Ashe Stadium, allowing 30th seed Suarez Navarro to record just her second career victory over the Russian in six attempts.

"Maria is a really good player. I mean, she's one of the best. I'm happy to beat her tonight," Suarez Navarro said.

"Sometimes on this court, it is easy to (get confused). Well, the crowd, the music, it's crazy. It's a really good show, but for the players sometimes it's tough, especially for me.

"I just tried to be focused. I tried to think about not too much things, just my work, my job. Today it worked."

The Spaniard will meet last year's runner up Madison Keys in the quarters and knows she will be the underdog against the 14th seeded American.

"It will be a really tough match. She is from the United States so the crowd will probably help her," Suarez Navarro added.

"I need to be aggressive ... try to be solid, run and fight. This is the way that I can play really good tennis. I have the character inside, sometimes I have to show more but, well, I'm working on that."

Working U.S. Open night shift fine with Sharapova

(9/1/18) Maria Sharapova continued to enjoy working the U.S. Open night shift with a 6-3 6-2 humbling of 10th seeded Latvian Jelena Ostapenko on Saturday, improving her record to 22-0 under the Arthur Ashe Stadium floodlights.

There is no denying Sharapova's love for the big stage or the New York crowd's love for her and the five-time Grand Slam champion admitted that she feeds off the buzz.

"It's the energy you get, no doubt I feed off this energy," said Sharapova, who used that inspiration to carry her to victory at the 2006 U.S. Open.

"I don't remember how old I was when I played my first night match, but I'm sure I was young enough to still be intimidated by the city and the lights and the atmosphere, the noise.

"But I really turned that around. I think I thrive on that.

"I love the atmosphere. I love that they know how to cheer hard. I thrive on playing under the lights for some reason. I love that."

Even if the match was played at night there was no masking the poor quality of the opening set that featured four breaks of serve.

Ostapenko, who was the runaway leader in double faults at this year's final Grand Slam, had three alone in her opening service game but was not punished for her sloppiness with Sharapova unable to convert any of five break chances.

Eventually Sharapova would cash in on Ostapenko's generosity with the Latvian offering up 11 break opportunities and the Russian converting three - more than enough to take the first set.

"First game was a tricky game," said Ostapenko, who had 41 unforced errors to go along with six double faults. "But then I served two good serves on deuce. I won that game.

"Then everything went just not my way. I was making so many unforced errors.

"With that level, it was tough to beat Maria."

The nightmare serving continued into the second set with four consecutive breaks before Sharapova finally managed a hold for 3-2.

Ostapenko, however, would not manage to hold her serve at any point in the set and Sharapova broke the 2017 French Open champion twice more to clinch the victory.

The 31-year-old will meet Carla Suarez Navarro in the last 16 after the Spaniard upset French sixth seed Caroline Garcia 5-7 6-4 7-6(4).

Sharapova battles past Cirstea to set up Ostapenko clash

(8/31/18) Maria Sharapova battled past unseeded Romanian Sorana Cirstea 6-2 7-5 at the U.S. Open on Thursday to set up a third round clash with Latvia's Jelena Ostapenko.

Sharapova, who is seeded 22nd on her first appearance at Flushing Meadows since 2016, carved out a 3-0 first set lead despite making several mistakes early on and finished strongly with a dominant performance from the baseline.

Cirstea fought back with some hard hitting of her own, breaking the Sharapova serve in the first game of the second set and opening up a 4-2 lead before cracking under relentless pressure from the 2006 champion.

The Romanian sent a forehand into the net to offer Sharapova a break point, and allowed the Russian to level at 4-4 with a double fault.

Both players exchanged further breaks of serve until Sharapova finally held to go 6-5 up, before piling pressure on her opponent as she served to stay in the match.

Cirstea committed her fourth double fault to give the Russian two match points and conceded the contest with her 32nd unforced error, which Sharapova greeted with a fist-pumping celebration.

The former world number one, who beat Swiss veteran Patty Schnyder in the first round, has never lost a night session match at Flushing Meadows in 22 attempts.

"Well, numbers are all relative, it's really a nice accomplishment but it doesn't win me any more Grand Slams," Sharapova said courtside as the clock ticked past 1:00 a.m.

"There's something about this court, something about New York, there's something about this crowd. You have to be a little crazy to be here past midnight, so thank you."

Sharapova will resume her quest for a sixth Grand Slam crown against 10th seed Ostapenko, who beat American Taylor Townsend 4-6 6-3 6-4 earlier in the day.

"It only gets tougher from here," the Russian added. "Being seeded in the 20s means you're going to get grand slam winners in the third round, as I have. But I'm looking forward to it."

Sharapova edges past spirited Schnyder at Flushing Meadows

(8/29/18) Maria Sharapova overcame a shaky start and survived a spirited fightback from Patty Schnyder to defeat the Swiss veteran 6-2 7-6(6) in the first round of the U.S. Open on Tuesday.

Five-times Grand Slam champion Sharapova, who won at Flushing Meadows in 2006, struggled with her serve at times in the opening set but Schnyder failed to take full advantage.

The Swiss retired from tennis after being beaten in the first round of the French Open in 2011 but returned in 2015 and last week became the oldest woman qualifier to reach the main draw of a Grand Slam at the age of 39 years and eight months.

She was handed an early break by Sharapova after the Russian made three double faults in her opening service game, but double faulted on break point on her own serve to hand the initiative straight back.

With the first four service games all broken, Sharapova held for the first time to take a 3-2 lead and, having got her nose in front, found both her rhythm and serve and began dictating play from the baseline.

The 22nd seed wrapped up the first set in 40 minutes and was leading 5-1 in the second before Schnyder embarked on a remarkable rally.

Schnyder started to take the pace off the ball to gain a greater degree of control and the approach paid dividends as Sharapova's error count mounted.

The Russian, who hit 22 winners but made 46 unforced errors, needed four match points to end Schnyder's resistance as the match went to a tiebreak, eventually sealing victory with a powerful forehand winner.

"I started making a lot of mistakes," Sharapova said. "She became really consistent. I think I just really wanted to finish it off and was just giving her a lot of free looks.

"I still have a lot of things to work on."

Sharapova next faces Romanian Sorana Cirstea, who she expects to come hard and fast at her.

"She's someone that plays extremely aggressive," Sharapova said. "Sometimes you don't really know what you're going to get in a matchup like that.

"But for me I think just stepping away from who I'm playing, zoning in on what I need to improve on, that will be my focus. There's quite a few things."

Serena tops Forbes list of highest paid female athletes

(8/22/18) Serena Williams was the highest paid female athlete for a third consecutive year in 2018, according to an annual list published by Forbes on Tuesday that was dominated by tennis players.

Williams, who returned to competition in March after giving birth last September, earned $62,000 in winnings over the past year but received $18.1 million from an endorsement portfolio unmatched among women in sports, Forbes said.

Williams, who will try to equal Margaret Court's record of 24 grand slam titles when she competes at the Aug. 27-Sept. 9 U.S. Open in New York, earned twice as much off the court as any other female athlete, according to Forbes.

Dane Caroline Wozniacki, who captured her maiden grand slam title at this year's Australian Open, was second on the list with combined earnings of ($13 million) while reigning U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens ($11.2 million) was third.

Spaniard Garbine Muguruza ($11 million) and Russian Maria Sharapova ($10.5 million) rounded out the top five.

Indian badminton player P.V. Sindhu ($8.5 million) and retired race car driver Danica Patrick ($7.5 million) were the only non-tennis players to crack the top 10, filling up the seventh and ninth spots, respectively.

In June, Forbes issued a ranking of the world's 100 highest-paid athletes and it did not feature a woman.

Serena Williams, who was the only woman on the list the previous year, dropped out of the chart while taking time off to have a baby.

Sharapova cruises past Kasatkina at Rogers Cup

(8/8/18) Maria Sharapova continued her bid to climb back to the top of women’s tennis with a 6-0, 6-2 victory over 12th-seeded Daria Kasatkina in the second round of the women’s Rogers Cup on Wednesday.

Sharapova, the former world No. 1 who was ranked 149th a year ago after serving a 15-month doping ban, posted a second one-sided win in a row after a 6-1, 6-2 defeat of qualifier Sesil Karatantcheva in the opening round.

The Russian will face fifth-seeded Caroline Garcia of France in the third round. Sharapova is 4-1 in previous meetings, but Garcia won their last one this year in Stuttgart.

Unseeded Kiki Bertens is ranked 18th in the world so it wasn’t much of an upset when she beat ninth-seeded Karolina Pliskova 6-2, 6-2 to advance to a third-round encounter with eighth-seeded Petra Kvitova.

Alize Cornet of France defeated off-form Wimbledon champion Angelique Kerber 6-4, 6-1 to advance to a third round meeting with 15th-seeded Ashleigh Barty of Australia, who downed Belgian Alison Van Uytvanck 7-6 (7) 6-2.

Kerber leads her all-time series with Cornet 3-2, but the Frenchwoman has won both of their meetings on hard courts. Cornet’s last win over a player ranked in the top-5 in the world was also a hard court win over Kerber in Beijing in 2017.

Kerber led the WTA Tour in hard court wins this year with 21, but she wilted in the sticky heat at IGA Stadium in her first match since her Wimbledon triumph.

"It is one match, I know I have to learn from it," said fourth-seeded Kerber. "I took a few weeks off after Wimbledon so I knew I had to come here, play a lot of matches, and also to get used to the hard courts again.

"Of course, it was not the plan to play just one match but, at the end, this is tennis. Every tournament starts from zero. Now I’ll try to get ready for the next tournament."

The top eight seeds got a bye to the second round.

Qualifier Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain, a former top-10 player, got past Lesia Tsurenko 6-4, 3-2 when her Ukrainian opponent retired in the second set.

Francoise Abanda of Montreal, the last Canadian left in the singles draw, is to face American Sloane Stevens later Wednesday on what is forecast to be a rainy day.

Maria Sharapova advances at Rogers Cup

(8/7/18) Maria Sharapova advanced to the second round of the Rogers Cup with a 6-1, 6-2 victory over qualifier Sesil Karatantcheva of Bulgaria on Tuesday.

Play resumed under the afternoon sun with Sharapova leading 4-1 in the first set after heavy rain and lightning forced organizers to suspend the match late Monday following a three-hour rain delay.

Sharapova, making her first Rogers Cup appearance since 2014, picked up where she left off Monday. She won six straight games after the restart and needed only 36 minutes to win the second set.

The 31-year-old had three aces and only committed two double faults to her opponent's 11.

''Would have loved to finish last night to get a break today, but that's not how things work,'' Sharapova said. ''You have to adjust. I think I did a good job of finishing the job today.''

The Russian is 5-0 all time against the 229th-ranked Karatantcheva, who was playing in her first WTA main draw in more than a year.

Sharapova, ranked 22nd in the world, will face Daria Kasatkina of Russia (No. 12) or Maria Sakkari of Greece (No. 31) in the second round.

Canada's Eugenie Bouchard is out after a 6-2, 6-4 first-round loss to Elise Mertens of Belgium.

The 129th-ranked Bouchard lost the match in 1 hour, 34 minutes in front of her hometown fans as she dropped to 4-11 all time at the Rogers Cup.

The Westmount, Quebec, native started the match poorly. She was broken three times and dropped the first five games of the first set.

The 24-year-old showed signs of life though, winning back-to-back games in the first set before losing 6-2. She started the second set by winning her first three games.

But Bouchard's service game let her down the entire match, and it allowed Mertens to claw her way back into the second set.

Bouchard was broken twice in the second, for a total of five times in the match, as Mertens won the next five games en route to the victory.

Bouchard connected on just 54 percent of her first serves and won 56 percent of her first service points.

The 15th-ranked Mertens, who is making her Rogers Cup debut, will now face either Shuai Zhang of China (No. 32) or qualifier Barbora Krejcikova (No. 232) of the Czech Republic in the second round.

Bouchard has not beaten a top-20 player since defeating Angelique Kerber at the Madrid Open in May 2017.

Earlier Tuesday, Latvia's Jelena Ostapenko was eliminated after a 6-7 (6), 6-1, 6-2 loss to Britain's Johanna Konta.

Ostapenko, the 11th seed in Montreal, committed 10 double faults while struggling with her serve as she was eliminated in the first round at the Rogers Cup for the third straight year.

Konta had eight aces while committing just three double faults.

''Because of the back and forth in that first set, after that what I did well was I settled down,'' said Konta, the former world No. 4. ''I played myself into the match and tried to be as tough as possible.

''She has such a big game, so many big shots, sometimes you are spectator out there. When I had the opportunity to do the most I could, stay strong, I think I built up enough momentum. That's why I was able to keep pushing through in the second and third.''

In other early matches, Kiki Bertens of the Netherlands made quick work of Carol Zhao of Canada, winning 6-1, 6-2 while world No. 8 Petra Kvitova outlasted Anett Kontaveit of Estonia 6-3, 6-4.

Belgium's Alison Van Uytvanck cruised past Russian qualifier Sofya Zhuk 6-1, 6-2 and Sorana Cirstea beat Monica Niculescu 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 in an all-Romanian matchup.

The 10th seed Julia Goerges of Germany came from a set down to beat qualifier Lucie Safarova 2-6, 6-4, 6-3.

Garbine Muguruza, the tournament's eighth seed, withdrew with an arm injury. Puerto Rico's Monica Puig took her spot in the main draw.

Serena, Sharapova and Murray among unseeded stars for Cincy

(8/6/18) Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova and Andy Murray were among the stars who went unseeded Monday for next week's WTA and ATP Cincinnati Masters event.

Novak Djokovic and Venus Williams also were among the Grand Slam champions who missed out on a first-round bye at the last major tuneup event for the US Open, which starts August 27 in New York.

Top seeds for the Cincinnati event followed the latest ATP and WTA rankings with world number ones Rafael Nadal of Spain and Simona Halep of Romania leading the 16 seeds in each 56-player field, the top eight of whom receive first-round byes.

Serena Williams, a 23-time Grand Slam champion needing one more major victory to match Margaret Court's all-time record, will try to extend her streak of years with a major title to seven by winning the US Open.

Two-time Cincinnati champion Serena lost the Wimbledon final to Angelique Kerber last month, the 36-year-old American's first Grand Slam final since an extended absence after giving birth to a baby daughter last September.

Russia's Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion, reached the French Open quarter-finals but was a first-round loser at Wimbledon.

Reigning Wimbledon champion Djokovic, a 13-time Grand Slam champion, was named the 10th seed while Britain's Murray, a three-time Grand Slam champion, will be unseeded in only his fourth start since an 11-month absence with a right hip injury.

Djokovic has reached the Cincinnati final five times without ever taking home the winner's trophy.

Behind 17-time Grand Slam winner Nadal in the men's seedings are 20-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, Germany's Alexander Zverev fresh off defending a title in Washington, Argentina's Juan Martin del Potro and defending Cincinnati champion Grigor Dimitrov of Bulgaria.

On the women's side after Halep were Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki, American Sloane Stephens, Kerber, Ukraine's Elina Svitolina, France's Caroline Garcia and defending champion Garbine Muguruza of Spain.

Maria Sharapova's Butt Gets Pampered by Boyfriend's Face

(7/23/18) (Photo) Maria Sharapova's professional season might be winding down, but her boyfriend is kicking off ass-eatin' season ... in a big way!

The Russian tennis star was lounging in a bikini Sunday in Positano, alongside her millionaire bf, Alexander Gilkes, who decided to order lunch OFF-menu. For some reason, Alex got a face full of Maria's butt.

He was also pretty handsy with the booty -- so, there's little question to what he sees in Maria. Check out the pics, though ... she was stuck on her phone the whole time he was going to work back there.

We'd say she's gonna give the guy a complex, but looks like it's all love, baby.

Maria Sharapova pulls out of San Jose

(7/20/18) (tennisworldusa.org) Maria Sharapova made a major announcement on Tuesday. The Russian tennis player won't compete in the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic that takes place at San Josè State University from July 30 to August 5 2018.

The former world No. 1 announced her withdrawal, which is the fourth one this year after Dubai, Miami and Birmingham. 'I am really sorry to have to miss the event in San Jose this year', Sharapova said through a statement. 'I have heard amazing things and I know all the girls are excited to come to play. Unfortunately, I have been forced to make some very tough decisions at this point in my career when it comes to my tournament schedule. ?I need to take care of my body and make sure I stay healthy. I look forward to coming to play next year.'

Organizers can still be happy as Venus Williams took a wild card, joining her sister Serena, Victoria Azarenka and Madison Keys among the others. The tournament director Vickie Gunnarsson shared happiness: 'We are very excited to have Venus join our player field. She and Serena are tennis icons and tremendous ambassadors for the sport. Having them both competing at the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic is truly special.'

Sharapova lost to her compatriot Vitalia Diatchenko in the opening round match at Wimbledon. She had a busy clay-court season playing four tournaments.

Sharapova insists she's still Grand Slam force despite Wimbledon misery

(7/4/18) Maria Sharapova insists she is not finished as a Grand Slam force despite her worst ever performance at Wimbledon, a tournament which should be her perfect showcase.

The 31-year-old gave up a set and a 5-2 lead to lose in the first round on Tuesday to fellow Russian Vitalia Diatchenko, an injury-plagued qualifier ranked a lowly 132 in the world.

Diatchenko, who needed treatment on her back on three occasions, celebrated an unlikely 6-7 (3/7), 7-6 (7/3), 6-4 triumph after more than three hours on Court Two.

The match ended in twilight, a fitting metaphor for Sharapova who slipped to her first ever opening round defeat at the All England Club where she first burst upon the scene in 2003.

One year later, as a 17-year-old, she stunned Serena Williams to capture the Wimbledon title, the first of her five majors.

However, she has been back to the Wimbledon final only once since 2004, losing to Petra Kvitova in 2011.

Before Diatchenko, there had already been some embarrassing howlers -- in 2008, losing to Alla Kudryatseva, ranked 154, then to world number 45 Gisela Dulko in 2009 and to Michelle Larcher de Brito, a 131st-ranked Portuguese qualifier in 2013.

This year was Sharapova's first appearance at Wimbledon since 2015 having been sidelined by a doping ban in 2016 and injury last year.

Since her return from suspension, her Slam record stands at a last-16 run at the US Open, third round in Australia and a quarter-final place at Roland Garros.

Steady, not spectacular but Sharapova insists there are positives.

"I have to take away the things that didn't work well for me and get back and work through those, look for my next opportunities," said Sharapova whose fate was sealed against Diatchenko when she served up her 11th double fault of the match.

- Not pleasant -

Tuesday's loss was her first opening round exit at a Slam since Australia in 2010.

Before that, her only other first-up losses came in her maiden season in Melbourne and Paris in 2003.

Sharapova, who decided not to play the Birmingham grass court warm-up event, admitted that the passing years pose a new challenge.

"I always find the transition from clay to grass has been a little bit tougher for me as I've gotten older," she admitted.

"That's just a matter of training, getting through the soreness in the first week or so. There's no perfect formula."

Since her return to the tour in April 2017, Sharapova has added just one more title to her career tally -- at the low-key season-ender in Tianjin.

She also suffered a mini-slump this year, losing three first round matches in succession at Doha, Indian Wells and Stuttgart.

She now stands at 15-9 on the season.

"At this moment, my competitive desire is not great," she said in the aftermath of her loss to Diatchenko.

"It's always tough to assess motivation after a first-round loss. There's no doubt that when I will -- I don't shy away from mistakes and errors, looking back at film, learning from what went wrong.

"It's not always pleasant moments, but sometimes those are the ones you need to get better."

Sharapova, Kvitova beaten at Wimbledon of upsets

(7/3/18) These are not the sorts of matches Maria Sharapova is supposed to lose, letting lead after lead slip away Tuesday against a qualifier ranked 132nd — and in the first round of Wimbledon, no less.

Then again, at this edition of The Championships, as they prefer to call the event around here, the initial 48 hours have provided more surprising exits than anyone’s accustomed to: A total of seven top-10 men’s and women’s seeds departed in the opening round, more than in any previous year in the professional era’s half-century.

That includes two-time champion Petra Kvitova, who was sent home by Aliaksandra Sasnovich of Belarus 6-4, 4-6, 6-0 a few hours before 2004 titlist Sharapova folded against Vitalia Diatchenko in a 6-7 (3), 7-6 (3), 6-4 loss she seemingly controlled time and again before dropping the last three games.

"Sometimes," Sharapova said, "you put yourself in a better, or winning, position, and you don’t finish."

A 15-month doping ban kept her out of the grass-court Grand Slam tournament in 2016, and an injury sidelined her a year ago. It looked as if it would be a pleasant, straightforward return when she went ahead by a set and a break at 5-2.

Sharapova then served for the match at 5-3, but faltered. After being pushed to a third set, Sharapova went up a break at 2-1. That edge disappeared right away. She went up another break at 4-3. That advantage, too, was given right back. Sharapova’s collapse eventually ended, perhaps fittingly, with her 11th double-fault.

How unlikely was this result?

Since losing the first two Grand Slam matches of her career as a teenager, Sharapova was 49-1 in openers at majors, 13-0 at Wimbledon.

She’s a former No. 1, now seeded 24th, who owns five Grand Slam titles.

And Diatchenko?

Repeatedly sidetracked by injuries of one sort or another — "I think I will write a book after I finish playing," Diatchenko joked about her health history, even on a day she was visited by a trainer for groin and lower back issues — the 27-year-old Russian came in 0-2 at Wimbledon and 8-25 overall in main-draw matches at all tour-level events.

"Everybody," Diatchenko said afterward, "expects me to lose the match."

But she didn’t, in part because Sharapova failed to win it.

That continued the kind of topsy-turvy tournament it’s been so far, of a piece with the sunnier-than-normal weather. The temperature has been in the low 80s (high 20s Celsius), there’s been nary a cloud, and some players have noticed the grass offering more unpredictable bounces.

There are other theories for what’s been causing these unprecedented results. On Tuesday, No. 8 Kvitova and No. 6 Caroline Garcia lost, a day after No. 4 Sloane Stephens, the reigning U.S. Open champion, and No. 5 Elina Svitolina did. Also Tuesday, No. 7 Dominic Thiem, the French Open runner-up last month, quit because of a bad back while down two sets and a break, and No. 10 David Goffin was beaten, a day after No. 6 Grigor Dimitrov lost.

"I really believe it: Here on grass, you don’t know what to expect," said No. 1 Simona Halep, who joined fellow French Open champion Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic as a straight-set winner on Day 2. "Some players can play (their) best tennis. The top players can play a little bit less. You never know. … Every match can go either way."

Kvitova spoke about being beset by nerves and the idea that the pressure to live up to expectations at a Grand Slam tournament can be most burdensome early in a tournament.

"I don’t think it’s just me," she said. "I think it’s all of the seeded players."

She was able to smile and laugh through her news conference, though, saying that she feels as if her return from a knife attack at her home in the Czech Republic in December 2016 constitutes her "biggest" win.

Sharapova, meanwhile, said that the quick switch from clay to grass can make things tough on some players. She’s found that transition more difficult as she’s gotten older.

Maybe that’s true.

Still, it was shocking to see someone considered so gritty, so successful at figuring out how to win, struggle when so close to victory. Especially against such an inexperienced opponent.

Did she get struck by a case of the jitters?

"That’s part of the game, is to feel moments of tension, to feel there’s something on the line. That’s just human. No matter how many times you’ve done it, no matter what court you’re playing on — Centre Court, back court — just the moment, the crowd — Wimbledon, another tournament — you always want to do your best," Sharapova said. "Of course you feel it. But I love that feeling. That’s one of the reasons I play. I definitely, maybe, wasn’t smart enough, didn’t play the right way in the crucial moments."

Who are you? Guide to rivals of Wimbledon top seeds

(6/29/18) Who are you? AFP Sport looks at the men and women trying to upset the stars at Wimbledon in the first round:

Roger Federer v Dusan Lajovic

Federer leads series 1-0

-- World number 57 Lajovic gave Alexander Zverev a huge fright at the French Open by taking a two sets to one lead before folding in five. Best run at the majors was a last-16 spot at Roland Garros four years ago where it took Rafael Nadal to stop him. The Serb was beaten by Federer in straight sets in the second round of Wimbledon in 2017.

Rafael Nadal v Dudi Sela

Nadal leads series 2-0

-- Ranked 129, the 33-year-old Sela has just three wins on the main tour in 2018 but made the last-16 at Wimbledon in 2009 where he was knocked out by Novak Djokovic. Also made the third round last year where injury forced him to quit against Grigor Dimitrov. At 5ft 9ins (1.75m), the Israeli jokes that "if I had 10 more centimetres I'd have success at tennis".

Novak Djokovic v Tennys Sandgren

First meeting

-- World number 56 Sandgren of the United States stunned the sport by making the Australian Open quarter-finals in January knocking out Stan Wawrinka and Dominic Thiem. He also caused a storm for his alleged support of right-wing groups, something the devout Christian denied. "You seek to put people in these little boxes so that you can order the world in your already assumed preconceived ideas. You strip away any individuality for the sake of demonising by way of the collective," the 26-year-old told reporters in response. Made the final in Houston this year but will be making his Wimbledon debut.

Andy Murray v Benoit Paire

Murray leads 2-0

-- Explosive and colourful, the 29-year-old Paire was a point away from beating Federer in the Halle second round this month. Famously kicked out of the 2016 Rio Olympics for breaking team rules while, two years earlier, the Frenchman said he hated Wimbledon. "The atmosphere displeases me greatly," he said. Despite that, still made the fourth round at Wimbledon in 2017 where he lost to Murray.

Serena Williams v Arantxa Rus

First meeting

-- Dutch world 107 Rus made the third round at Wimbledon in 2012 but failed to get out of qualifying on her last three visits. Made the quarter-finals in Auckland and Istanbul this year, she is a former Australian Open junior champion.

Simona Halep v Kurumi Nara

Halep leads series 1-0

-- Nara, standing at just 5ft 1in (1.55m) is ranked 101 but the Japanese has a Grand Slam pedigree -- in 2017, she defeated two-time major winner Svetlana Kuznetsova in the second round of the US Open. Made the third round on her Wimbledon debut in 2010 after coming through qualifying. Never one to do things the easy way, in 2016 Nara tried to fly to Charleston, South Carolina for a tournament, only to land at Charleston, West Virginia -- 640km to the north.

Garbine Muguruza v Naomi Broady

Muguruza leads 1-0

-- British wild card Broady, ranked 138, has just one win on the WTA Tour this year, playing mostly on the ITF circuit. It was on that second-level that Broady faced 2017 Wimbledon champion Muguruza in their only meeting at Wrexham in Wales in 2011. Has played six times in the Wimbledon main draw with just one victory in 2014 before a second round exit at the hands of Caroline Wozniacki.

Maria Sharapova v Vitalia Diatchenko

Sharapova leads 1-0

-- Ranked at 132, the 27-year-old Diatchenko has been plagued by injuries. This year, the Russian qualified for Wimbledon and returned to the main draw of a major for the first time since the 2016 US Open. Has never won a main draw match at Wimbledon.

Wimbledon 2018: Tim Henman's 10 players to watch

(6/29/18) John Isner
Age: 33
Wimbledon best: Third round (2014, 2015, 2016)
Nationality: American
Wimbledon seeding: No 9
Titles: 13 tour titles, 0 slams

The players that always used to frighten me were the big servers so someone like John Isner if he gets on a roll with his serve, can be a nightmare to play against.

He’s really got one of the great serves out there, and at 6ft 10in can be so dangerous.

Kevin Anderson
Age: 32
Wimbledon best: Fourth round (2014, 2015, 2017)
Nationality: South African
Wimbledon seeding: No 8
Titles: 4 tour titles, 0 slams

He’s a guy who’s made huge improvements, and people don’t like playing him. I remember he was two sets to love up against Novak Djokovic at Wimbledon a few years ago and very nearly got the win there.

Grass is such a tough surface to defend on, and when he’s serving well - standing at 6ft 8in - getting anything on the return against him is hard.

Milos Raonic
Age: 27
Wimbledon best: Final (2016)
Nationality: Canadian
Wimbledon seeding: No 13
Titles: 8 tour titles, 0 slams

Raonic has been to a Wimbledon final before, and yes his ranking has dropped but it’ll be interesting to see where he comes out in the draw.

He’s been a top-five player, has a solid all-game and is a better volleyer than a lot of the other guys.

Nick Kyrgios
Age: 23
Wimbledon best: Quarter-final (2014)
Nationality: Australian
Wimbledon seeding: No 15
Titles: 4 tour titles, 0 slams

He’s the one I always look out for and always hope he could make the big breakthrough because he probably has more natural tennis ability than anyone outside the 'Big Four'.

But we also appreciate that tennis has three vital elements - physical, technical and mental. And the physical and mental aspects are where he lets himself down. Hopefully he can become more consistent in those areas and then we’ll see better results.

He has an unbelievable serve, a good baseline game, he can change direction on the ball exceptionally well. He has good feel for the ball but if you’re not mentally engaged and physically fit and strong then you’re going to get found out.

Denis Shapovalov
Age: 19
Wimbledon best: First round (2017)
Nationality: Canadian
Wimbledon seeding: No 26
Titles: 0 tour titles, 0 slams

No doubt he’s a huge star of the future. He’s had some big results already and hopefully that's building up to some bigger results in the grand slams.

It would be great to see him have a run at Wimbledon. He’s got great variation, especially with that leftie one-handed backhand. He can change the pace, and he’s a real shot-maker. If he stays fit and healthy he’ll be around for a long time to come.

Ashleigh Barty
Age: 22
Wimbledon best: First round (2012 and 2017)
Nationality: Australian
Wimbledon seeding: No 17
Titles: 2 tour titles, 0 slams

A player with a great slice and she serves well, definitely a contender - especially after winning the grass-court event in Nottingham earlier this month.

She's also helped by the fact she has one of the best volley games of any of the leading women. Her ranking just keeps on rising so no reason she can’t have a good run.

CoCo Vandeweghe
Age: 26
Wimbledon best: Quarter-final (2015 and 2017)
Nationality: American
Wimbledon seeding: No 16
Titles: 2 tour titles, 0 slams

Pat Cash is working with her and she’s certainly got the explosive power and the attacking mindset to be a threat on grass.

She’s twice been a Wimbledon quarter-finalist - including last year - and if she can be completely focused then she has a chance.

Venus Williams
Age: 38
Wimbledon best: Winner (2000, 2001, 2005, 2007 and 2008)
Nationality: American
Wimbledon seeding: No 9
Titles: 49 tour titles, 7 slams

She’s been there or thereabouts over the last year, reaching the Australian Open and Wimbledon final in 2017. And she’s won Wimbledon enough times [five] to know how to do it so I wouldn’t rule her out - especially if her serve is firing.

Johanna Konta
Age: 27
Wimbledon best: Semi-final (2017)
Nationality: British
Wimbledon seeding: No 22

Titles: 3 tour titles, 0 slams

She made the Wimbledon semis last year, and then the final of Nottingham a couple of weeks ago. She’s playing herself into a nice bit of form, and it’s always good to have the home-grown players doing well during the Championships.

Jo seems to be really comfortable on the grass as well and I think being at home helps her feel confident going into the tournament.

Maria Sharapova
Age: 31
Wimbledon best: Winner (2004)
Nationality: Russian
Wimbledon seeding: No 24
Titles: 36 tour titles, 5 slams

She’s won here before and could definitely do it again. After taking a bit of time to get back up to speed she’s made big improvements over the last few months. The reality is that the women’s draw is going to be really exciting because it looks like being so open. Sharapova is one of about 24 women I think could win the title.

Penpix of the top women's contenders at Wimbledon

(6/29/18) Penpix of the top women's contenders at the 2018 Wimbledon Championships:

Simona Halep (Romania)

World ranking: 1

Born: Sept. 27, 1991 (Age 26)

Height: 1.68 meters

Plays: Right-handed

Grand Slam titles: 1 (French Open 2018)

WTA match record in 2018 (won-lost): 35-6

2018 WTA titles: 2

Biggest weapon: Halep's speed, shot placement and remarkable anticipation earned her a first grand slam title last month and the same qualities can help the Romanian thrive at the All England Club.

Biggest weakness: Despite her French Open triumph, Halep has a reputation for folding under the pressure of big matches.

Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark)

Born: July 11, 1990 (Age 27)

Height: 1.77 meters

Plays: Right-handed

World ranking: 2

Grand Slam titles: 1 (Australian Open 2018)

WTA match record in 2018 (won-lost): 26-9

2018 WTA titles: 1

Biggest weapon: The fierce Dane is not one to back down from a fight and is ruthless in attack as she grinds her opponents down with her persistence.

Biggest weakness: Wozniacki has a tendency to get drawn into long rallies at the baseline rather than finding a killer shot or moving closer to the net and finishing off her opponent.

Garbine Muguruza (Spain)

World ranking: 3

Born: Oct. 8, 1993 (Age 24)

Height: 1.82 meters

Plays: Right-handed

Grand Slam titles: 2 (French Open 2016; Wimbledon 2017)

WTA match record in 2018 (won-lost): 21-11

2018 WTA titles: 1

Biggest weapon: Defending champion Muguruza has always proclaimed that grass is her least favorite surface but the intimidating Spaniard's hard-hitting shots and unwavering tenacity are not to be messed with.

Biggest weakness: Muguruza tends to lose sight of the bigger picture and focus too much on being a perfectionist on occasion, a trait that opponents can take advantage of to rattle the world number three.

Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic)

World ranking: 8

Born: March 8, 1990 (Age 28)

Height: 1.82 meters

Plays: Left-handed

Grand Slam titles: 2 (Wimbledon 2011, 2014)

WTA match record in 2018 (won-lost): 37-7

2018 WTA titles: 5

Biggest weapon: As she has shown throughout her impressive comeback, Kvitova's powerful groundstrokes and perfect timing can be too much for her opponents to handle.

Biggest weakness: The Czech is not known for her court coverage on the tour, giving her opponents a chance to exploit her slower pace.

Serena Williams (U.S.)

World ranking: 183

Born: Sept. 26, 1981 (Age 36)

Height: 1.75 meters

Plays: Right-handed

Grand Slam titles: 23 (Australian Open 2003, 2005, 2007, 2009, 2010, 2015, 2017; French Open 2002, 2013, 2015; Wimbledon 2002, 2003, 2009, 2010, 2012, 2015, 2016; U.S. Open 1999, 2002, 2008, 2012, 2013, 2014)

WTA match record in 2018 (won-lost): 5-2

2018 WTA titles: 0

Biggest weapon: One of the greatest players in the women's game, Serena has shown signs of returning to her best during her comeback and the American's punishing groundstrokes can unravel any opponent.

Biggest weakness: Serena has struggled with injuries and consistency since returning to the court after the birth of her daughter.

Maria Sharapova (Russia)

World ranking: 24

Born: April 19, 1987 (Age 31)

Height: 1.88 meters

Plays: Right-handed

Grand Slam titles: 5 (Australian Open 2008; French Open 2012, 2014; Wimbledon 2004; U.S. Open 2006)

WTA match record in 2018 (won-lost): 15-8

2018 WTA titles: 0

Biggest weapon: Sharapova's relentless fighting spirit along with her imposing presence, powerful shots and match control make her hard to beat.

Biggest weakness: Sharapova struggles to find a way against more complex opponents and is lacking consistency ahead of her return to the All England Club for the first time since her doping ban.

NOTE: The 2018 match record of the players do not include results from the ongoing WTA event in Eastbourne.

Williams, Murray look to find past success at Wimbledon

(6/29/18) Serena Williams avoided any early matchups against opponents with success to speak of at Wimbledon in a draw on Friday that could put her against No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina in the third round.

Williams is returning to the grass-court tournament for the first time since 2016 after missing it last year while pregnant. She gave birth to a daughter in September.

She is ranked outside the top 150, but the All England Club decided to seed her 25th based on past success, which includes collecting seven of her 23 Grand Slam singles trophies at Wimbledon. Williams’ first-round opponent when play begins on Monday will be 107th-ranked Arantxa Rus of the Netherlands, who has one career tour title.

Williams is competing for the first time since she pulled out of the French Open ahead of a fourth-round showdown against five-time major champion Maria Sharapova in early June, citing an injured chest muscle. That was Williams’ return to Grand Slam action after a 16-month absence.

Rus has only once been as far as Wimbledon’s third round, back in 2012. That was the last time she won a match at the All England Club. She was beaten in the first round of qualifying a year ago, as were both of the women Williams could meet in the second round, 136th-ranked qualifier Viktoriya Tomova of Bulgaria and 167th-ranked wild-card recipient Tereza Smitkova of the Czech Republic.

Svitolina has only once been as far as the fourth round.

Williams’ possible fourth-round opponent, 2017 U.S. Open runner-up Madison Keys, made one quarterfinal appearance, while the 36-year-old American’s potential quarterfinal foe, reigning Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki, has never been beyond the fourth round.

Williams could face her older sister, five-time champion and 2017 runner-up Venus, in the semifinals. The ninth-seeded Venus Williams opens against 62nd-ranked Johanna Larsson of Sweden, who is 0-7 at Wimbledon.

The Williams sisters are not in the doubles draw. They have won 14 Grand Slam titles as a pair, including six at Wimbledon.

In the top half of the women’s singles bracket, the quarterfinals could be French Open champion Simona Halep vs. two-time Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova, and defending champ Garbine Muguruza vs. No. 6 Caroline Garcia. In the bottom half, No. 2 Wozniacki was drawn to face Svitolina, while 2017 U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens could play No. 7 Karolina Pliskova.

The potential men’s quarterfinals in the top half are eight-time champion Roger Federer vs. 2017 U.S. Open runner-up Kevin Anderson, and 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic vs. No. 6 seed Grigor Dimitrov. In the bottom half of the bracket, it could be two-time Wimbledon winner Rafael Nadal vs. 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro, and No. 4 Alexander Zverev vs. No. 7 Dominic Thiem.

Two-time champion Andy Murray will face 48th-ranked Benoit Paire in the first round. It’s a rematch of Murray’s fourth-round victory over the Frenchman at the All England Club in 2017.

That was Murray’s last win before he sat out nearly a year because of an injured hip that was surgically repaired in January.

He returned to action last week and so is ranked only 156th and unseeded at Wimbledon, which he won in 2013 and 2016.

Murray could face 26th-seeded Denis Shapovalov of Canada in the second round.

The top-seeded Federer’s opening opponent on Monday will be 57th-ranked Dusan Lajovic of Serbia. Their only previous meeting anywhere came in Wimbledon’s second round last year, when Federer won in straight sets en route to the title.

No. 2 seed Nadal, whose 17 Grand Slam titles trail only Federer’s 20 among men, faces 129th-ranked Dudi Sela of Israel on Tuesday. Nadal has won both of their previous matchups.

Men’s first-rounders to keep an eye on include Dimitrov against three-time major champion Stan Wawrinka, who is still working his way back into form after knee surgery; 12-time major champ Novak Djokovic against Australian Open quarterfinalist Tennys Sandgren of the U.S.; and No. 23 Richard Gasquet against Gael Monfils in a matchup of Frenchmen.

Two women who lost a Wimbledon final against Serena Williams will meet in the first round when former No. 1 and two-time major champion Angelique Kerber plays qualifier Vera Zvonareva. Kerber was the runner-up in 2016, Zvonereva in 2010.

Sharapova, the 2004 Wimbledon champion who is seeded 24th, could face 2017 French Open champion and 12th-seeded Jelena Ostapenko in the third round, and Kvitova in the fourth.

World No. 1 Simona Halep among big names on Rogers Cup list

(6/28/18) Top-ranked Simona Halep is among the players confirmed to participate in the 2018 Rogers Cup, Tennis Canada announced Thursday.

Halep, the 2016 Rogers Cup champion, is coming off her first Grand Slam win at the French Open.

The top 25 players on the WTA Tour are planning to compete in the Aug. 6-12 Premier 5-level tournament at IGA Stadium, Tennis Canada said in a release.

Angelique Kerber, Petra Kvitova, Garbine Muguruza, Jelena Ostapenko, Maria Sharapova, Sloane Stephens, Venus Williams and Caroline Wozniacki are among the other big names on the entry list.

Former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka received a wild card on Tuesday. Four additional wild-card entries will be announced over the coming weeks.

There are 12 spots reserved for qualifiers in the 56-player draw.

Five women to watch at Wimbledon -- and a 'you cannot be serious!'

(6/28/18) Former world number one Serena Williams returns to Wimbledon after missing last year's tournament, while reigning champion Garbine Muguruza bids to retain the Venus Rosewater Dish.

AFP Sport looks at five of the leading contenders for the Wimbledon women's title -- and one outsider to watch:

Serena Williams (USA)

The return of the seven-time Wimbledon champion will hog the spotlight as Williams bids to win her first Grand Slam title since becoming a mother. Serena, 36, missed Wimbledon last year while preparing to give birth and has endured a rocky time since resuming her career earlier this year. The former world number one's run to the French Open last 16 was ended by a pectoral injury. But, regardless of her current lowly ranking, if the 23-time major winner is over that fitness problem she will be a serious contender for yet another Wimbledon triumph.

Garbine Muguruza (ESP)

The defending champion usually reserves her best for the big occasions and is one of the leading candidates to stop Serena making a winning return to Wimbledon. Muguruza was superb last year, dropping just one set in seven Wimbledon matches and routing Venus Williams in the final. The Spaniard has undoubted star quality and her big-hitting game suits grass.

Simona Halep (ROM)

The world number one arrives in London with serious momentum after finally winning her first Grand Slam crown. Halep's triumph at the French Open was a cathartic moment, but her game is more suited to clay than grass. She does boast two quarter-finals and one semi-final from her last four Wimbledon appearances.

Petra Kvitova (CZE)

Kvitova would be one of the most popular Wimbledon winners in recent years after making her way back to the top 10 following the horrific stabbing the derailed her career in 2016. The Czech was already a fan favourite at Wimbledon after winning the title in 2011 and 2014. She goes into the tournament in good form after lifting the trophy in Birmingham last weekend although a hamstring injury forced a withdrawal from Eastbourne on Wednesday.

Maria Sharapova (RUS)

Sharapova has not played a match on grass since losing to Serena in the Wimbledon semi-finals in 2015. Since then the Russian has slowly come back from her doping ban and an injury last year. The five-time major winner looked much more like her old self at the French Open, where she made the quarter-finals. But the 31-year-old hasn't won Wimbledon since 2004 and it might be asking too much to end that drought now.

....'You cannot be serious!'

AFP Sport's outside tip for the Wimbledon title:

Naomi Osaka (JPN)

The 20-year-old world number 18 is the youngest player in the top 40 and on her Wimbledon debut last year was only stopped in the third round by former champion Venus Williams. Inside the top 10 for aces served this year, Osaka has the power from her 5ft 11ins (1.80m) frame to thrive on fast courts as she showed by winning the prestigious Indian Wells title in March, defeating Maria Sharapova and Simona Halep along the way.

Serena Williams seeded 25th for women’s singles at Wimbledon

(6/27/18) Serena Williams was seeded No. 25 for her return to Wimbledon after having a baby, a decision by the All England Club announced Wednesday that elevates the tournament’s seven-time champion above her ranking of 183rd.

While WTA rules allow women who miss time because of a pregnancy to enter events based on their pre-absence ranking, there is no guarantee of a seeding, a policy which has been the subject of much debate in recent months because of Williams’ status. The 36-year-old American gave birth to a daughter last September and was off the tour for more than a year.

By moving Williams into the top 32, the All England Club afforded her "protection" from facing any other seeded player in either of the first two rounds — and, of course, allowed the other seeds to avoid facing her that early, too. Williams is a former No. 1 whose 23 major singles championships are a record for the professional era, which began in 1968. She missed Wimbledon in 2017, but won the title the last two times she was in the field, in 2015 and 2016.

Putting Williams at No. 25 now means that she could face someone seeded No. 1 through No. 8 in the third round.

The draw for Wimbledon is Friday; play begins Monday.

Wimbledon and other Grand Slam tournaments have leeway to stray from strictly following the WTA and ATP rankings when determining seedings. That’s why, for example, eight-time Wimbledon champion Roger Federer’s success on grass courts was taken into account when the All England Club bumped him up a spot to No. 1 on Wednesday, while top-ranked Rafael Nadal is seeded No. 2.

When Williams entered the French Open in May, her first Grand Slam action in 16 months, she was not seeded by the French tennis federation. She wound up beating the women ranked No. 11 and No. 17 en route to reaching the fourth round. But because of an injured pectoral muscle, Williams pulled out of Roland Garros before what would have been a showdown against five-time major champion Maria Sharapova.

The U.S. Tennis Association says it does intend to seed Williams for the U.S. Open, which begins in August. That is part of a new plan, first reported by The New York Times, to take into account if a pregnancy affected a player’s ranking.

"Pregnancy will not be penalized," USTA spokesman Chris Widmaier said. "If Serena Williams enters the 2018 U.S. Open, the USTA will recognize her accomplishments, recognize her return to the workplace and will seed her, regardless of what her ranking is."

One effect of Williams’ being seeded at the All England Club: The 32nd-ranked Dominika Cibulkova, a two-time Wimbledon quarterfinalist and the 2014 Australian Open runner-up, will not benefit from a seeding and could play anyone in the field in the first round.

"I don’t think it’s the right thing to do," Cibulkova told British broadcaster BBC ahead of Wednesday’s seeding announcement. "I think it’s just not fair."

No unseeded woman has won the Wimbledon singles championship. Only two unseeded men have raised the trophy at the All England Club: Boris Becker in 1985, and Goran Ivanisevic in 2001.

Aside from the All England Club’s placing of Williams, the women’s seedings align with the rankings. So French Open champion Simona Halep is No. 1, Australian Open Caroline Wozniacki is No. 2, reigning Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza is No. 3, and U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens is No. 4.

Sharapova is seeded 24th.

In the men’s draw, after Federer and Nadal, 2017 runner-up Marin Cilic is No. 3, followed by Alexander Zverev and Juan Martin del Potro.

Sharapova back at Wimbledon and at crossroads

(6/27/18) There will be perfectly-timed put downs, gushing photo spreads, tired tabloid moans about the grunts and a stream of questions about Serena Williams.

It can only mean one thing: Maria Sharapova is back at Wimbledon.

Three years after her last appearance at the All England Club, and 14 years since the Russian won the title, launching the giggling teenager into the financial and media stratosphere, Sharapova's career is at a crossroads.

Now 31, Sharapova missed 2016 Wimbledon as she sat out a doping ban while injury scuppered her plans to play the qualifying tournament 12 months ago.

She is without a Slam title in four years, her fifth and most recent coming at the French Open in 2014 while she has won just one trophy -- a low-key end-of-season affair in Tianjin -- since her return from suspension.

However, there have been flashes of vintage Sharapova along the way and when she returned to Grand Slam tennis at the US Open last year, it was in some style.

Wearing a diamond-encrusted black number, she knocked out then world number two Simona Halep first up on the way to the last 16.

At this year's French Open, she comfortably disposed of sixth-ranked Karolina Pliskova for the loss of just three games before running out of steam in a quarter-final defeat to reigning Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza.

The fourth round in Paris should have pitted her against Williams but fans were denied a 22nd meeting between the pair when the American withdrew injured.

Williams has loomed large in the Sharapova story.

The American lost to her in the 2004 final at the All England Club and at the Tour Championships that same year.

Since then, however, Sharapova has lost 18 on the bounce to her career-long nemesis.

- Public battles -

That run includes a semi-final defeat at Wimbledon in her last appearance at the tournament in 2015.

Williams was also the victor in the quarter-finals of the 2016 Australian Open, Sharapova's last event before her 15-month doping ban kicked in.

Adding spice to this year's Wimbledon, the two clashed off the court at Roland Garros when Williams described claims made against her by Sharapova in her autobiography as "100 percent hearsay".

Sharapova fired back: "When you're writing an autobiography, I don't think there is any reason to write anything that's not true."

On the eve of Wimbledon five years ago, they were trading barbs again when Williams gave an explosive interview to Rolling Stone magazine.

"She begins every interview with 'I'm so happy. I'm so lucky' – it's so boring," said Williams without namechecking the Russian.

"She's still not going to be invited to the cool parties. And, hey, if she wants to be with the guy with a black heart, go for it."

The 'black heart' was a not so subtle reference to Bulgarian tennis player Grigor Dimitrov, a rumoured former boyfriend of Williams, who was then dating Sharapova.

A few days later, Sharapova aimed a trademark icy riposte at Williams who is now a seven-time Wimbledon winner.

"If she wants to talk about something personal, maybe she should talk about her relationship and her boyfriend that was married and is getting a divorce and has kids," she said in reference to Patrick Mouratoglou, who is still Williams's coach but was reportedly her boyfriend at the time as well.

Fifteen years after making her Wimbledon bow as a 16-year-old, Sharapova knows that with a game made for grass, a return of just the Wimbledon title is meagre.

She has been back to the final only once since 2004, losing 6-3, 6-4 to Petra Kvitova in 2011.

There have also been some embarrassing howlers -- in 2008, losing to Alla Kudryatseva, ranked 154, then to world number 45 Gisela Dulko in 2009 and to Michelle Larcher de Brito, a 131st-ranked Portuguese qualifier in 2013.

Now ranked 24 in the world, Sharapova heads to Wimbledon without any competitive grasscourt action having pulled out of Birmingham last week.

"I need to take care of my body and make sure I stay healthy," said the Russian who still managed to get some time on Centre Court this week.

She wasn't practicing but was giving Canadian ice hockey legend Sidney Crosby a guided tour.

Sharapova out of Birmingham with Wimbledon in mind

(6/13/18) Maria Sharapova has withdrawn from next week's WTA grass court event in Birmingham, opting instead to rest ahead of her return to Wimbledon after a three-year absence.

The 31-year-old Russian, who was Wimbledon champion in 2004, has not played at the All England Club since 2015, when she made the semi-finals.

She was serving a doping ban in 2016 and was injured in 2017 when she was planning to play the qualifying tournament.

"I have good memories of Birmingham so I'm disappointed not to be able to play this year," said Sharapova, a two-time champion at the Wimbledon warm-up event.

"I need to take care of my body and make sure I stay healthy and sometimes that means you have to take tough decisions like this one."

Sharapova, the world number 23, made the French Open quarter-finals last week where she was defeated by Spain's Garbine Muguruza.

Sharapova hits back at Serena in book row

(6/7/18) Former world number one Maria Sharapova hit back at Serena Williams' criticism of her autobiography on Wednesday -- two days after their much-anticipated showdown at the French Open was scuppered by an injury to her American rival.

Williams had described Sharapova's book "Unstoppable", in which the Russian claimed the American hated her for beating her in the 2004 Wimbledon final and reducing her to "guttural sobs" as "100 percent hearsay".

The 23-times Grand Slam champion also expressed her surprise that so much of Sharapova's book revolved around her.

"I didn't expect to be reading a book about me, that wasn't necessarily true," Williams said earlier this week.

Sharapova, 31, had her chance to reply on Wednesday after her chastening quarter-final defeat by Spain's Garbine Muguruza in which she won only three games.

"Well, I think it would be strange for me not to include someone that I have competed against for so many years," a glum Sharapova, who has lost 19 of her 21 matches against Williams, told reporters.

"I think there is a lot of autobiographies out in the world, especially in the sporting world, that don't necessarily speak about whether they were rivals or someone they competed against.

"And I think we played many matches. Some of those matches were very defining for me. It would be very strange if I didn't write anything about her. I think everyone would ask me questions, as well.

"So I'm not entirely sure how to go about that answer. When you're writing an autobiography, I don't think there is any reason to write anything that's not true."

PECTORAL INJURY

Sharapova also said she had been surprised by Williams's withdrawal with a pectoral injury shortly before they had been due on court on Monday.

"I hadn't had a withdrawal (against me) in -- I don't know how long. It's probably been maybe like six years or something.

"So I didn't really know what to do. Is there a Lucky Loser coming? I mean, I think she made everyone wait a little bit."

Sharapova was back at the French Open this year, scene of two of her five Grand Slam titles, for the first time since 2015. She was banned in 2016 following a failed doping test and last year, shortly after she returned to the Tour, organizers declined to offer her a wildcard.

Her return has not been entirely smooth and she has won only one title since making her comeback.

But after a solid claycourt season in which she reached the quarter-finals in Madrid and semis in Rome, Sharapova appears to be heading in the right direction and she will be close to the top 20 again when the rankings are published on Monday.

"Coming into this part of the year, I was losing a few first-round matches, matches that I wanted to be winning, of course," she said.

"But to have had the victories that I have had, to have the results that I have, obviously moving a step in the right direction. But today was certainly not one of those steps."

Muguruza condemns Sharapova to worst Slam loss in 6 years, faces Halep

(6/7/18) Garbine Muguruza thrashed Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-1 to reach the French Open semi-finals on Wednesday, condemning the Russian to her worst Grand Slam defeat in more than six years.

The Spanish third seed, who was the champion in Paris in 2016, will face top seed Simona Halep for a place in Saturday's final.

That semi-final will also decide the number one spot next week.

Current world number one Halep made the semi-finals for the third time by battling past Germany's Angelique Kerber 6-7 (2/7), 6-3, 6-2.

Sharapova, playing at Roland Garros for the first time since 2015, suffered her most one-sided defeat at the Slams since a 6-3, 6-0 loss to Victoria Azarenka in the 2012 Australian Open final.

"I am very pleased to be in another final in Paris," said Muguruza who has yet to drop a set in the tournament and claimed her first win over Sharapova in four meetings.

"I was up against a great player so I had make sure I brought my best tennis."

Sharapova, who missed the 2016 tournament because of a doping ban and last year after she was refused a wild card, was broken six times, committed 27 unforced errors and won just five points on her own serve in the second set.

It was just her fifth loss in 25 Grand Slam quarter-finals.

"To have had the victories that I have had, to have the results that I have, obviously moving a step in the right direction," said Sharapova who had made the last-eight in Madrid and semis in Rome in the run-up to Paris.

"But today was certainly not one of those steps."

Muguruza pounced on an error-plagued Sharapova start to lead 4-0 with a double break.

Sharapova never recovered from serving up three double faults in the first game.

By the end of the first set, the five-time major winner had won just eight points against the Muguruza serve and failed to carve out a single break point.

Muguruza only hit five winners in the opener which was more than enough against the erratic Russian who reached the quarter-finals for the first time in three years when old rival Serena Williams handed her an injury-enforced walkover.

Sharapova, 31, was broken in the opening game of the second set which she immediately retrieved.

However, it was just a brief respite as 24-year-old Wimbledon champion Muguruza claimed a quick double break for 4-1, backed up by a hold for 5-1.

It was all over in the next game when Sharapova sent another backhand out wide.

On Court Suzanne Lenglen, 2014 and 2017 runner-up Halep, came back from a set down for the second time in the tournament to see off 12th seed Kerber who was bidding to become the first German woman in the last-four since Steffi Graf in 1999.

Two-time major winner Kerber raced into a 4-0 lead in the first set before having to rely on a tiebreak to nudge her ahead.

However, Halep proved the steadier player in the remainder of a tie which featured a total of 99 unforced errors and 12 breaks of serve.

In Thursday's other semi-final, US Open champion Sloane Stephens will take on fellow American Madison Keys in a repeat of the 2017 final at Flushing Meadows.

'Beyond disappointed': Injured Serena withdraws from French Open before Sharapova clash

(6/4/18) Serena Williams announced her shock withdrawal from the French Open with injury on Monday just minutes before her scheduled fourth-round clash against long-time bitter rival and fellow Grand Slam icon Maria Sharapova.

The 36-year-old said she had suffered a pectoral muscle injury in her third-round win over Julia Goerges and "can't serve at all".

The 23-time Grand Slam champion added that she would stay in Paris for scans on the injury to find out how long she will be out of action.

"I unfortunately have been having some issues with my pec, my pec muscle, and (it) has unfortunately been getting worse to the point where right now I can't actually serve. It's kind of hard to play when I can't physically serve," she explained.

She was unable to say whether or not she would be fit for Wimbledon which gets underway in four weeks' time.

"I'm beyond disappointed," added three-time Roland Garros champion Williams who was playing in her first Grand Slam since winning the 2017 Australian Open while two months pregnant.

She was also in just her third tournament of the year after giving birth to daughter Olympia in September.

"I gave up so much time with my daughter and time with my family all for this moment. So it's really difficult to be in this situation."

The shock withdrawal came just minutes before she was due on Court Philippe Chatrier to face fierce rival Sharapova.

Williams has not lost to the Russian since 2004, winning the last 18 matches.

It had been the most eagerly-awaited match of the tournament, coming just two days after Williams had blasted Sharapova's autobiography for being "100 percent hearsay" when it came to references about her.

- 'Sacrificed so much' -

Sharapova, the champion in Paris in 2012 and 2014, goes on to play a first quarter-final at the Slams since losing to Williams at the same stage at the 2016 Australian Open.

It was in Melbourne that Sharapova tested positive for meldonium after which she served a 15-month doping ban.

The Russian will face either 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza or Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine for a semi-final place.

"I was looking forward to my match against Serena and am disappointed that she had to withdraw," said Sharapova in a statement.

"I wish her a speedy recovery and hope she returns to the tour soon."

Monday's bombshell announcement was the first time in her 20-year career that Williams had pulled out during a Grand Slam event.

Despite her well-documented fall-outs with Sharapova, Williams insisted she had been looking forward to the match.

"I love playing Maria -- it's just a match I always get up for. Her game matches so well against mine."

Despite playing just four matches in 2018 before Roland Garros, Williams played doubles in Paris with sister Venus.

They had been knocked out on Sunday by Andreja Klepac and Maria Jose Martinez Sanchez with the American sisters getting a 6-0 bagel in the final set.

Serena had gone into that match wearing her striking all-black catsuit but she admitted she had had to tape her serving arm to try and protect the injury.

"Every match has been getting better for me. Physically I'm doing great.

"I sacrificed so much to be at this event. I can only take solace in the fact I'm going to continue to get better.

"And I had such a wonderful performance in my first Grand Slam back. I just feel like it's only going to do better."

However, her status for Wimbledon where she has been champion seven times, will only become clear once she has had an MRI.

"I made a promise that if I'm not at least 60 percent or 50 percent, then I probably shouldn't play," she added.

"The fact that I physically can't serve at all is a good indication that maybe I should just go back to the drawing board and stay positive and try to get better and not get it to a point where it could be a lot worse."

Serena Williams pulls out of French Open with injury

(6/4/18) Serena Williams has called off her Grand Slam comeback, pulling out of the French Open because of a chest injury before she was supposed to play Maria Sharapova.

Williams announced her withdrawal at a news conference at Roland Garros on Monday.

Williams' voice quivered as she said she can't serve because of a problem with her tight pectoral muscle.

She and Sharapova were scheduled to play a fourth-round match Monday.

2004 and all that: World events when Sharapova last beat Serena

(6/3/18) Maria Sharapova has not beaten bitter rival Serena Williams since 2004 -- before even the advent of Twitter and YouTube, two platforms which have since transformed their profiles.

Ahead of their first clash in over two years at the French Open on Monday, AFP Sports looks at the main world events of 2004:

February

-- At the Oscars, Lord of the Rings wins Best Picture, Sean Penn is Best Actor for Mystic River while the Best Actress award goes to Charlize Theron for Monster.

-- Mark Zuckerburg creates Facebook with roommates in California.

March

-- Terror attacks carried out by jihadists, linked to Al Qaeda, on four Madrid commuter trains kill 191 people and injure hundreds more.

-- Four contractors working for the US army ambushed and killed in Fallujah as the Iraqi city is convulsed by an insurgency.

April

-- Pictures emerge of American soldiers allegedly abusing Iraqi detainees in the notorious Abu Ghraib prison.

June

-- Former US President Ronald Reagan dies after a long fight with Alzheimer's Disease. He was 93.

July

-- Hollywood legend Marlon Brando dies at the age of 80 in Los Angeles.

August

-- Summer Olympics take place in Athens.

September

-- More than 300 people, over half of them children, die at a school siege in Beslan in Russia. The school had been seized by Chechen militants.

October

-- Superman star Christopher Reeve dies at 52, nine years after being paralysed in a fall from his horse.

November

-- George W Bush wins a second term as US President, beating challenger John Kerry.

November

-- Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat dies in Paris at the age of 75.

Serena v Sharapova - five classic matches

(6/3/18) Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova will renew their bitter 14-year rivalry in the French Open last 16 on Monday, with the American dominating their record 19-2.

Here are five classic matches between the two former world number ones:

2004 - Wimbledon final

Sharapova won 6-4, 6-1

-- Sharapova announced herself to the tennis world in dramatic fashion as a 17-year-old at the All England Club by dismantling defending champion Williams in straight sets to become the third-youngest winner of the title. The Russian claimed 13 years later in her book that she heard her beaten opponent crying in the dressing room afterwards, saying she believed that was the motivation for Serena's incredible run of 18 straight wins against her.

2005 - Australian Open semi-finals

Williams won 2-6, 7-5, 8-6

-- Serena suffered her second defeat in three meetings with Sharapova in 2004 at the WTA Tour Championships, but hit back in some style just three months later at Melbourne Park. Sharapova looked set to notch a third straight win over her rival, but failed to serve for the match twice, with Williams saving three match points on the second occasion. The American edged a dramatic deciding set, before seeing off Lindsay Davenport in the final to clinch her first Grand Slam title since Wimbledon in 2003.

2012 - Olympics final

Williams won 6-0, 6-1

-- After a straightforward Williams victory at the 2007 Australian Open, the pair did not meet again in a final for over five years, with the eagerly-awaited moment coming at the London Olympics. The match was hyped like a Grand Slam final, with the tournament played at Wimbledon. But Serena underlined her dominance over Sharapova, dropping just one game in a 63-minute humbling to become the first player in history to win all four Grand Slam titles and Olympic singles and doubles gold medals.

2013 - French Open final

Williams won 6-4, 6-4

-- The only previous time the two have faced off at Roland Garros came in the final five years ago. Sharapova was the defending champion, and fought bravely for much of the match, but could not do enough to stop Williams securing victory at a time when she was at the absolute peak of her powers. It was her 31st consecutive win and her 16th Grand Slam crown, while Sharapova would go on to regain the French Open title in 2014 -- her last major triumph.

2016 - Australian Open quarter-finals

Williams won 6-4, 6-1

-- It has been over two years since Serena and Sharapova's last on-court clash, but plenty has happened since. Williams eased to her 18th successive win over Sharapova in the Australian Open quarter-finals, but the Russian was then hit with a 15-month doping ban for using the banned substance meldonium. By the time she had returned to the tour in 2017, Williams was taking time off due to pregnancy.

Serena v Sharapova - famous losing streaks

(6/3/18) Maria Sharapova faces Serena Williams in the French Open fourth round on Monday, desperate to end a miserable 18-match losing streak to the American dating back to 2004.

The Russian has only managed to take three sets off Williams during that run, with Serena winning their last seven meetings in straight sets.

But Sharapova can take some solace in the fact that she's not alone -- here are five memorable losing streaks from the world of sport:

The Curse of the Billy Goat

-- Perhaps the most infamous drought was the Chicago Cubs' wait for an MLB title after the Curse of the Billy Goat in 1945. After being asked to leave Wrigley Field because of the smell of his pet goat, Billy Sianis supposedly said that the team would "win no more". The Cubs had to wait until 2016 to end the drought -- having lost four consecutive National League Championship series since losing the 1945 World Series -- going on to add a first World Series crown since 1908 to boot.

Bangladesh's tough test

-- Bangladesh were granted Test cricket status in 2000, becoming the 10th top-level nation, but embarked on a record-breaking 21-match losing streak between 2001-2003. The team were widely-criticised by both pundits from other countries and their own fans, before finally stopping the rot against Zimbabwe. Habibul Bashar's men didn't do much to earn their second Test draw, though, with rain for three days saving their blushes.

207 defeats in a row

-- The Caltech college men's basketball team suffered 207 consecutive losses from 1996 to 2007. The California-based outfit from an exclusive school of only 1,000 students also lost 310 straight conference games. Their plight became a documentary called 'Quantum Hoops', with the tagline 'before they change the world, they need to win one game'.

Benevento whipping boys

-- Italian Serie A new boys Benevento had a horrific start to last season in their debut top-flight campaign, losing 14 consecutive matches. The way they ended their run may end up better remembered than their previous struggles, though, as goalkeeper Alberto Brignoli's flying injury-time header earned them a 2-2 draw with AC Milan.

Gasquet's 16 against Nadal

-- Back to tennis, and Richard Gasquet saw his wait for a Tour-level win over childhood friend and old junior rival Rafael Nadal extended to 16 matches in the French Open third round on Saturday. The ruthless Spaniard has had the better of his French rival since turning professional, with Nadal now having won 28 consecutive sets against his fellow 31-year-old since 2008.

Serena and Sharapova ready to sharpen the edge

(6/3/18) The on-court rivalry is so lop-sided it can barely be described as such yet Serena Williams' French Open fourth-round clash with Maria Sharapova on Monday feels like the biggest match played on the women's Tour this year.

Not just because Williams looks capable of landing a 24th Grand Slam title against all the odds having returned from maternity leave and Sharapova is seeking redemption after a 15-month doping ban with a third French Open title.

But because no match-up in a women's field packed with potential Grand Slam winners provides the "edge" that is so apparent whenever the two spiky old warriors face each other across a tennis net.

It has been missing for two-and-a-half years, since Williams extended her domination of Sharapova to 19-2 with an Australian Open quarter-final victory that proved more significant than anyone could have imagined at the time.

Sharapova was found to have taken meldonium, a recently banned heart drug, and was slapped with a suspension by the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

Sharapova's comeback is more advanced, having returned to the Tour, with modest success, 12 months ago although this is her first French Open since 2015, having been snubbed by organizers last year and not handed a wildcard.

Williams, 36, has played only a handful of matches this year but the three-times French Open champion has looked so dangerous in her black bodysuit in Paris that she seems capable of defying conventional wisdom and reclaiming the title.

Sharapova spoke of her rivalry with Williams extensively in her autobiography last year.

A little too much, according to Williams who offered a thoughts on the subject on Saturday.

"I didn't expect to be reading a book about me, that wasn't necessarily true," she said, after a dazzling display against 11th seed Julia Goerges.

SKINNY KID

Sharapova, who stunned Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final but has not beaten her for 14 years, had written: "Serena hated me for being the skinny kid who beat her, against all odds, at Wimbledon. Hated me for seeing her at her lowest moment. But mostly I think she hated me for hearing her cry. She's never forgiven me for it."

So expect the roars and fist-pumps to have a little extra intensity on Court Philippe Chatrier on Monday when the pressure will surely sit more heavily on Sharapova.

After 18 defeats in a row to Williams and losing the last 16 sets they have contested she might never have a better chance to strike a blow -- a point Williams, ranked a laughable 451st in the world, raised after her third-round win.

"She's probably a favorite in this match," Williams said. "I'm just really trying to get my bearings and trying to feel out where I am and see where I can go."

Former men's champion Mats Wilander also gives Sharapova the edge after watching her destroy sixth seed Karolina Pliskova -- but says past bashings may still haunt her.

"I would say this is most probably Maria Sharapova's biggest chance in a very long time to beat Serena Williams," Wilander, hosting Eurosport's flagship Game, Schett and Mats show in Paris, told Reuters.

"Maria has won here twice and her claycourt is really good at the moment. You would assume Serena's not at her best.

"But how much mental scar tissue, how much baggage does Maria Sharapova carry with her on court. If she cannot manage to win a set in this match then you know it has nothing to do with the physical side."

'100 percent hearsay': Serena slams Sharapova book ahead of French Open clash

(6/2/18) Serena Williams turned up the heat on Saturday ahead of her French Open clash with bitter rival Maria Sharapova, saying the claims about her in the Russian's book were "hearsay" and not "necessarily true".

Sharapova, who Williams has beaten 18 times in a row, claimed in her recent memoir 'Unstoppable' that Serena "hated" her for hearing her cry after the 2004 Wimbledon final.

The fourth-round match at Roland Garros on Monday will be the first time the two have faced off since the American's win in the 2016 Australian Open quarter-finals -- Sharapova's last match before serving a 15-month doping ban.

"I think the book was 100 percent hearsay, at least all the stuff I read and the quotes that I read, which was a little bit disappointing," said Williams after her 6-3, 6-4 third-round win over Julia Goerges.

"I have cried in the locker room many times after a loss, and that's what I have seen a lot of people do. I think it's normal.

"It's a Wimbledon final, you know. So it's just, like, I think it would be more shocking if I wasn't in tears...

"The book was a lot about me. I was surprised about that, to be honest. You know, I was, like, 'oh, okay. I didn't expect to be reading a book about me, that wasn't necessarily true'."

The 23-time Grand Slam champion, who holds a 19-2 record over Sharapova, is playing her first major tournament since winning the 2017 Australian Open, after giving birth to her daughter Olympia.

Williams's only two losses to fellow former world number one Sharapova came 14 years ago -- in the 2004 Wimbledon final and at the WTA Tour Championships -- before even the birth of Twitter and YouTube.

But both are on the road back towards the top of the sport after their recent absences.

Williams had played only four matches since taking time off due to pregnancy before arriving at Roland Garros.

Sharapova is seeded for the first time at a Grand Slam since her suspension for using meldonium and is playing her first French Open since 2015 after being refused a wildcard by tournament organisers last year.

But the 36-year-old thinks the Russian should be the favourite on Monday as she lacks playing time, while Sharapova produced her best tennis since returning to the court in dismantling former world number one Karolina Pliskova 6-2, 6-1.

"Quite frankly, she's probably a favourite in this match, for sure," added Serena.

"She's been playing for over a year now. I just started. So I'm just really trying to get my bearings and trying to feel out where I am and see where I can go."

- 'Numbers don't lie' -

The rivalry between the two has been a bitter one since the Russian's shock victory over Williams as a 17-year-old at Wimbledon, but she admitted that the "numbers don't lie".

Sharapova has lost their last seven meetings in straight sets and has managed to take only three sets in those 18 straight losses.

"Any time you play against Serena you know what you're up against," said the 31-year-old.

"You know the challenge that is upon you. You know, despite the record that I have against her, I always look forward to coming out on the court and competing against the best player.

"I think there is a lot of things in her game that she's done much better than I have... Numbers don't lie."

But for all the bad blood between the two over the years -- often involving claims and counter-claims over their private lives -- Sharapova added in her book that reconciliation may come once the on-court battles are over.

"Serena and I should be friends; we have the same passion. But we are not. I think, to some extent, we have driven each other. Maybe that's what it takes," she wrote.

"Only when you have that intense antagonism can you find the strength to finish her off. Who knows? Some day, when all this is in our past, maybe we'll become friends."

'Numbers don't lie': Sharapova desperate to end 14-year losing streak to Serena

(6/2/18) Maria Sharapova admitted on Saturday that "numbers don't lie" as she prepared to face bitter rival Serena Williams, who she has lost to 18 times in a row, in the French Open fourth round.

Sharapova, who thrashed Karolina Pliskova in the third round, will face Williams for the 22nd time in the last 16 on Monday, after the American saw off Germany's Julia Goerges 6-3, 6-4.

Serena leads her head-to-head record with Sharapova 19-2, with the Russian's last win coming at the 2004 WTA Tour Championships -- before even the birth of Twitter and YouTube.

Sharapova has lost their last seven meetings in straight sets and has managed to take only three sets off the 36-year-old in those 18 straight defeats.

It will the first time the two have faced off since the American's win in the 2016 Australian Open quarter-finals -- Sharapova's last match before serving a 15-month doping ban.

"Any time you play against Serena you know what you're up against," said the 31-year-old Sharapova, who beat Pliskova 6-2, 6-1 on Saturday.

"You know the challenge that is upon you. You know, despite the record that I have against her, I always look forward to coming out on the court and competing against the best player.

"I think there is a lot of things in her game that she's done much better than I have... Numbers don't lie."

Sharapova and Serena's rivalry is the most closely examined in the sport and not always for what happens on court.

There have been clashes over their private lives, while Sharapova claimed last year in her book that Serena "hates" her for hearing her cry after the 2004 Wimbledon final.

This will be the earliest the two have played each other in a tournament since a last-16 match at Wimbledon in 2010, with the majority of their meetings coming in finals and semi-finals.

But both are on the road back towards the top of the sport after their recent absences.

Williams had played only four matches since taking time off due to pregnancy before arriving at Roland Garros.

Sharapova is seeded for the first time at a Grand Slam since her suspension for using meldonium and is playing her first French Open since 2015 after being refused a wildcard by tournament organisers last year.

The Russian may feel that this is as good a time as any to play her nemesis, though, with three-time Roland Garros winner Williams lacking playing time, while Sharapova produced her best tennis since returning to the court in dismantling former world number one Pliskova.

But for all the bad blood between the two over the years, Sharapova hinted in her book last year that reconciliation may come once the on-court battles are over.

"Serena and I should be friends; we have the same passion. But we are not. I think, to some extent, we have driven each other. Maybe that's what it takes," she wrote.

"Only when you have that intense antagonism can you find the strength to finish her off. Who knows? Some day, when all this is in our past, maybe we'll become friends."

Sharapova sets up potential Serena clash, Nadal faces childhood friend

(6/2/18) Maria Sharapova marked her first appearance on Court Philippe Chatrier in three years with a 6-2, 6-1 rout of Karolina Pliskova to set-up a potential French Open last-16 duel with old rival Serena Williams on Saturday, while 10-time champion Rafael Nadal was due to face childhood friend Richard Gasquet.

Five-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova, the winner in Paris in 2012 and 2014, hadn't played on Roland Garros' showpiece arena since a quarter-final exit in 2015.

The 31-year-old served a doping suspension in 2016 and was refused a wildcard in 2017.

However, she made up for lost time by firing 18 winners past an under-cooked Pliskova, the sixth seed, in just under an hour.

She will next face either 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams or German 11th seed Julia Goerges.

Sharapova and Serena have met 21 times, with the American leading the head-to-head record 19-2 after 18 consecutive wins dating back to 2004.

"I knew I had to play well against a tough opponent. I managed to stay aggressive and I played smart as well," said Sharapova.

Williams, the champion in 2002, 2013 and 2015 and playing her first Slam since giving birth to her daughter in September, last played a major at the Australian Open in 2017 while two months pregnant.

She has dominated the headlines in Paris as much for her play -- she came back from a set and break down to beat Ashleigh Barty in the second round -- as for her striking all-black catsuit.

The 36-year-old Williams, now ranked at 451 in the world, boasts a 2-0 career lead over Georges.

It may not be easy on the eye with Williams's renowned power-hitting up against the 29-year-old German who leads the aces count on the WTA Tour in 2018 with 212.

Former champion Garbine Muguruza reached the last 16 for the fifth successive year with a comfortable 6-0, 6-2 win over Australia's Sam Stosur.

Spanish third seed Muguruza, the 2016 winner in Paris and the reigning Wimbledon champion, fired 15 winners past Stosur, the 34-year-old 2010 runner-up and former US Open champion.

"I knew this would be very tough against a former US Open winner and a player who has made the final here," said 24-year-old Muguruza.

"If I didn't play my best tennis, I realised that it would be very hard."

The Spaniard goes on to face Lesia Tsurenko of Ukraine who knocked out Slovakian 19th seed Magdalena Rybarikova 6-2, 6-4.

Estonian 25th seed Anett Kontaveit made the last 16 for the first time by downing Czech eighth seed Petra Kvitova who saw her 13-match win streak end in a horror show of 57 unforced errors.

Kontaveit next faces US Open champion Sloane Stephens, the American 10th seed, who saw off Italy's Camila Giorgi 4-6, 6-1, 8-6.

Defending champion, world number one and top seed Nadal, chasing an 11th Roland Garros title, takes on Gasquet having won all of their 15 meetings.

If he wins in straight sets on Saturday, he will take his run of consecutive completed sets to 34, just seven shy of the record held by Bjorn Borg between 1979 and 1981.

Italy's Fabio Fognini made the last 16 for the second time with a 6-3, 4-6, 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 win over Britain's last man standing Kyle Edmund.

Fognini joins compatriot Marco Cecchinato in the fourth round, the first time that more than one Italian has made the last 16 since 1976.

Women's top seed Simona Halep, twice a runner-up, has been shunted out to Court 18 for her third round clash against experienced German Andrea Petkovic.

Halep leads their head-to-head 6-1, including a clash in the semi-finals in Paris in 2015.

2-time French Open champ reminds: 'There is also Sharapova'

(5/31/18) The topic was the location of Maria Sharapova's upcoming third-round match at the French Open, and a reporter noted it likely will be at one of the tournament's main arenas, given that it involves 2016 U.S. Open runner-up Karolina Pliskova.

''Well,'' came the rejoinder, ''there is also Sharapova.''

This was delivered with Sharapova's chin resting on her right hand and was followed by a bit of a staredown, as if to say: Let's not forget who you're talking to here. The 31-year-old Russian has, after all, been ranked No. 1. She does, after all, own five major titles. And that total does, after all, include a pair from Roland Garros.

She is playing in the clay-court Grand Slam tournament for the first time since 2015, though, and she advanced Wednesday by beating 50th-ranked Donna Vekic of Croatia 7-5, 6-4 to improve to 13-0 in the second round.

''I don't think there is ever, like, a perfect way to go into a match. I think you always have to feel that you're improving and there are things that you're working on, because that will always make you better,'' the 28th-seeded Sharapova said. ''There are a lot of things I feel I could have done better (in) the last two matches and I hope I will.''

She missed the 2016 French Open while serving a doping suspension, then was denied a wild-card entry by the French tennis federation last year, when her ranking was too low to earn automatic entry.

When on-target, her strokes are among the best in the game. So is her grit.

Those could both be tested Saturday against Pliskova, who is seeded No. 6 and was a semifinalist in Paris last year.

Her top skill is her serve, which Sharapova knows will provide a test.

''I don't expect extremely long rallies against an opponent like that. But sometimes (that's) not what it takes to win a match, and I think you have to kind of take care of your service games, and I have to serve better than I have been,'' Sharapova said. ''And take care of the return. But that side of the game, I feel, has improved in the last few months.''

Pliskova is on pace to lead the WTA in aces for the fourth consecutive season.

And she wasn't at all shy about sizing things up against Sharapova, saying: ''I believe I have (a) better serve than she (does), so I think that can be the deciding key.''

Then there was this remark: ''She can do a lot of mistakes ... a lot of free points from double-faults.''

After her 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory over 2015 French Open runner-up Lucie Safarova on Wednesday, Pliskova acknowledged she has been thinking about taking on Sharapova since the draw was done a week ago.

''For me, it was the goal to play her in the third round,'' Pliskova said, adding a few moments later: ''I believe I have a good chance to win.''

Sharapova anticipates return to the limelight in Paris

(5/31/18) It came as a surprise that Maria Sharapova, a two-time French Open champion and former world number one, was sent to Court One for her second-round match, but she'll most likely be back in the spotlight on Saturday.

The Russian, back at Roland Garros as 28th seed after a two-year hiatus, beat Croatia's Donna Vekic 7-5 6-4 on Thursday on "the Bullring", a court with less space around the lines, possibly making her task harder.

Sharapova has been used to play on the biggest courts at Grand Slams since she came to prominence by winning Wimbledon in 2004 at the age of 17.

Asked how it would feel to return to a main show court for her third-round match, she replied: "Do you know the schedule?"

The reporter: "Because it's (sixth seed Karolina) Pliskova..."

Sharapova: "Well, there is also Sharapova."

The five-time Grand Slam champion missed the 2016 tournament because of a doping ban and was denied an invitation last year shortly after her return from suspension.

"I would love to be there (on centre court) again, of course. And from a draw perspective, it's an anticipated seeding match if those two seeds went through, it's a match that maybe people anticipated," Sharapova said.

For her second match in Paris since 2015, she was erratic throughout, but her iron willpower helped her set up a meeting with Pliskova. She will, however, need to be more consistent if she is to beat the Czech, a semi-finalist here last year.

POWERFUL RETURN

She failed to finish off a point at the net and Vekic counter-attacked to set up a break point in the first set, which the Russian saved to move 4-3 up before breaking her opponent's serve.

Vekic, however, broke straight back with a powerful service return.

Sharapova, who is on a quarter-final collision course with 2016 champion Garbine Muguruza of Spain, was waiting for her moment. It came in the 12th game when she forced the Croatian into a lung-busting rally, forcing her opponent to net a forehand and drop the opening set.

To break Vekic's rhythm from the baseline, Sharapova mixed it up with exquisite drop shots, but she made 31 unforced errors and dropped serve four times on Court One.

Vekic, the world number 50, offered stiff resistance at 5-4 in the second set but she bowed out on the fifth match point when Sharapova fired a sizzling forehand winner.

Next up is Pliskova, a big-serving player she beat in their only encounter in a Fed Cup match in 2015 on hard court.

"I don't expect extremely long rallies against an opponent like that," said Sharapova. "But sometimes it's not what it takes to win a match, and I think you have to kind of take care of your service games, and I have to serve better than I have been and take care of the return.

"But that side of the game, I feel, has improved in the last few months and I like the challenge of coming up against a really good server."

Her rightful place? Sharapova ready to be centre of attraction again

(5/31/18) Maria Sharapova admitted Thursday she cannot wait to return to Roland Garros's Court Philippe Chatrier for the first time in three years, hinting that the famed arena was the perfect stage for her talents.

Sharapova, the champion in Paris in 2012 and 2014 and runner-up in 2013, has played her first two matches at this year's French Open on Court Suzanne Lenglen and then Court One.

In marked contrast, her old rival Serena Williams has been scheduled twice on Chatrier.

"There is also Sharapova," the former world number one fired back at a reporter who only name-checked her opponent on Saturday, Czech sixth seed Karolina Pliskova ahead of the showpiece clash.

The Russian star last played on Chatrier in 2015 when she lost to Lucie Safarova in the quarter-finals.

She was serving a one-year doping ban in 2016 and was refused a wildcard by Roland Garros organisers last year.

"I would love to be there again, of course. And, yeah, I think from a draw perspective it's a match that maybe people anticipated," she said.

"It's been a few years since I have been back on the court; so if I do have a chance to play on it I will welcome it with open arms, and if it's another court then it will be great."

Although she was eagerly anticipating a return to the event's biggest stage, Sharapova still allowed herself a moment of whimsical reflection for the Court One bullring which will be demolished once the 2018 tournament is over.

"I like the intimate atmosphere of the court," added the 31-year-old.

"I mean, sometimes you have a lot of room on the court and visually from a perception point of view it makes you back up a little bit but I think I still did that today even though it is more intimate, which I shouldn't have done."

Sharapova, the 28th seed, made the third round on Thursday by seeing off Croatia's Donna Vekic 7-5, 6-4, wrapping up victory on a fifth match point.

It was a far easier afternoon than her first round when she came back from 0-3 in the final set against Dutch qualifier Richel Hogenkamp.

If she gets past Pliskova, Sharapova could face Serena Williams in the last 16 but the Russian is thinking only of facing the big-serving Czech on Saturday.

"I don't expect any extremely long rallies against an opponent like that. But sometimes it's not what it takes to win a match," said Sharapova of a rival who fired 198 aces in her 2017 season.

Rain holds up Rafa, Sharapova at Roland Garros

(5/29/18) Two-time champion Maria Sharapova said she "loves the challenge" of playing Grand Slam tennis, after surviving a serious scare to claim a 6-1, 4-6, 6-3 victory over Dutch qualifier Richel Hogenkamp in her first French Open match since 2015 on Tuesday.

The Russian was refused a wildcard by organisers for the tournament last year, which took place shortly after her return from a 15-month doping suspension.

Sharapova, the 28th seed, will face Croatia's Donna Vekic in the second round.

She was staring down the barrel of falling at the first hurdle in a Grand Slam tournament for the first time since the 2010 Australian Open when trailing 3-0 in the deciding set, but the former world number one dug deep and reeled off six straight games to edge into round two.

"I love the challenge of being in a Grand Slam draw and figuring out a way to win," Sharapova said after a match that was pushed back from Monday due to thunderstorms.

"I mean, throughout two weeks, you play against different opponents and different circumstances with weather, with a lot of waiting around like we did, you know, to sunshine.

"So there is a lot of ups and downs, a lot of different feelings, different matchups. You've just got to find a way how to handle your emotions and how you handle the matches physically.

"I thrive on that. I enjoy that challenge, trying to see how I can bring that out of me."

The five-time Grand Slam winner is only seeded at Roland Garros courtesy of a semi-final run in Rome earlier this month which dragged her back into the top 30 for the first time since her ban.

The 31-year-old took just 24 minutes to win the first set, but threw away a 3-1 lead in the second as world number 133 Hogenkamp forced a decider.

"I feel like I got very impatient in the second set for not many reasons," Sharapova added.

"She was becoming a little bit more consistent, and I think I lost a little bit of pace on my ball, but I finished out six straight games. I think if there is any way to turn that match around, it's that way."

Sharapova, champion in Paris in 2012 and 2014, could face a heavyweight showdown with Serena Williams in the last 16 should the pair both get that far.

Williams won her first Grand Slam match since the 2017 Australian Open after giving birth to her daughter, and beat Kristyna Pliskova on Court Philippe Chatrier while wearing a striking black catsuit.

"I did get a little glimpse, but I haven't seen too much of the match, but I think that's expected first Grand Slam back. Nike does a really good job of making statements," said Sharapova, who like Williams is sponsored by the clothing giants.

"The great thing about tennis is that you can, like, express your individuality and be different. Yeah, I love that about it."

Rain holds up Rafa, Sharapova at Roland Garros

(5/28/18) Heavy rain brought an early end to play on the second day of Roland Garros on Monday, forcing defending champion Rafael Nadal and two-time winner Maria Sharapova to return on Tuesday.

When the covers were drawn just before 2000 (1800 GMT), Nadal was 6-4, 6-3, 0-3 up on Italian lucky loser Simone Bolelli as he started his bid for an 11th French Open title.

Sharapova didn't even get on court for her opener against Richel Hogenkamp of the Netherlands.

Serena aside, Sharapova will fear no one at French: Evert

(5/25/18) Russian Maria Sharapova could run into old nemesis Serena Williams in the fourth round of the French Open but, the American aside, she will fear no one on her first appearance at the claycourt slam for three years.

The former world number one, twice a champion at Roland Garros despite an unnatural claycourt game, is seeded 28 after a rocky road back from a doping ban.

She was ineligible two years ago and last year French Open organizers declined to offer her a wildcard following her return to the Tour. Sharapova served a 15-month sanction for testing positive for heart drug meldonium after losing to Williams in the Australian Open quarter-finals in 2016.

The two grand slams she has played since resuming her career have resulted in fourth-round losses but having reunited with former coach Thomas Hogstedt last month, the five-times major winner is moving back in the right direction, according to Roland Garros great Chris Evert.

"She has a shot (at the title)," seven-times French Open champion Evert, an analyst for broadcaster ESPN, told Reuters.

"I see her moving better and the intensity is back. I see some drop shots. She is back with her old coach Thomas Hogstedt and she has won grand slams with him before.

"I see her getting better and better because she wants it and she is willing to work hard for it and it's still the most important thing in her life. In the last six weeks I see an improvement in her game."

The fact that no player has taken the game by storm while 23-times grand slam champion Williams took time off to have a baby, will further encourage Sharapova, according to Evert.

"Maria will look at it and see no one dominant. Serena Williams is the only player in the past who has been like a thorn in her side, but she feels mentally superior to most of the other and she feels she can win against them all."

SUPERIOR SERENA

Only Williams, unseeded and ranked 453 has a superior grand slam record to Sharapova in the women's draw.

Last year's champion Jelena Ostapenko, double Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki and 2016 French Open winner Garbine Muguruza are all amongst the list of favorites.

But Sharapova, a semi-finalist in Rome last week, would not have a sleepless night about facing any of them.

"This is a title she has won twice and this is a surface that gives her a little more time to set up," Evert said.

"She knows she can win it and she knows she is mentally tougher than most of them. When you look at the players who are contenders, they have a few slams but mentally they have had some big wins but also some big losses.

"Aside from Serena she has the most experience and is mentally tougher. That's worth two games a set."

Sharapova trails Williams 19-2 on career head-to-head but leads top French Open top seed Simona Halep 7-2, second seed Wozniacki 6-4 and third seed Muguruza 3-0.

Serena could face Sharapova in 4th round at French Open

(5/25/18) Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova could meet in the fourth round of the French Open thanks to the draw on Thursday.

But a matchup between three-time champion Williams and two-time champion Sharapova is far from guaranteed.

Williams resumes her comeback after maternity leave following two consecutive losses in March. She will open against 70th-ranked Kristyna Pliskova of the Czech Republic.

This will be Williams’ first Grand Slam event since giving birth to her daughter in September. She hasn’t played at a Grand Slam since winning the Australian Open in January 2017 while pregnant.

Ranked No. 453, Williams entered Roland Garros under the WTA’s protected ranking rule but has not been granted a seed by organizers. Without a seeding, Williams was drawn in the same quarter as Sharapova, who was seeded 28th.

While nobody really knows what to expect from Williams, Sharapova had a chance to fine-tune her clay-court game last week in Rome and made it to the semifinals beating reigning French Open Jelena Ostapenko and losing a three-setter to top-ranked Simona Halep

Halep will open against Alison Riske, and Ostapenko will take on Kateryna Kozlova of Ukraine.

The hard-hitting Ostapenko, who last year became the first unseeded player to win the women’s title since 1933, was handed a tricky draw as she could face former No. 1 Victoria Azarenka in the second round.

The tournament starts on Sunday.

In the men’s draw, 10-time champion and overwhelming favourite Rafael Nadal will open against Alexandr Dolgopolov.

Nadal is arriving in Paris on the back of another impressive clay-court season. He is 19-1 on his favourite surface, having lost just one match in the Madrid quarterfinals this month against Dominic Thiem.

"Having enjoyed the success I had over the last couple of weeks helps to be here with a bit more confidence," Nadal said at the draw.

The seventh-seeded Thiem, who ended Nadal’s streaks on clay of 21 wins and 50 sets won, will face a qualifier in the first round. He is in second-seeded Alexander Zverev’s quarter and can’t meet Nadal before the final.

Former champion Novak Djokovic was drawn in the same half as Thiem and Zverev. He will open against a qualifier.

Sharapova seeks redemption on Roland Garros clay

(5/24/18) When Maria Sharapova last played the French Open in 2015, she did so as defending champion.

Denied a wildcard by Roland Garros organizers last year on her return from a 15-month doping ban, the Russian was dogged by injury and controversy as she tried to get her career back on track.

Now 31, it would have been understandable had the five-times grand slam winner hung up her rackets to focus on her ever expanding business empire.

Not Sharapova, one of the game's toughest competitors.

"That's why I still continue to do this, because I have that passion of figuring things out and getting it done, whether it's a tough day, or whether it's a great day," Sharapova said in a phone interview earlier this year.

Although Sharapova was the world's top-paid female athlete for more than a decade and has earned close to $300 million on and off the court according to FORBES, nothing comes close to competing for the sport's biggest prizes.

"You are very much in the moment," said Sharapova, a three-times finalist in Paris. "Your team just hands you over, literally on to the stage, onto your universe for the next hour, hour-and-a-half, two or three, and you have to find a way to deliver.

"Everything that you put into it previously, you have to pour out onto the court, every fear that you've faced before, you have to bring out onto the court. You have to be powerful, but yet you have to handle being vulnerable at moments when things don't go your way."

STRUGGLE FOR FORM

Having ended 2017 outside the top 50, Sharapova endured one of the worst periods of her career as she lost four straight matches.

In March, she ended a four-year spell with Dutchman Sven Groeneveld and brought back her former coach from Sweden, Thomas Hogstedt, with whom she won her first French Open title in 2012 as she completed the career grand slam.

Now, after strong performances in Madrid and Rome this month, Sharapova is back among the seeds and beginning to believe that she can win the title for a third time.

Finally fully fit, Sharapova reached the quarter-finals in Madrid and beat reigning French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko to reach the semi-finals in Rome, a huge boost of confidence as she returns to the scene of her most successful grand slam.

After losing a close three-set match to world number one Simona Halep in Rome, Sharapova called her progress "a step in the right direction".

"After losing those matches, you still have to put yourself on the line and show up and deliver, and do it with authority," she told reporters at Rome's Foro Italico.

"What I'm most proud of is (that) I had a lot of opportunities in the last few weeks in Madrid and here to just back down, to let little things bother me. But I got through them.

"I set up real good situations for myself; a lot of court time and match play. All good things that I wanted."

True grit Sharapova back at French Open with point to prove

(5/22/18) There will be questions about suspensions, favouritism and rivalries, and fashion, parties and candy lines.

There will be accusations of slights -- real or imagined -- greeted either with a giggle, an icy stare or a pitch-perfect, withering put down.

It can only mean one thing -- Maria Sharapova is about to play in a Grand Slam event.

But not just any Grand Slam.

This is the French Open where she has won two of her five career majors but where, 12 months ago, Roland Garros chiefs took to the moral high ground.

From there, they told the Russian icon that she was not welcome, her recently-concluded 15-month doping ban considered too raw to allow her the convenience of a wildcard into the clay court showpiece.

Injury then ruled her out of Wimbledon before she made a stunning Grand Slam return at the US Open under the lights of Arthur Ashe Court in August.

"Behind this little black dress and the Swarovski crystals, there is a girl with a lot of grit and she's not going anywhere," said Sharapova after seeing off second seed Simona Halep in her New York opener.

It could just as well have been a riposte to Roland Garros three months earlier.

Back then the former world number one had seen her ranking slump to 173 as she started to rebuild a career which also doubles as a multi-million dollar brand empire.

Now, thanks to the characteristic cussedness that has served her well since her tennis odyssey began in Russia before being honed in Florida, the 31-year-old Sharapova is back in the top 30 and guaranteed a seeded place when the 2018 French Open starts on Sunday.

Only the very brave would write off the title chances of a player who was champion in 2012 and 2014, runner-up in 2013 and semi-finalist in 2011.

She is also hitting form at the right time.

Having endured a four-match losing streak for the first time since 2003, Sharapova arrives in the French capital on the back of a last-eight run in Madrid and semi-final spot in Rome where she took the first set off world number one Halep before drowning in a sea of errors.

- 'So excited' -

Reunited with former coach Thomas Hogstedt, her performance in Rome was her best run at such a level since the 2015 WTA Tour Finals.

"I like the way I'm competing and the way I feel out there. It's an inner feeling. I like the attitude that I'm playing with," said Sharapova, who added she was "going be so excited" to be heading back to Paris after "a tough period" in her life.

"I've had an incredible amount of memories there. Being in that environment, just even the practice and getting there on the first day, practising on centre court for the first time ... I love it.

"There's nothing that can replicate it. As long as I can continue to feel motivated by that moment, I'll keep loving it and playing there."

Fans and sponsors will be delighted to see Sharapova back on Court Philippe Chatrier, such is her pulling power.

Even when she was off tour in 2016, and saw her 11-year streak as the world's richest sportswoman end, she was still commercial gold.

According to Forbes magazine, Sharapova saw her income during her suspension slashed by around $8 million.

However, she still pulled in a tidy $21.9 million with only longtime rival Serena Williams able to boast a healthier bank balance.

Her appearance in Paris will still rankle with some of her rivals.

Last year, former golden girl Eugenie Bouchard described Sharapova as "a cheater" who should have been banned for life.

However, this week, former world number five Bouchard, a Wimbledon runner-up in 2014, is down at 167 in the rankings and having to play qualifiers at Roland Garros.

Halep outlasts Sharapova in break-heavy Rome semi

(5/19/18) World number one Simona Halep reached her first WTA Tour final since January at the Internazionali d'Italia on Saturday, defeating three-time former champion Maria Sharapova 4-6 6-1 6-4 in an erratic last-four clash.

Halep has retained her place at the top of the rankings this year despite repeated disappointments on the Tour but, ahead of the French Open, she is showing the form that took her to the Australian Open final, even if this match was far from comfortable.

The Romanian had to come from behind as Sharapova showed touches of real class yet failed to compensate for her tiring limbs after a tough run to the semis.

Halep has enjoyed a comparatively straightforward week, with crushing defeats of Naomi Osaka and Caroline Garcia separated by a walkover after a first-round bye, playing just four sets to Sharapova's 11 prior to this meeting.

And that kinder schedule eventually told, following an extraordinary clash in which neither player held serve until the seventh game of the opening set - a theme that lasted the duration.

Sharapova made nine unforced errors in the first three games as the pair refused to be separated until, finally, the former world number one held serve against the current incumbent, smashing a superb backhand down the line.

The power of Sharapova's returns allowed her to break again, briefly ceding control with another poor service game before wrapping up the set.

The 40th-ranked player continued to struggle with her serve in the second, though, and Halep belatedly found her feet, breaking in front and then holding for the first time.

Halep levelled the match after a further two breaks - a Sharapova double-fault concluding the set - before the errors continued into the third to leave the pair neck and neck, the top seed having failed to pull away.

The contest fittingly ended with a break and a mistake, though - Halep handed victory and celebrating wildly as she builds towards Roland Garros and perhaps a first major win.

Sharapova supports special Grand Slam seeding for old rival Serena

(5/18/18) Maria Sharapova says she supports a Grand Slam seeding for longtime rival Serena Williams as the American tries to rebuild her career after giving birth nine months ago.

The Russian, who reached the semi-finals of the Italian Open on Friday with a 6-7 (6/8), 6-4, 7-5 defeat of reigning Roland Garros winner Jelena Ostapenko, showed a noticeably softer attitude towards the 36-year-old Williams with whom she has often endured a bitter, public rivalry.

Wimbledon officials are currently debating whether or not to award a wild card to the former world number one American who has won the grasscourt major seven times but is currently ranked 454th after playing only four tour matches since winning the Australian Open in 2017.

"It's a tough call, I would like to see that change," Sharapova, 31, said. "I think that would be nice."

The five-time Grand Slam winner said it took "such an incredible effort" for Williams to return to the court after pregnancy.

"For a woman to come back on tour, having a child (is great).

"It's just another whole dimension to the travel, to the experiences, to the emotions, to the physicality of every single day."

The Russian added: "Tennis is such a selfish sport. But I think when there's a child in your life, you lose a little bit of that because there's something that's so much more important."

Williams stands an overwhelming 19-2 in her head-to-head series against Sharapova with the Russian's only two victories coming in 2004.

Sharapova edges Ostapenko, to play Halep in Rome semis

(5/18/18) Former world number one Maria Sharapova stepped up her French Open preparations with a battling 6-7(6) 6-4 7-5 win over reigning Roland Garros champion Jelena Ostapenko in the Italian Open quarter-finals on Friday.

Sharapova, 31, will play top seed and world number one Simona Halep in the semis after the Romanian crushed Caroline Garcia 6-2 6-3.

Sharapova produced one of her best performances of the season to overcome her Latvian opponent in a gripping contest lasting three hours and 10 minutes.

Fifth seed Ostapenko saved a set point before edging the opener in a tiebreak but failed to maintain her level in the second as Sharapova forced a decider.

The Russian missed two match points at 5-3, allowing Ostapenko to draw level after 10 games, but Sharapova was not to be denied as she booked a semi-final spot in Rome for the first time in three years.

"It's great to back at this stage," Sharapova said.

"My fans have been so loyal throughout the years and for me to be able to produce this kind of tennis again in front of them is very special."

Estonia's Anett Kontaveit knocked out world number two Caroline Wozniacki 6-3 6-1 to record her second consecutive win over a top-10 opponent.

Kontaveit, who overcame Venus Williams in the last 16, struck 23 winners and broke her Danish opponent's serve six times to wrap up victory in just over an hour.

The world number 26 set up a semi-final battle with defending champion Elina Svitolina of Ukraine, who defeated former world number one Angelique Kerber 6-4 6-4.

Sharapova has good 'inner feeling' ahead of French Open return

(5/18/18) Former French Open champion Maria Sharapova said Thursday she has a "good inner feeling" as she prepares for her Roland Garros return after a doping ban.

Sharapova's straight sets win over Australian Daria Gavrilova booked her a quarter-final berth at the Italian Open which should give the two-time Roland Garros winner a seeding for the French Open.

"It's a step in the right direction. It's obviously a goal to be seeded at events," said the 31-year-old.

"I don't think that takes away matches. You still have to be ready for tough first rounds and later rounds and whatever comes your way."

It was a first Masters quarter-final for Sharapova since she won in Rome in 2015. She was denied a wild-card entry last year to Roland Garros after making her comeback from a 15-month doping ban.

Sharapova's serve was broken four times by Gavrilova who had battled until after 2am the previous night, saving two match points against former French Open winner Garbine Muguruza.

But Sharapova broke the Australian's serve seven times, winning through on her third match point after 1hr and 38min.

She next plays reigning French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko for the first time for a place in the final four of a tournament she has won three times.

The Latvian fifth seed dropped a set before getting past British number one Johanna Konta 2-6, 6-3, 6-4.

"I Like the way I'm competing and the way I feel out there. It's an inner feeling. I like the attitude that I'm playing with," said five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova.

And she added she was "going be so excited" to be heading back to Paris after "a tough period" in her life.

"I've had an incredible amount of memories there, and I don't rate the amount of, like, happiness you get from winning a Slam.

"I think that first Roland Garros for me was one of the highlights of my career," said the 2012 and 2014 winner.

"Coming to Roland Garros having a few matches behind my back, that's helpful.

"Being in that environment, just even the practice and getting there on the first day, practicing on centre court for the first time ... I love it.

"There's nothing that can replicate it.

"As long as I can continue to feel motivated by that moment, I'll keep loving it and playing there."

Sharapova delight at popping the question to Nadal

(5/15/18) Russian star Maria Sharapova giggled with delight as she revealed how she plucked up the courage to pop the question and got to practise with Rafael Nadal at the Italian Open.

The two former world number ones hit balls together on the red clay of the Foro Italico where they are both multiple winners.

"I saw he was practising on the court right before me," explained Sharapova, after advancing to the second round on Tuesday past Australian Ashleigh Barty.

"And I said to my team 'wouldn't it be amazing if I just came up to Rafa and said 'would you hit a couple balls with me?'

"And they're like, yeah, what's wrong with that? And I was like, a lot of things. There's a lot of things wrong with just coming up to Rafa.

"They're like, no, you should. It's not like you're asking him to go on a date. And so I did.

"He probably thought I was really weird. I think he still thinks I'm really weird."

The Russian was overjoyed at being able to rally with the 16-time Grand Slam champion, tweeting: "Two minutes on court with the GOAT @RafaelNadal #BucketList Was so nervous."

In Tuesday's match played in rainy conditions, five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova needed two and a half hours to master 18th-ranked Barty 7-5, 3-6, 6-2 in their first round game.

She next meets Slovak Dominika Cibulkova as she bids to recapture the title she won three times in 2011, 2012 and 2015.

"This tournament has been special in my career," said the 31-year-old, who received a wild-card entry last year as she made her comeback from a 15-month doping ban.

She retired injured from her second round match to end her hopes of qualifying on merit for Wimbledon's main draw after being denied a wild-card entry to Roland Garros.

"It's brought me a lot of great matches and a lot of match play toward the Grand Slam that we all look forward to playing.

"And usually it's the last tournament I play before Roland Garros. So, it is an important one," said two-time French Open winner Sharapova who reached the quarter-finals in Madrid last week.

"But, I've also had very tough moments here, as well. Last year was a very difficult situation to be in and going into that match.

"I'm just a little bit more relieved this year. I feel like I'm not thinking about things and just playing and not worrying about anything else. Which is nice."

Svitolina off the mark in Rome, Sharapova battles through rain

(5/15/18) Defending champion Elina Svitolina eased into the third round of the WTA Italian Open on Tuesday as three-time winner Maria Sharapova needed a marathon three sets to get past Australian Ashleigh Barty.

Svitolina, the fourth seed, received a first round bye and dropped just three games in a dominant 6-1, 6-2 victory over 35th-ranked Petra Martic.

The 23-year-old Ukrainian won the biggest clay court title of her career last year at the Foro Italico. And she continued where she left off despite the rainy conditions, needing just over an hour to peg back her Croatian rival.

By contrast, Sharapova needed two and a half hours to master 18th-ranked Barty 7-5, 3-6, 6-2 in their first round match.

"It was tough, tough conditions," said 40th-ranked Sharapova, who reached the quarter-finals in Madrid last week. "It felt like I was playing three different matches.

"There was a long wait and the way the court played, the way she played, the shadows, the little bit of a breeze out there. So, a lot going on.

"I think it was a really good way to end the match, to get that win."

Sharapova's victory, her 34th on clay in the Italian capital, came in her first meeting with Barty, who was making her Rome debut.

Barty pushed the five-time Grand Slam winner to a third set as she did against Australian Open champion Caroline Wozniacki last week in Madrid.

The game swung the Russian's direction in the final set when Sharapova held serve in a crucial 1-1 game from 0-40 down after having failed to convert three break points in the previous game.

Barty, ranked 18, saved two match points in the final game against the 2011, 2012 and 2015 winner but two unforced errors in a row handed Sharapova a second round berth.

Sharapova next meets Dominika Cibulkova in the second round. The pair have not played each other since the Slovak won in the fourth round of the 2014 Australian Open on her way to the final.

"It's been a while since I played her, she's always been a tough opponent especially on clay," said the Russian of the Slovak who leads 2-1 in clay court meetings.

Fifth seed Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia advanced to the third round past China's Zhang Shuai 6-2, 7-5.

Svetlana Kuznetsova made light work of Slovenian Polona Hercog 6-2, 6-4 in her first round match as the Russian warms up for the French Open which she won in 2009.

But there were uncontrollable tears for France's Kristina Mladenovic as dizziness forced her to call it a day while trailing Latvia's Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 3-0.

- Shapovalov shines again -

In the men's event, Belgian ninth seed David Goffin was given a scare after leading 5-1 in the first set before losing six games in a row and dropping the first set to home hope Marco Cecchinato.

The Masters Open finalist got back on track by winning the next two 6-2, 6-2 to advance to the second round.

And Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov battled past Czech veteran Tomas Berdych 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (7/5), a week after becoming the youngest semi-finalist in Madrid.

The 19-year-old will become the new Canadian number one next week in place of Milos Raonic. "I'm a little bit in shock," he said. "It's crazy that it's come so early."

After a sloppy start Shapovalov found his feet in the second set breaking for a 3-1 advantage after Berdych hit a forehand into the net.

The world number 29 clinched the set, on his third set point of a seven-minute game at 5-3, when Berdych netted a crosscourt backhand.

Berdych came within two points of victory in the ninth game, and Shapovalov raced to the first four points of the tie-break, holding on despite Berdych coming back dangerously for 5/5.

Bosnia's Damir Dzumhur took 64 minutes to get past Spain's Fernando Verdasco to meet seven-time winner Rafael Nadal in the second round.

The rain returned in the evening with the match between Croatian fourth seed Marin Cilic and American Ryan Harrison suspended with the first set tiebreak 6-6 (3/3) after 50 minutes play.

Work still to do, says toiling Sharapova

(5/10/18) Maria Sharapova's battle to rediscover her best form continued to be an uphill one as she came up short against Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens in the Madrid Open quarter-finals on Thursday.

The Russian former world number one has shown only flashes of the play that has earned her five grand slam titles since returning from a doping ban last year.

She arrived in Madrid on the back of three consecutive first-round defeats and while three wins on the Spanish clay hinted at better things the 31-year-old said there is still a way to go as she gears up for Roland Garros.

Despite a strong start 2014 Madrid champion Sharapova wilted under the powerful hitting from unseeded Bertens, losing 4-6 6-2 6-3.

"I look at these types of matches, I see a lot of things I should be better at, I should improve at," Sharapova, languishing down at 52 in the rankings, told reporters.

"I think it's a combination of, yes, taking the positives, but also being a little tough on yourself and expecting a little bit more from yourself.

"You can't keep giving yourself a pat on the back. It was great to get those wins against those few players. But there's a reason I came up short today.

"I go back to the drawing board and start over again."

Sharapova looks unlikely to be seeded on her return to the French Open where she has won the title twice.

Last year organizers declined to give her a wildcard after she returned from a 15-month doping ban for testing positive for heart drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.

She has managed only one title since returning and split with long-time coach Sven Groeneveld after losing in the first round at Indian Wells in March.

She said she was still driven to improve and did not regret the split with Groeneveld.

"Post Indian Wells was a tough few weeks for me, I think I don't know many people that would be like, 'Let's keep going'," she said. "It was really tough. I was willing to make changes, willing to get back out there, willing to put in the work.

"I think that attitude certainly helps, that perspective on things. When you try to make the right decisions for yourself in a very selfish sport, maybe somehow in the end it works out."

Sharapova blasts into Madrid quarter-finals

(5/8/18) Maria Sharapova reached the Madrid Open quarter-finals on Wednesday with an impressive 6-3, 6-4 demolition of France's Kristina Mladenovic.

Former world number one Sharapova fired 30 winners and nine aces in her victory which gave her a last-eight clash with Dutch player Kiki Bertens who knocked out world number two Caroline Wozniacki 6-2, 6-2.

Mladenovic, the world number 22, was runner-up in Madrid last year but she had no answer to the firepower of Sharapova who is set to at least return to the top 40 next week.

Wozniacki passes Barty test in Madrid, Sharapova advances

(5/8/18) World number two Caroline Wozniacki survived a scare from Ashleigh Barty on Monday, edging the Australian 6-2 4-6 6-4 to reach the last-16 of the Madrid Open.

Wozniacki found herself on the brink of defeat as she trailed 4-2 in the final set, but the Dane roared back to claim the last four games to seal the victory.

The 22-year-old Barty was ultimately let down by her groundstrokes in crucial stages of decider as she finished with 54 unforced errors for the match.

Wozniacki will next face former French Open semi-finalist Kiki Bertens, who stunned 15th seed Anastasija Sevastova 6-1 6-4 in the second round.

Former world number one Maria Sharapova's revival on clay is gathering pace as she overcame a tense opening set to beat Romania's Irina-Camelia Begu 7-5 6-1.

The 31-year-old Russian, who entered the tournament on the back of four consecutive defeats, rallied from 3-1 down before snatching the opening set with a ferocious forehand.

With momentum on her side, Sharapova won 20 of the last 22 points to secure a spot in the last-16.

"Although I didn't play at my best level in the first set, I pulled it through," the five-time grand slam champion told a news conference.

"I played some really tough points. I hung in there especially in that final game. Then I really set up a good opportunity for me to step up.

"I thought I did a really good job of that, especially in the last six games. I was very aggressive, played deep, returned a lot better. That will certainly help me moving forward."

Unseeded Sharapova will next face last year's finalist Kristina Mladenovic, who edged China's Zhang Shuai 6-4 4-6 6-3.

Sharapova rediscovers winning form on Madrid clay

(5/6/18) Maria Sharapova won for the first time since the Australian Open as she beat Mihaela Buzarnescu, 6-4, 6-1, on Sunday in the Madrid Open.

The Russian five-time Grand Slam champion has been struggling with an arm injury, losing her last four matches, crashing out in the first round in Stuttgart last week.

In-form Romanian Buzarnescu reached the Prague Open final last week, but unseeded Sharapova, who took the title in Madrid in 2014, dominated this first round meeting.

Sharapova jumped to a 5-2 lead in the first set but Buzarnescu briefly showed some resistance by winning the next two games.

The Russian seized the momentum by breaking again to clinch the set and dropped only one more game as she won in 82 minutes to set up a second-round match with another Romanian, Irina-Camelia Begu, who upset No.5 seed Jelena Ostapenko the evening before.

In another Romanian-Russian clash top seed Simona Halep crushed Ekaterina Makarova 6-1, 6-0, for a 13th straight victory in the tournament.

"I think it was a great match. I played really well. Of course, maybe she didn't play her best, but she's always tough to play against," Halep said.

Halep has been having fitness issues with her legs and lost to CoCo Vandeweghe in the second round on the Stuttgart clay last week.

"I don't have problems any more. I had a lot of treatment. I took care of my leg," Halep said. "It was actually coming from the back. I always have little issues with my back, so I know how to treat it."

A third Romanian, Sorana Cirstea also reached the second round by beating Czech Katerina Siniakova, 6-4, 2-6, 6-4.

"All the girls from Romania are really strong. They train a lot. They play really well, if they are confident," Halep said.

There was a mild upset in the men's tournament, where unseeded Frenchman Richard Gasquet knocked out Czech 14th seed Tomas Berdych 6-4, 6-2.

Canadian Denis Shapovalov joined Gasquet in the second round after seeing off American Tennys Sandgren 6-1, 6-4.

Sharapova eyes more grand slam glory

(4/24/18) Maria Sharapova will not settle for lower-tier titles after making her comeback last year and the former world number one is determined to add to her five grand slam crowns.

The 31-year-old Russian returned from a 15-month doping ban at the Stuttgart Grand Prix last April and Sharapova has since won one title, the Tianjin Open, after inconsistent performances and injury problems.

She is back in Stuttgart this year and plays Caroline Garcia in the first round later on Tuesday.

"When you've experienced grand slam victories, it's absolutely natural to have that goal in your mind," Sharapova told CNN.

"It would be silly for me to say my goal for this year is to win a lower-tier tournament because I strive to be on the big stage and to win on the big stage.

"I've experienced it, and I know what it's like and I want that feeling again. I continue to work for that."

Sharapova, who won her last grand slam title at the 2014 French Open, has no plans to retire.

"I haven't set a time table for myself, but I've always said that I would do it on my own terms... " she said.

"I'd love to play in another Olympics, but I don't know if that will happen and at this point in 2018, I don't really want to know. I want to keep going and I want to keep working and see where that takes me."

Sharapova stunned by Garcia in Stuttgart first round

(4/24/18) Maria Sharapova crashed out in the opening round of the Stuttgart Grand Prix on Tuesday as French sixth seed Caroline Garcia staged a fightback to win 3-6, 7-6 (8/6), 6-4.

"This was not the result that I wanted, but I can take a lot out of this match," Sharapova said. "I've not competed for a few weeks, but I played pretty solid and did all of the right things.

"I served well in the first set but had a few doubles at the wrong time. Physically, I felt quite strong."

The five-time Grand Slam champion, who turned 31 last week, looked to be in control as she made just two unforced errors in winning the opening set.

But Garcia, who had never beaten the Russian in four previous meetings -- they last played in Madrid three years ago -- rallied in the second set as she came from 4-2 down and and levelled the contest in a tie-break.

The 41st-ranked Sharapova returned to tennis in Stuttgart exactly a year ago after finishing a 15-month doping ban for meldonium and reached the semi-finals.

She claimed an early break in the third set, but lost it in the third game as Garcia tightened the screw on the crowd favourite.

Sharapova was broken to trail 4-5 and put her opponent under momentary pressure at 0-30 as Garcia tried to serve out the win.

But the world number seven succeeded on her second match point as Sharapova struck a return wide to exit after two and three-quarter hours of battle on the indoor clay court.

Sharapova said her game might have been compromised by weeks of forearm injury recovery after last playing in Indian Wells six weeks ago.

"Overall I didn't react as well as I could against a server like her, she got lot of free points," Sharapova said.

"I didn't get enough balls back. We were both playing fast, and aggressive.

"I need to be smarter in the winning position."

Garcia will next take on Ukrainian qualifier Marta Kostyuk who scored a 6-4, 6-1 defeat of Antonia Lottner.

The youngster, who doesn't turn 16 until just before the start of Wimbledon, was joined in round two by Czech fifth seed Karolina Pliskova, who beat Dutchwoman Kiki Bertens 6-2, 6-2.

Kostyuk made a breakthrough with a surprise third-round showing at the Australian Open as a qualifier, finally losing to compatriot Elina Svitolina.

World number 158 Kostyuk has since claimed a second-tier title in Burnie, Australia and reached a final in Zhuhai, China in March.

Her defeat of Lottner, ranked 155th, took just under 90 minutes, with the teenager breaking four times while losing serve only once.

Pliskova, who has been on site for a week training, is playing Stuttgart for the third consecutive year, after losing to eventual champion Laura Siegemund in the 2017 quarter-finals.

"I felt the best today and for sure it was not her best match but that was not much to do with me," Pliskova said.

"The serve was good and I got a lot of free points, my shots were working -- there was no problem from my side today."

The Czech dominated Bertens, with the winner firing six aces and breaking four times.

Reigning champion Laura Siegemund beat Barbora Strycova 6-4, 6-3, but Marketa Vondrousova did get one over the Germans for the Czechs with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Julia Goerges.

Sharapova not short on desire despite struggles

(4/24/18) Maria Sharapova has not set a timetable for retirement and still has the desire to succeed on the big stage despite having struggled since her comeback from suspension.

The five-time grand slam champion was banned in March 2016 after testing positive for meldonium. She did not return to the court until April last year and has found form and fitness hard to come by.

Though Sharapova won the Tianjin Open in October, she has been dogged by injuries in 2018, winning only five matches across four events.

Her ambition has not been checked by her results and injury issues, though, with the 31-year-old Sharapova telling CNN: "I didn't put any expectations on myself coming back after the suspension.

"Because missing that period of time at this age and after going through different things in my life, whether it's injury or surgery, just being away from the sport, even though you are resting your body and even though I was resting things that were hurting before, you can never replicate what you do in a match environment.

"I am still working through that, and I am still getting that back, and that takes a while.

"In terms of where my mind is, my motivation and the desire that I have for what I continue now when I am on centre court, when I am away from the court and I have moments where my body feels like it's not where it should be, where I am not healthy, or where it is just a day where I feel like being somewhere else, I still get through it, and I find a way to get through it and to me, that's the best sign."

On the possibility of retirement, she added: "I haven't set a timetable for myself, but I've always said that I would do it on my own terms.

"And when I say 'on my own terms', so many questions are goal-oriented. You start a season and it's like what's your goal?

"When you've experienced grand slam victories, it's absolutely natural to have that goal in your mind.

"It would be silly for me to say my goal for this year is to win a lower-tier tournament because I strive to be on the big stage and to win on the big stage.

"I've experienced it, and I know what it's like and I want that feeling again. I continue to work for that."

Sharapova faces Caroline Garcia in the first round of the Stuttgart Open on Tuesday.

Sharapova to make grasscourt return in Birmingham

(4/18/18) Former world number one Maria Sharapova will compete at the Birmingham Classic grasscourt event in the lead-up to Wimbledon, Britain's Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) announced on Wednesday.

The June 18-24 tournament is set to be the Russian's first on grass since she reached the Wimbledon semi-finals in 2015.

Sharapova, who won the Birmingham title in 2004 and 2005, was granted a wildcard at the event last year before a thigh injury forced her to skip the grasscourt season.

The five-time grand slam winner has failed to rediscover her best form after returning from a doping ban last year and split with coach Sven Groeneveld following a first-round exit at the BNP Paribas Open last month.

The defeat in California was the first time Sharapova had lost three consecutive matches since 2003 and the Russian has since withdrawn from the Miami Open with a forearm injury.

The 30-year-old joins a strong field in Birmingham, including Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza of Spain, British number one Johanna Konta and Czech Petra Kvitova, who lifted the trophy at the Edgbaston Priory Club last year.

"Maria is one of the biggest stars of her generation and a former champion in Birmingham, so it will be great to see her back on the grass courts of the Edgbaston Priory Club," tournament director Patrick Hughesman said in a statement.

"This year's line-up of players is already incredibly strong and we could get more big names signing up in the next couple of weeks."

Sharapova commits to play in new Bay Area tour event

(4/17/18) Maria Sharapova has committed to play in the Bay Area this summer as the former Stanford WTA stop moves to San Jose State University.

The five-time Grand Slam champion will play in the Mubadala Silicon Valley Classic from July 30 to. Aug. 5, the tournament announced Monday. It has a 28-player singles draw.

This will be the first year of the event at San Jose State after the former Bank of the West Classic was held at Stanford.

After a first-round win last year, former world No. 1 Sharapova withdrew from the 2017 tournament at Stanford with soreness in her left arm. That came after she dealt with a left thigh injury following her April 2017 return from a 15-month doping ban.

Maria Sharapova withdraws from Miami with forearm injury

(3/17/18) Five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova has withdrawn from the Miami Open that begins next week because of a left forearm injury.

Sharapova announced the decision on Friday. She’ll be replaced in the main draw by American Jennifer Brady.

Sharapova lost in the first round at Indian Wells last week and in the third round of the Australian Open in January. She returned to the tour last year after a 15-month doping ban.

The women’s field includes eight-time Key Biscayne champion Serena Williams and No. 1-ranked Simona Halep. The men’s field includes defending champion Roger Federer and six-time Key Biscayne champ Novak Djokovic.

Struggling Sharapova splits with coach

(3/9/18) Former world number one Maria Sharapova said on Friday she had split with her coach Sven Groeneveld, two days after losing a third consecutive match for the first time since 2003.

The news comes after Sharapova, who said the decision to end their four-year partnership was "mutually agreed", was beaten by 44th-ranked Naomi Osaka in the first round of the BNP Paribas Open in California on Wednesday.

After losing in the third round of the Australian Open to Angelique Kerber she was then beaten in the first round of the Qatar Open by Romanian qualifier Monica Niculescu.

She pulled out of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.

Sharapova has struggled to recapture top form since her 15-month ban for taking the banned drug meldonium ended last April.

"After four successful and challenging years of collaboration together, I would like to thank Sven for his incredible loyalty, work ethic and most importantly the friendship that we have formed that will go beyond this working partnership," Sharapova said in a statement on her website.

"Although we have mutually agreed to part ways during this time, I have been incredibly fortunate to have a team leader like him in my corner for the past four years."

Russian Sharapova won seven titles during her time with Groeneveld, most notably the 2014 French Open.

A two-time champion at Indian Wells, Sharapova, currently ranked 41st in the world, won the Tianjin Open in October for her first triumph since returning to the WTA Tour, but has not come close to challenging for a tournament victory since.

"Maria has been one of the most hardworking and professional players I have ever worked with," Groeneveld said.

"Her strength and fighting spirit will continue to be a force to reckon with and I have the deepest respect for her as a player and person.”

Sharapova upset by Osaka in 1st round at Indian Wells

(3/8/18) Maria Sharapova's return to the BNP Paribas Open for the first time in three years ended in a 6-4, 6-4 loss to Naomi Osaka of Japan on Wednesday night.

Sharapova's ranking of No. 41 in the world forced her to play a first-round match in the tournament she has won twice.

She trailed 4-1 in the first set before holding serve at 4-all. But Osaka held to go up 5-4 and broke Sharapova on a double fault to close out the set.

Ranked 44th in the world, Osaka took a 4-2 lead in the second set. Sharapova broke to tie it 4-all before Osaka won the final two games to end the 1 1/2-hour match.

Sam Stosur overcame a slow start to beat American Lauren Davis 3-6, 6-3, 6-3.

Two American teenagers advanced to the second round.

Amanda Anisimova defeated 94th-ranked Pauline Parmentier 6-2, 6-2 for her first WTA Tour victory. The 16-year-old Anisimova, who earned a wild card into the main draw, is the U.S. Open junior champion.

Caroline Dolehide, a 19-year-old wild card, fired 11 aces in outlasting 78th-ranked Shelby Rogers, 3-6, 7-6 (6), 6-3 in 2 1/2 hours.

In other matches on the first day of the two-week tournament, Belinda Bencic saved a match point in beating Timea Babos, 1-6, 6-1, 7-6 (4), while wild card Genie Bouchard lost to qualifier Sachia Vickery, 6-3, 6-4.

Serena Williams returns to the tour for the first time in 14 months Thursday when she plays a first-round match.

Injured Maria Sharapova pulls out of Dubai

(2/16/18) Maria Sharapova has pulled out of the Dubai Tennis Championships.

No official reason has been provided for the Russian's withdrawal, although reports suggest the five-time grand slam champion has been struggling with pain in her forearms.

Sharapova was beaten in the first round of the Qatar Open by qualifier Monica Niculescu on Monday and will now miss out next week in Dubai.

American Madison Keys will also sit it out due to illness, but French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko has joined the field.

"Unfortunately, both Maria Sharapova and Madison Keys have regretfully had to withdraw from the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships due to injury and illness," tournament director Salah Tahlak said, via a news release.

"We are sorry that neither Maria nor Madison will be able to play in Dubai, but we still have one of the strongest fields ever assembled for the WTA event.

"Maria said that she is very sorry she cannot be here and hopes to come back next year. We wish her and Madison a speedy recovery."

Maria Sharapova crashes out in Qatar Open first round

(2/14/18) Five-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova suffered a shock defeat in the first round of the Qatar Open on Monday, dumped out in three sets by outsider Monica Niculescu.

The Romanian, ranked number 92 in the world, 51 places behind the Russian, won 4-6, 6-4, 6-3. In a match lasting more than two and a half hours, Sharapova hit 52 unforced errors as opposed to just 17 from Niculescu. In blustery conditions, Sharapova also struggled to get to grips with the 30-year-old Niculescu's distinctive style, which relies heavily on a sliced forehand.

The former world number one, twice a winner in Doha, had been given a wildcard into the draw and was one the tournament's major attractions. "I did a good job of winning the longer rallies, even though that's not really what I wanted to get myself into," said Sharapova afterwards. "So, physically I felt good. I just got pretty passive in the end and starting making too many errors."

It was the 30-year-old's first appearance in Doha since 2013 and her first match since losing to Angelique Kerber in the third round of the Australian Open last month. Sharapova returned to tennis last April after completing a 15-month ban for failing a drug test. A jubilant Niculescu described it afterwards as "a very good win" as well as "a tough match".

She added: "I love it how I play and I like to be unique and I think my slice forehand is a weapon. "And when I feel good on the court then I play relaxed, I can be good and can be dangerous." Niculescu's reward is to play either Magdalena Rybarikova or wildcard Fatma Al-Nabhani in the next round.

Nine of the top ten women's players are competing in Doha this week, but arguably Sharapova was the biggest attraction. Her defeat is unlikely to please organisers after the men's tournament in Qatar last month was decimated of big name stars through injury. The competition could see a repeat of the Australian Open final as the world's new number one Carolina Wozniacki, and the woman she beat in Melbourne, Simona Halep, are seeded one and two in Doha. In another Romanian versus Russian clash, Halep will start her tournament on Tuesday, playing against Muscovite, Ekaterina Makarova, a former world number eight. Also through on Monday was world number 30 Dominika Cibulkova, who beat Russia's Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, the world number 22, 7-6 (10/8), 6-4.

Kerber beats Sharapova to reach 4th round of Australian Open

(1/21/18) Angelique Kerber is on her own in an elite club at the Australian Open.

The 2016 champion routed Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-3 in a third-round win that showcased her credentials as a title contender and ensured she’ll be the only Grand Slam champion still playing in the second week in the women’s draw.

Roger Federer and Novak Djokovic were almost as ruthless in their straight-sets wins Saturday night, which is hardly surprising for two players with a combined 31 Grand Slam titles. As well, it was Federer’s 90th match win at Melbourne Park.

Women’s No. 1 Simona Halep took a longer route — equaling a mark in Melbourne for endurance but signalling, perhaps, that she’s closer to a Grand Slam breakthrough.

Sharapova was back at the Australian Open for the first time since 2016, when a failed doping test led to a 15-month ban from tennis.

After two comfortable wins the five-time major winner was growing in confidence, but she had no answers for Kerber, who is on a 12-match winning streak in a kind of comeback of her own after a sliding down the rankings last year.

"Of course is quite a big match. I mean, Maria is a champion. She’s always dangerous, especially at the Grand Slams," Kerber said. "I was really trying to not think about everything around, about against who I’m playing.

"I learned a lot from the last 12, 24 months. I had a great 2016 and last year was a little tougher."

Kerber’s year-end ranking dropped from No. 1 in 2016 to 21 last year, when she failed to defend her Australian or U.S. Open titles. "Anybody who knows me knows I never give up."

Sharapova said Kerber was the more aggressive on court and took more risks.

"A lot of things I need to get better at and improve on," she said. "Today was not enough (but) … looking at the overall picture, there’s a lot to build from."

The Kerber-Sharapova match, billed as the showdown of the round, was over quickly. That was in contract to Halep’s 4-6, 6-4, 15-13 win in 3 hours and 45 minutes over American Lauren Davis.

The third set took 2 hours, 22 minutes. Halep wasted chances to serve for the match in the ninth, 11th and 15th games, then had to save three match points in the 22nd. There were 11 service breaks and two medical timeouts — for Davis to get treatment on both feet — before Halep converted on her first match point.

"I never played the third set so long, so I’m really happy I could stay and win it. I’m almost dead," Halep said of the match which equaled Chanda Rubin’s win over Arantxa Shanchez Vicario in 1996 — also 48 games — for the Australian Open record in terms of most games.

"I just feel that my muscles are gone," said Halep, who badly twisted her left ankle in the first round. "My ankle is, I don’t know how it is because I don’t feel it anymore!"

Halep will next play Naomi Osaka, who beat 18th-seeded Ash Barty 6-4, 6-2. No. 20 Barbora Strycova beat U.S. qualifier Bernarda Pera 6-2, 6-2, leaving U.S. Open finalist Madison Keys as the only American woman to reach the fourth round.

Keys advanced 6-3, 6-4 over Ana Bogdan and will next play No. 8 Caroline Garcia. Sixth-seeded Karolina Pliskova beat No. 29 Lucie Safarova 7-6 (6), 7-5.

Kerber’s next match is against Hsieh Su-wei, who followed up her win over Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza with a 6-2, 7-5 win against No. 26 Agnieszka Radwanska to return to the fourth round at Melbourne Park for the first time in a decade.

Six-time Australian Open champion Djokovic continued his comeback from six months out with an injured right elbow, beating No. 21 Albert Ramos-Vinolas 6-2, 6-3, 6-3.

"I obviously have to be more humble this time with my expectations because I haven’t played for six months," said the 14th-seeded Djokovic, who played down the medical time out he took to receive a massage on his back and upper legs as just the tribulations of returning to the tour.

Federer entered the Australian Open last year under similar circumstances, coming off an extended break for a knee injury, and went on to win the title. His defence moved through another round with a 6-2, 7-5, 6-4 win over No. 29 Richard Gasquet.

"Expectations are different," this year, Federer said. "I’m coming in very fit, very well equipped knowing five sets is not an issue. Don’t know if (winning) is going to happen this year, but so far, so good."

Tomas Berdych beat 2009 U.S. Open champion Juan Martin del Potro in straight sets and fifth-seeded Dominic Thiem beat Adrian Mannarino to set up a match against Tennys Sandgren.

Djokovic will next face Hyeon Chung, who took out a Zverev for the second time this week. Chung beat fourth-seeded Alexander Zverev 5-7, 7-6 (3), 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 six days after a win over No. 32 Mischa Zverev.

Another loss at a major had the highly-touted Zverev admitting he may have a problem. He’s won five tour-level titles, but never gone beyond the fourth round at a major.

"I have some figuring out to do, what happens to me in deciding moments in Grand Slam," he said.

Kerber revival meets Sharapova roadblock as Melbourne cools

(1/19/18) Angelique Kerber's recent revival faces its toughest test in the shape of Maria Sharapova when the only two former Australian Open champions in the women's draw clash in round three on Saturday.

A cool front broke the grip of the high temperatures ahead of day six of the championships but there should still be plenty of heat out on court as the players battle for the remaining spots in the fourth round.

Defending men's champion Roger Federer's will look to continue his imperious advance through the draw when he meets Frenchman Richard Gasquet, while six-times champion Novak Djokovic and young gun Alexander Zverev are also in action.

World number one Simona Halep looks to forge further ahead into a draw increasing devoid of seeds when she meets American Lauren Davies but there is no doubting the top women's match of the day.

Sharapova, who won the Melbourne Park title as a 20-year-old in 2008, missed last year's tournament because of a 15-month doping ban and is still ranked a lowly 48th in the world as she continues her comeback.

Lefthander Kerber has plummeted down the rankings from world number to 16th on the back of a year of good old fashioned poor form but has rallied with seven straight wins to start 2018.

Kerber, who joined Sharapova in the 30-something club on Thursday, beat absent reigning champion Serena Williams to win the 2016 Australian Open and is a formidable opponent when at her best.

"I look forward to these matches. I want to be playing against opponents that are former grand slam champions," Russian Sharapova said.

"She's had success here. She's had success playing out here in these conditions on these courts. I want to see where I am on that level."

Their last three meetings have gone to three sets and Kerber is expecting another tight affair.

"I'm looking forward to playing against her," the German said. "This is the matches I'm looking forward to have, especially at the beginning of the year.

"I had a lot in the last few weeks. I will try to continue my run and playing good like I played also here like the last two matches."

Factbox: Maria Sharapova v Angelique Kerber

(1/19/18) A look at the records of Russia's Maria Sharapova and German Angelique Kerber before their third round match at the Australian Open on Saturday (prefix number denotes seeding).

MARIA SHARAPOVA

Age: 30

WTA ranking: 48 (Highest ranking: 1)

Grand slam titles: 5 (Australian Open 2008; French Open 2012, 2014; Wimbledon 2004; U.S. Open 2006)

2017 Australian Open performance: Did not play

Best Australian Open performance: Winner 2008

2017 WTA win-loss record: 16-7

Former champion Sharapova has continued her strong start to the season and recorded commanding wins over German Tatjana Maria and Latvian Anastasija Sevastova in the opening two rounds.

The Russian has lost to Kerber in their last two meetings but has the overall advantage, having ousted the German on four previous occasions.

Sharapova has progressed to the fourth round of the Australian Open in each of her six appearances since 2011.

21-ANGELIQUE KERBER

Age: 30

WTA ranking: 16 (Highest ranking: 1)

Grand slam titles: 2 (Australian Open 2016; U.S. Open 2016)

2017 Australian Open performance: Fourth round

Best Australian Open performance: Winner 2016

2017 WTA win-loss record: 28-23

Kerber's quest to move on from an underwhelming 2017 season has got off to a great start with the German marching to the Sydney International title this month.

The 30-year-old started her Australian Open campaign with a dominant win over compatriot Anna-Lena Friedsam and marked her birthday with a victory over Croatian Donna Vekic in their second round match.

HEAD-TO-HEAD (Sharapova 4 - Kerber 3)

April 2015 - Kerber d Sharapova 2-6 7-5 6-1 (Stuttgart, clay)

July 2014 - Kerber d Sharapova 7-6(4) 4-6 6-4 (Wimbledon, grass)

April 2013 - Sharapova d Kerber 6-3 2-6 7-5 (Stuttgart, clay)

Oct. 2012 - Sharapova d Kerber 6-0 3-0 Retired (Beijing, outdoor hard)

May 2012 - Sharapova d Kerber 6-3 6-4 (Rome, clay)

June 2012 - Kerber d Sharapova 6-4 6-4 (Paris, hard)

Jan. 2012 - Sharapova d Kerber 6-1 6-2 (Melbourne, outdoor hard)

Sharapova cranks up Australian Open title charge on day four

(1/18/18) Maria Sharapova laid down her Australian Open title credentials on a scorching hot Melbourne day on Thursday, with Caroline Garcia and fellow veteran Agnieszka Radwanksa joining her in the third round.

With the temperatures heading towards an energy-sapping 39 Celsius (102 Fahrenheit) and ice-towels in use, the Russian drawcard worked hard to get off court early against Anastasija Sevastova.

It was the Latvian 14th seed who ended her Grand Slam comeback in the last 16 of the US Open in 2017 as she returned from a drug ban. But not this time.

Sharapova was unstoppable in racing through the first set 6-1 before a battle in the second to prevail 7-6 (7/4), proving she must again be taken seriously.

"You know, it was a warm day. I did my job in two sets against someone that's been troubling in the past for me," she said afterwards.

"So third round of the Australian Open. I think I deserve to smile out there after that victory."

Being unseeded means she has her work cut out to reach another final, with a host of hurdles in her way.

Next up could be in-form 2016 Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber, who plays Donna Vekic later and is starting to show glimpses of her best again after a miserable last year.

Eighth seed Garcia also stayed in the title hunt, but she found it hard going against Czech teen Marketa Vondrousova who pushed her to three gruelling sets.

The Frenchwoman, who had a breakout year in 2017, winning two titles, eventually got over the line 6-7 (3/7), 6-2, 8-6 in almost two-and-a-half hours.

"My feet are burning," she said. "But we know it's like this in Australia -- the next day it can be freezing."

Two-time tournament semi-finalist Radwanksa, who has slid down the rankings and is only seeded 26, continued her under-the-radar progress with a three set win over Lesia Tsurenko.

She could potentially face third seed Garbine Muguruza next, who is still struggling with a right thigh problem and tests it against Taiwan's Hsieh Su-wei.

British hope Johanna Konta is no longer in contention after she was bundled out by American "lucky loser" Bernarda Pera.

Sydney-born Konta, a quarter-finalist last year, was no match for American, who is only in the main draw after a player pulled out before the Grand Slam began, as she fell 6-4, 7-5.

Sharapova gets patience test with Melbourne set to sizzle

(1/17/18) Maria Sharapova returns to Rod Laver Arena for the first time since her drug ban for a second round match against Anastasija Sevastova on Thursday as players, officials and fans alike prepare for sweltering heat at the Australian Open.

The former world number one, who missed last year's tournament because of her ban for the use of a banned substance, takes on the Latvian 14th seed in the first match on the main showcourt so should escape the worst of the heat.

Temperatures are forecast to reach 40 degrees Celsius on Thursday and Friday but it is those on the more exposed outer courts who usually suffer most during the annual scorcher at Melbourne Park.

Sharapova lost a fourth round match in three sets to Sevastova on her return to grand slam tennis at the U.S. Open last year but got a measure of revenge in another tight clash at the China Open.

Australian Open champion a decade ago, Sharapova said she would not be looking to race through their third match in five months.

"It's not an easy match, not an easy match for anyone, especially for an aggressive player like I am," she said.

"You know, she's an opponent that tests my patience, and I'm willing to be there and out there for as long as it takes."

Another former champion, Novak Djokovic, is also likely to have his patience tested in his second match on the same court later in the day with mercurial Frenchman Gael Monfils having made something of a speciality of producing the unexpected.

Although six-times Melbourne champion Djokovic has won all 14 of their meetings at the elite level, his near contemporary is sure to fully test the fitness of the elbow that kept the Serbian on the sidelines for the second half of last year.

The meeting between Simona Halep and Eugenie Bouchard might bring a little frost to a hot day as the top seed and world number one said last year she did not talk to the Canadian, who beat her in the 2014 Wimbledon semi-finals.

Halep, who turned her ankle in her opening victory over local Destanee Aiava on Tuesday, will face Bouchard in the evening on Margaret Court Arena before Stan Wawrinka continues his comeback against Tennys Sandgren.

Wawrinka's fellow Swiss Roger Federer resumes his title defence against German Jan-Lennard Struff with top five seeds Alexander Zverev and Dominic Thiem also in action on day four.

Top seed Rafa Nadal, who will play his third round match against Bosnian 28th seed Damir Dzumhur on another scorcher on Friday, urged organizers close the roofs of the showcourts if the heat became extreme, to preserve players and fans.

"I think it's a health issue ... When it's too much, (it) becomes dangerous for the health," he said.

"I would not like to see here retirements. Conditions that create a bad show for the crowd. The crowd is suffering, too, there."

Former champs Sharapova, Kerber into 2nd round in Australia

(1/15/18) Maria Sharapova barely missed a beat in her first match back at the Australian Open since a failed doping test in 2016 resulted in a 15-month ban from tennis.

One of just two former champions in the women's draw, Sharapova recovered from an early break in the second set and closed out her 6-1, 6-4 victory over Tatjana Maria with an ace on Tuesday at Margaret Court Arena. She celebrated by twirling, waving and blowing kisses to the crowd.

''It's been a couple of years since I've been back here - obviously I wanted to enjoy the moment,'' the 2008 Australian Open champion and three-time runner-up said in an on-court TV interview. ''It was really meaningful for me to be out here.''

Sharapova was banned for after testing positive for the drug meldonium here in 2016, when she reached the quarterfinals, and finished last year ranked No. 60.

The five-time major winner got vocal support from fans during and after her opening match.

''I've got shivers. It means a lot to me,'' Sharapova said. ''I cherish these moments, I love it.''

Sharapova could next meet No. 14-seeded Anastasija Sevastova, who beat her at the U.S. Open last year in her return to a Grand Slam to tournament.

Angelique Kerber, the 2016 champion, continued her resurgent run with a 6-0, 6-4 win over fellow German Anna-Lena Friedsam.

Kerber raced through the first set in 17 minutes but had her struggles in the second and was broken twice before converting her second match point and extending her streak to 10 consecutive wins.

She opened the year by winning four singles matches at the Hopman Cup, where Germany lost the final to Switzerland, and won the Sydney International last week for her first title since the 2016 U.S. Open.

Kerber made her major breakthrough two years ago in Australia, where she beat Serena Williams in the final, and went on to reach the Wimbledon final and win the U.S. Open in a year when she rose to No. 1.

Her ranking slid into the 20s in 2017, but she's coming back into the kind of form which makes her a title contender at Melbourne Park.

''I'm just enjoying it on court again,'' Kerber said. ''Something is going on with Australia and me. I love this country - I enjoy my stay, play my best tennis.''

No. 9 Johanna Konta beat Madison Brengle 6-3, 6-1, handing the U.S. a 10th loss in 11 first-round women's matches.

The first-round upsets included Venus Williams, U.S. Open champion Sloane Stephens and CoCo Vandeweghe, a semifinalist here and at the U.S. Open last year.

''It's a testament to how many great first- and second-round matches we have,'' Konta said of the early upsets. ''Shows how much depth we have in the women's game right now.''

Konta will next meet Bernarda Pera, a lucky loser in the qualifying tournament who registered the second win by an American woman at the tournament when she beat Russian qualifier Anna Blinkova 6-2, 6-2.

No. 20 Barbora Strycova's 6-1, 7-5 win over wild-card entry Kristie Ahn and Aliaksandra Sasnovich beat Christina McHale 6-3, 6-2 to make it 2 for 13 for the U.S. women so far.

Former No. 1-ranked Karolina Pliskova opened with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Veronica Cepede Royg, No. 8 Caroline Garcia beat Carina Witthoft 7-5, 6-3 and No. 29 Lucie Safarova defeated Ajla Tomljanovic 7-5, 6-3.

No. 13 Sam Querrey restored some order for the U.S. men with a 6-3, 6-4, 6-2 win over Feliciano Lopez, advancing to the second round. Two other U.S. contenders, No. 8 Jack Sock and No. 16 John Isner, were among the first-round casualties on Monday.

No. 20 Roberto Bautista Agut and No. 22 Milos Raonic, a former Wimbledon finalist, were beaten.

Bautista Agut lost to fellow Spaniard Fernando Verdasco, a semifinalist here in 2009, and Raonic lost 6-7 (5), 7-5, 6-4, 7-6 (4) to Lukas Lacko in the opening match on Show Court 2.

Penpix of the top women's contenders at Australian Open

(1/13/18) Penpix of the top women's contenders at the 2018 Australian Open, which begins on Monday:

Simona Halep (Romania)

World ranking: 1

Born: Sept. 27, 1991 (Age 26)

Height: 1.68 metres

Plays: Right-handed

Grand slam titles: 0

WTA match record in 2018 (won-lost): 5-0

After rising to the top of the rankings at the end of last year, top seed Halep has continued her ruthless form to win the season-opening Shenzhen Open trophy. The Romanian, who reached the quarter-finals at Melbourne Park in 2014 and 2015, now has the chance to win her maiden grand slam title and assert her dominance after first-round exits in the last two editions.

Elina Svitolina (Ukraine)

World ranking: 4

Born: Sept. 12, 1994 (Age 23)

Height: 1.74 metres

Plays: Right-handed

Grand slam titles: 0

WTA match record in 2018 (won-lost): 5-0

Svitolina won five singles titles last season and has started the current campaign in fine form by winning her 10th career title at the Brisbane International, dropping just one set in the process. The Ukrainian has not fared well at grand slams and will be eager to get past the third round at Melbourne Park for the first time.

Venus Williams (U.S.)

World ranking: 5

Born: June 17, 1980 (Age 37)

Height: 1.85 metres

Plays: Right-handed

Grand slam titles: 7 (Wimbledon 2000, 2001, 2005, 2007, 2008, U.S. Open 2000, 2001)

Veteran Williams is among the top contenders to win her eighth grand slam and first Australian Open title following a successful campaign last year, where she finished runner-up at Melbourne Park, Wimbledon and the WTA Finals, in the absence of her sister Serena. The 37-year-old has lost to her sister in two previous Australian Open finals.

Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark)

World ranking: 2

Born: July 11, 1990 (Age 27)

Height: 1.77 metres

Plays: Right-handed

Grand slam titles: 0

WTA match record in 2018 (won-lost): 4-1

Wozniacki is showing no signs of slowing down since winning her 27th singles title at the ATP Finals last October as the Dane charged to the Auckland Classic final, where she lost to Julia Goerges after a tough match. The 27-year-old is yet to win a major and will be keen to better her record at Melbourne Park, where she reached the semi-finals in 2011.

Maria Sharapova (Russia)

World ranking: 47

Born: April 19, 1987 (Age 30)

Height: 1.88 metres

Plays: Right-handed

Grand slam titles: 5 (Wimbledon 2004, French Open 2012, 2014, Australian Open 2008, U.S. Open 2006)

WTA match record in 2018 (won-lost): 3-1

The resurgent Russian is among the few contenders at Melbourne Park this year to have a major title to her name. The 30-year-old returned from a doping ban last season and went on to win the Tianjin Open. Sharapova kicked off the current season with a run to the semi-finals of the Shenzhen Open last week and is in prime position to get back to her ruthless best and win her first grand slam since 2014.

Jelena Ostapenko (Latvia)

Born: June 8, 1997 (Age 20)

Height: 1.77 metres

Plays: Right-handed

World ranking: 7

Grand slam titles: 1 (French Open 2017)

WTA match record in 2018 (won-lost): 0-2

French Open champion Ostapenko continued her momentum after her shock win at Roland Garros, reaching the quarter-finals at Wimbledon and the third round of the U.S. Open for the first time. The 20-year-old ended last season with two semi-final appearances in Wuhan and Beijing and also qualified for the WTA finals. Despite her early exit in Shenzhen and Sydney, Ostapenko will be targeting another first as she aims to reach the fourth round at Melbourne Park.

Australian Open claims Maria Sharapova carried trophy into 2018 draw because she was only former champion available

(1/12/18) The Australian Open defended its decision to ask Maria Sharapova to carry the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup into the draw ceremony, arguing that she was the only former champion who had been available for the showpiece event.

Sharapova – whose last act at Melbourne Park was to provide a tainted urine sample in January 2016 – received a big build-up as she walked onto Margaret Court Arena with the trophy. An obsequious interview with Hamish McLachlan ensued, in which McLachlan referred to her “time out” as if she had taken a holiday rather than serving a 15-month doping ban.

In normal circumstances, defending champion Serena Williams would have appeared at the draw, but she is at home in Florida with her four-month-old daughter Alexis Olympia. And the only other former champion in this year’s event is Angelique Kerber, who is due to appear in the semi-finals at the Sydney International on Friday.

Asked why Sharapova had been chosen for this honour, the Australian Open’s tournament director Craig Tiley replied “As part of the tradition, we have the former champions [for the draw ceremony]. We needed a former champion to come, she accepted the invite.”

Tiley was then asked whether it was appropriate for Sharapova’s first public appearance here since her doping offence to be couched in such celebratory terms.

“In fairness to Maria, the adjudication has occurred on that,” he said. “It's her 10-year anniversary” – Sharapova won her lone Australian Open title in 2008 – “like it's the 30-year anniversary of this great Melbourne Park. Maria is an Australian Open champion. She deserved the opportunity.”

Despite the absence of any current champions to choose from, there would have been a case for calling up a legend from the past – such as Evonne Goolagong Cawley – to accompany male defending champion Roger Federer.

Instead, the Australian Open has made tennis look soft on doping offenders. It is hard to imagine Wimbledon welcoming Sharapova back so enthusiastically, nor the French Open, which last year denied her a wild card on moral grounds.

Halep faces wild card in Australian Open first round

(1/12/18) Romania's world No.1 Simona Halep will face Australian wild card Destanee Aiava as her first round opponent at the Australian Open, while Thursday's draw could also see her go up against Karolina Pliskova in the quarter-finals.

Halep, who has been beaten in the first round four times in Melbourne, must first overcome Aiava if she is to realise her dream of going on to win a first Grand Slam title.

This year's Australian Open field is wide open following the decision by 23-time Grand Slam champion Serena Williams not to defend her title in Melbourne, saying she was not quite ready to compete after giving birth in September.

Last year's British quarter-finalist Johanna Konta is in the same quarter as Halep and faces American Madison Brengle first up.

Danish former world number one Caroline Wozniacki, the second seed after her resurgence in 2017 when she reached eight finals, opens against Mihaela Buzarnescu of Romania in the bottom half of the draw.

Wozniacki is projected to face French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia in the quarters.

Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza is in the same half of the draw as Halep and takes on France's Jessika Ponchet in the opening round.

Muguruza, seeded three, could face another Frenchwoman, Caroline Garcia, in the quarters.

The 2008 champion Maria Sharapova, who on Monday moved back into the world's top 50 for the first time since returning from a 15-month doping ban, is unseeded and takes on 47th-ranked German Tatjana Maria in the first round in the same section of the draw.

Evergreen 37-year-old Venus Williams, who last won a Slam in 2008, is seeded five and has a first-round encounter with Swiss Belinda Bencic, who teamed up with Roger Federer to win the mixed teams Hopman Cup in Perth last week.

Williams could face Ukraine's fourth seed Elina Svitolina in the quarter-finals.

Federer, Djokovic drawn in same half for Australian Open

(1/11/18) Roger Federer found himself in a slightly awkward position before the Australian Open draw.

Just being there.

A few minutes later when the formalities were completed, Federer found out how difficult defending his title could be after landing in the same half as six-time champion Novak Djokovic.

"This is not normal," Federer told a crowd of hundreds of fans before the draw on Thursday at Margaret Court Arena. "I don’t like usually going to draws because they freak me out. I don’t want to know who I play other than just seeing the sheet at the end and knowing who my first-round opponent is."

First up, the 36-year-old Swiss will play Ajaz Bedene of Slovenia. He also has No. 7-ranked David Goffin, Juan Martin del Potro, Sam Querrey, and Milos Raonic in his quarter.

There’s a potential semifinal against Djokovic, who is aiming for a record seventh Australian Open title but is seeded 14th as he returns from six months on the sidelines with a right elbow injury.

Djokovic is in the same quarter as the Zverev brothers — fourth-seeded Alexander could meet older brother and No. 32-seeded Mischa in the third round — 2014 champion Stan Wawrinka, and No. 5 Dominic Thiem.

Federer beat Rafael Nadal in the final here last year on his return from six months on the sidelines and is seeded No. 2 as he bids for a 20th Grand Slam singles title.

Djokovic had a contrasting 2017, starting at No. 2 but losing in a second-round upset at the Australian Open and not playing again after Wimbledon. It was the first year since 2009 that Djokovic didn’t reach at least one Grand Slam final. He delayed his return until two exhibition appearances this week.

Top-ranked Nadal will open against Victor Estrella Burgos, has a potential fourth-round match against John Isner, and No. 3 Grigor Dimitrov in his half of the draw. He followed his run to the final in Melbourne by winning the French Open and U.S. Open, splitting the Grand Slam honours with Federer for the year.

Serena Williams has opted not to defend her title four months after giving birth to her first child, leaving the women’s draw open.

Her sister Venus, who lost the all-Williams Australian Open final last year, has a tough opener against Belinda Bencic — who combined with Federer to win the Hopman Cup for Switzerland last week — and is also in the same quarter as U.S. Open winner Sloane Stephens.

Top-ranked Simona Halep opens against Australian wild card Destanee Aiava, has a potential second-round match against 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard, and is in the same half as Garbine Muruguza, the Wimbledon champion.

Third-seeded Muguruza is in a difficult quarter containing former Australian Open champions Maria Sharapova and Angelique Kerber, and U.S. Open finalist Madison Keys.

Sharapova, who won the 2008 Australian title and reached three other finals at Melbourne Park, missed last year’s tournament during a 15-month suspension after a failed doping test here in 2016.

The five-time major winner finished 2017 ranked No. 60, meaning she missed out on a seeding for the Australian Open and could face 2016 champion Kerber in the third round.

"There’s no easy way to get to the top," Sharapova told the crowd at Margaret Court Arena before the draw. "You always have to beat the top players in order to get to the top."

Organizers defended the decision to invite Sharapova to appear as the representative for the women’s draw, with tournament director Craig Tiley saying the sanction was over and the 30-year-old Russian was there as a former champion.

Sharapova said after a long time out she had to be patient coming back to the tour, but was still confident of returning to the top ranking and winning major tournaments.

"The drive, I still have it. I certainly will hope I put myself in that position," Sharapova said. "I put a lot of expectations on myself because I have been there, and I have delivered in those moments. I expect to continue to do so."

Siniakova beats Sharapova to reach Shenzhen Open final

(1/5/18) Defending champion Katerina Siniakova defeated Maria Sharapova 6-2, 3-6, 6-3 on Friday in her first meeting with the five-time major winner to reach the final of the Shenzhen Open.

The sixth-seeded Siniakova hit 10 aces to set up a final on Saturday with top-ranked Simona Halep, who beat fourth-seeded Irina-Camelia Begu 6-1, 6-4.

"I’m so happy," Siniakova said. "You could see the emotions after I finally won the last point. It was a tough match for me, and even tougher to close it."

Sharapova, who is set for a return to the Australian Open which starts on Jan. 15, struggled with her serve, double faulting five times. Sharapova missed last year’s tournament during a doping ban that dated back to a failed test for meldonium at Melbourne Park in 2016.

In the first semifinal in Shenzhen on Friday, Halep had 15 winners and four service breaks as she maintained her perfect record against her doubles partner, improving to 6-0 against Begu.

"It was a tough match, I know that she’s a very strong player and in the second set, you could see that she was improving her game," Halep said. "I was strong enough to hit the ball (well) in the end."

Sharapova, Halep advance to semifinals at Shenzhen Open

(1/4/18) Maria Sharapova continued her preparations for an Australian Open return by beating Zarina Diyas 6-3, 6-3 Thursday to advance to the Shenzhen Open semifinals along with top-seeded Simona Halep.

The five-time major winner dictated play against Diyas, hitting 24 winners and five aces to clinch victory in just under 90 minutes on Thursday.

"I didn’t play my best tennis, and there’s certainly a lot of things to improve on," Sharapova said. "The great thing is that I’m through and have another chance to play tomorrow."

She will play defending champion and No.6-seeded Katerina Siniakova for a place in the final. Siniakova beat Kristyna Pliskova 6-2, 6-2.

Sharapova missed the last Australian Open during a doping ban that dated back to a failed test for meldonium at Melbourne Park in 2016, and is keen to make a return to the season’s opening major which starts Jan. 15.

Top-ranked Halep also eased into the semifinals with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Aryna Sabalenka.

Halep’s 3-6, 6-1, 6-2 win over local favourite Duan Yingying on Wednesday ensured she will retain the No. 1 ranking for the Australian Open.

Irina-Camelia Begu advanced to the Shenzhen semifinals earlier Thursday with a 7-5, 7-5 win over Timea Babos.

Maria Sharapova wins, Ostapenko loses at Shenzhen Open

(1/2/18) Maria Sharapova had 11 aces and saved seven of 10 break points to beat Alison Riske 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 on Tuesday and advance to the Shenzhen Open quarterfinals.

The five-time major winner will next face Zarina Diyas, who upset third-seeded Zhang Shuai 6-3, 6-7 (5), 6-4.

"Although I would’ve wanted a quick and easy victory, these are the kind of matches that you need, especially with such a short preparation going into the Australian Open," Sharapova said.

Earlier, Kristyna Pliskova, the twin of former No.1-ranked Karolina Pliskova, beat French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko 6-1, 6-4.

Ostapenko, who beat Serena Williams in an exhibition match in Abu Dhabi on Saturday, was overwhelmed by Pliskova’s powerful serves.

"I felt a bit nervous in the second set, but my serve was really working today, which was a big help," Pliskova said.

Pliskova will next play Ana Bogdan, who beat Camila Giorgi 6-4, 6-2.

Aryna Sabalenka also advanced to the quarterfinals with a 6-1, 6-0 victory over Danka Kovinic, while Timea Babos defeated Magda Linette 6-2, 6-1.

Sharapova, Halep advance at Shenzhen Open

(1/1/18) Maria Sharapova and top-ranked Simona Halep opened their 2018 seasons with straight sets wins on Monday at the Shenzhen Open.

Sharapova finished off a 6-3, 6-0 win over Mihaela Buzarnescu with a powerful forehand winner, and Halep started her bid for a second Shenzhen title with a 6-4, 6-1 victory over Nicole Gibbs.

"It’s my first victory this year as No. 1 in the world, so I’m just happy and enjoying the time," said 2015 champion Halep, who will play China’s Duan Yingying in the next round.

Sharapova dropped an early service game but recovered quickly to dominate her match.

"It’s always nice to start off the year with a victory. Overall I thought, besides a few breaks in the beginning, I really stepped up and finished the match off well," Sharapova said.

The five-time major winner will next play 2017 Shenzhen finalist Alison Riske, who opened beat fifth-seeded Wang Qiang on Sunday.

"She beat a crowd favourite yesterday, so I know I have a tough match ahead," Sharapova said. "But I just want to keep playing better, and keep improving no matter who is across the net."

No. 8-seeded Tima Babos had a 6-1, 6-1 win over Wang Xiyu.

Sharapova named in India luxury housing fraud probe

(11/21/17) Five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova is under investigation in India for cheating and criminal conspiracy after the collapse of a luxury housing project that she endorsed, police and a lawyer said Tuesday.

The firm behind the development is alleged to have taken millions of dollars from homebuyers before the project folded.

"We have registered a case of cheating on directions from the court," local police officer Arvind Sharma told AFP.

He said Sharapova and the firm behind the development, Homestead Infrastructure Development, were named in the case.

The 30-year-old tennis star travelled to India in 2012 to launch the luxury high-rise apartment complex -- later named Ballet by Sharapova -- which prospective buyers were told would house a tennis academy, a clubhouse and a helipad.

The website of the project quotes Sharapova as saying her goal was to "make the owners feel like they own something special and different".

"Any celebrity who endorses any product technically becomes an agent for that company. No one would have invested in the project if Sharapova's name was not there," said Piyush Singh, a lawyer representing the complainant.

The project in Gurgaon -- a satellite city of the capital New Delhi -- was supposed to be ready in 2016 but, Singh said, construction work was abandoned after builders collected millions from homebuyers.

Calls to the developers went unanswered. Sharapova has not yet commented on the case.

Sharapova, a former world number one, made almost $30 million in 2015, according to Forbes, with $23 million of that coming from endorsements.

She has had a stop-start season since her controversial return to the game in April, following a 15-month doping ban.

Grand Slams planning to cut seeds from 32 back to 16 in 2019

(11/21/17) Grand Slam tournaments are planning to return to seeding only 16 players, instead of 32, as of 2019, and now will give a player who is a late withdrawal because of an injury 50 per cent of the first-round prize money.

Also among the announcements by the Grand Slam Board on Tuesday after two days of meetings in London last week:

— A player who retires from a first-round match or "performs below professional standards" could face a fine as high as the entire prize money due a loser in that round.

— A 25-second serve clock will be tried out at the Australian Open in January, but like at this year’s U.S. Open, not during main-draw matches.

— Players could be fined up to $20,000 for violating "strictly enforced" prematch timing, which will give them one minute to meet at the net after walking on the court, five minutes for warming up, followed by one minute to be ready for play to begin.

The four Grand Slam tournaments — the Australian Open, French Open, Wimbledon, U.S. Open — doubled the number of seeded players to 32 in June 2001. That decision was made partly in response to complaints from clay-court specialists that they wanted more draw protection at Wimbledon, the only major tournament played on grass.

Going back to 16 seeds in 2019 would, in theory anyway, make early upsets more likely. That’s because if all of the highest-ranked players enter the field, whoever is No. 1 could wind up facing whoever is No. 17 in the opening round.

With 32 seeds, none was forced to play someone ranked higher than No. 33 before the third round.

The changes with regard to first-round withdrawals, retirements and lack of full effort appear to be in response to what happened at Wimbledon this year. Novak Djokovic’s first-round match at Centre Court lasted all of 40 minutes, and Roger Federer’s went 43, before their opponents stopped playing because of pre-existing injuries. Two other men also stopped mid-match that day, bringing the first-round retirement total to seven and sparking discussion about whether spectators were being shortchanged.

The rule changes issued Tuesday, and taking effect next year, let players collect half of the first-round prize money at a Grand Slam tournament if they are "unfit to play" and withdraw onsite after noon on Thursday but before the main draw begins. The person replacing them in the field — a "lucky loser" who failed to advance out of the qualifying rounds — will get the other half of that money, plus whatever they might accumulate by winning matches.

The reasoning: Injured or ill players won’t start a match simply to collect their prize money before quitting.

The 25-second serve clock gives players 5 more seconds than ATP rules currently allow on the men’s tour. But Grand Slam Board Director Bill Babcock said the clock will be used at the 2018 Australian Open on a trial basis the way it was at the U.S. Open, which tested it only for events such as qualifying and junior matches.

1st-round withdrawals at Grand Slams could lose prize money

(11/21/17) A player who withdraws or performs below professional standards during a first-round singles match at a Grand Slam tournament could be fined under new rules introduced Tuesday.

The Grand Slam Board says a player who is unfit to compete and withdraws before the draw will receive 50 per cent of the first-round prize money. The replacement will receive the remaining 50 per cent.

It is an attempt to stop players who aren’t fully fit from playing in the first round just so they can collect prize money.

At the end of a two-day meeting in London, the GSB said there will be a 25-second shot clock at the 2018 Australian Open in line with a system tested at this year’s U.S. Open.

The majors will also revert to 16 seeded players in 2019 from the current 32.

Australian Open to feature 25-second shot-clocks

(11/21/17) Players will have an additional five seconds between points at next year's Australian Open but time-wasters will have nowhere to hide thanks to the introduction of shot-clocks.

The Grand Slam Board, responsible for the rules at the four majors, confirmed on Tuesday that the Australian Open's request to raise the time from 20 to 25 seconds and strictly enforce it with an electronic shot-clock had been accepted.

The three other slams will also allow 25 seconds, bringing them into line with regular Tour events, but are not currently scheduled to have shot-clocks.

A two-day rules meeting of the Grand Slam Board in London also agreed to limit pre-match warm-ups to five minutes.

Another rule change, which could drastically alter the complexion of majors draws, could also be in place in 2019, with the number of seeds limited to 16 instead of the current 32.

This year's four slams will still have 32 seeds.

The length of time between points has been a cause of consternation in the sport and while increasing the period allowed appears counterintuitive, shot-clocks will take the decision over whether to penalize a slow player out of the umpire's hands.

Currently it is down to the discretion of the official but the inconsistency in enforcing it has caused problems.

The 25-second shot-clock was used in the U.S. Open qualifying event this year and also at the Next Gen ATP Finals in Milan earlier this month.

The Grand Slam Board said in a statement that the serving-time changes had been agreed unanimously.

Speeding up the game and cutting out "dead time" has been a priority for the men's ATP Tour.

ATP chief executive Chris Kermode, who praised the shot-clock innovation in Milan, believes the five-minute pre-match warmup is still too long.

American player Jared Donaldson said before the Milan tournament: "The five-minute warmup maybe is redundant and doesn't necessarily need to take place. Maybe as soon as you walk on court you have five minutes to get ready."

The Australian Open will be more specific than the current grey area, allocating players one minute to walk on and be ready for the umpire's briefing at the net, followed by a five-minute knock-up, plus one minute to prepare for the first point.

Those not ready to play within the permitted time could face fines of $20,000 (£15,117).

Sharapova, Puig heading to Puerto Rico for hurricane relief

(10/20/17) Maria Sharapova and Monica Puig will head to Puerto Rico next week to help with recovery efforts following Hurricane Maria.

Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion, and Puig, who won Puerto Rico's first Olympic gold medal in any sport at the Rio de Janeiro Games last summer, will go to the island Monday to distribute portable stoves, medicine and other supplies.

The agency that represents both players said Wednesday that Puig has raised more than $125,000 to help storm victims, while Sharapova is donating proceeds from her candy company for the rest of 2017.

The storm swept across Puerto Rico on Sept. 20, causing at least 48 deaths, according to the official tally. It caused widespread flooding and knocked out the entire power grid for the island of 3.4 million people.

Sharapova eyes strong finish to season after Tianjin title

(10/17/17) Maria Sharapova was beaten by Magdalena Rybarikova 7-6 (3), 6-4 in the first round of the Kremlin Cup on Tuesday, ending her bid for a second title in two weeks.

Sharapova, who won the Tianjin Open two days ago, brought her usual power but lacked accuracy with some wild swings on key points.

"I felt fine physically, to be honest, especially after having played five matches in five days (in Tianjin). That was a big surprise," Sharapova said. "Maybe I wasn’t as prepared as I should have been … Maybe if this tournament hadn’t been in Moscow, I wouldn’t have played it."

Sharapova was under pressure on serve from the start and saved six break points before finally being broken to 6-5. She responded by breaking Rybarikova, but Sharapova’s double fault at 4-3 in the tiebreaker handed the Slovakian the momentum to close out the set.

Rybarikova, seeded eighth, sealed the match after saving two break points to lead 5-4, then breaking Sharapova in the next game. Rybarikova will play Alize Cornet in the second round.

Six months after she returned from a 15-month doping ban, Sharapova is still trying to move back up the rankings from her current position of 57th. Her first tour appearance in Moscow in a decade drew a large and enthusiastic crowd despite taking place on a Tuesday afternoon.

Also Tuesday, seventh-seeded Julia Goerges beat Russian qualifier Polina Monova 6-0, 6-3 to set up a second-round meeting with Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan.

In the men’s Kremlin Cup tournament, sixth-seeded Damir Dzumhur defeated Thomas Fabbiano 6-3, 0-6, 6-2.

Sharapova eyes strong finish to season after Tianjin title

(10/15/17) Maria Sharapova is looking for a strong finish to a season that began with a doping ban and hit a high in China on Sunday when she won her first title in over two years.

The former world number one, who returned from the 15-month ban in April, defeated Belarusian teenager Aryna Sabalenka 7-5 7-6(8) in the final of the Tianjin Open on Sunday.

Sharapova said she was looking forward to building on the success next week in Moscow at the Kremlin Cup, a tournament she has not appeared at since 2007.

"Obviously coming there with the title already means a lot, but I do really want to finish strong," said the Russian, who accepted a wild card for the event.

"I don't remember the last time that I played three events in a row. But I will give it everything I have got and I know I have so many amazing fans there."

The five-times grand slam champion said the Tianjin title, the 36th of her career, was special.

"It has been a couple of years since I have held the winner's trophy. It is a great feeling," she said.

"When you start all the way from the beginning of the tournament and then you end up playing the final in a full stadium with so much enthusiasm and energy and you are the one that wins the last point, just everything falls into place.

"You have to appreciate those moments, never take them for granted."

Sharapova takes on Slovakia's Magdalena Rybarikova in the opening round in Moscow.

Sharapova wins her 1st title since doping ban

(10/15/17) Maria Sharapova won her first WTA title since returning from a doping ban after defeating Aryna Sabalenka to win the Tianjin Open on Sunday.

The Russian, a tournament wild card, overcame Belarusian teenager Sabalenka 7-5, 7-6 (8) despite trailing heavily in both sets.

Sharapova last won a title at the Italian Open in May 2015.

The former top-ranked player and owner of five major titles, including the 2006 U.S. Open, tested positive for the newly banned drug meldonium at the Australian Open in January 2016. That led to a 15-month doping ban, which expired in April.

"Such a special, special tournament, and victory for me, one that I’ll remember forever," Sharapova said. "Sometimes you never know when it will all come together but it happened to me this week in Tianjin."

Sharapova displayed resilience as she came from behind in both sets to overcome her 19-year-old opponent.

Sabalenka led 4-1 in the opener and 5-1 in the second before relenting to Sharapova’s greater big-match experience. It was Sharapova’s 36th WTA singles title.

The 30-year-old Sharapova played in her first Grand Slam tournament following the ban at the U.S. Open in August, where she reached the fourth round. Sunday’s result will lift Sharapova up to No. 57 in the world rankings.

Sharapova storms into Tianjin quarter-finals

(10/14/17) Former world No 1 Maria Sharapova eased past defending champion Peng Shuai 6-3, 6-1 at the Tianjin Open to reach her first WTA final in almost two and a half years.

Sharapova, who returned to the tour in April following a 15-month doping ban, will meet teenager and Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, who is ranked 102 and made her first WTA final after beating Italy's Sara Errani 6-1, 6-3 in the other semi-final.

The Russian, who is currently ranked 86, broke her Chinese opponent in the opening game and rarely looked troubled on her own serve.

Peng, ranked No 25 in the world, had no answer to Sharapova's power hitting from the baseline and gave up another break en route to conceding the first set.

Sharapova, who is yet to drop a set in Tianjin, raced into a 3-0 lead at the start of the second but suffered a brief bout of nerves while serving for the fifth game, when she was forced to save three break points.

The 30-year-old turned the tables on Peng in the very next game, breaking her opponent once again before closing out the contest in 78 minutes.

It will be Sharapova's first WTA final since she defeated Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro to win the Italian Open in May 2015.

Sharapova storms into Tianjin quarter-finals

(10/13/17) Maria Sharapova surged into the Tianjin Open quarter-finals on Thursday as she pursues her first tournament victory since her return from a doping ban.

The Russian former world number one defeated Magda Linette of Poland 7-5, 6-3 and will play Swiss qualifier Stefanie Voegele.

The 30-year-old Sharapova has been on the comeback trail since April after serving a 15-month suspension for taking the banned substance meldonium.

Sharapova, a five-time major-winner, is now ranked a lowly 86 in the world and she needed a wildcard to enter the Tianjin tournament.

She saw off 71st-ranked Linette in just over 98 minutes to reach only her second quarter-final since her return to action.

"We did a really good job of holding serve in the first set," Sharapova was quoted as saying by the WTA website.

"I feel like I made a few too many errors on my return game which ultimately led to a difficult first set.

"But once I broke her early in that second set I played a really good aggressive game and I felt like I had the momentum in the second."

Sharapova triumphs in Tianjin opener

(10/11/17) Maria Sharapova made an impressive start to the Tianjin Open on Wednesday by beating Romania's Irina-Camelia Begu in straight sets.

Seeded ninth, Begu loomed as a tricky first-round opponent for Sharapova, but the former world number one from Russia swept to a 6-4, 6-2 victory.

However, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova suffered a shock defeat, going out to local hope Zhu Lin in three sets.

Currently ranked 86th after returning from a 15-month doping ban, Sharapova -- granted a wildcard in Tianjin -- plays unseeded Magda Linette of Poland next.

The 30-year-old Sharapova, who returned to tennis in April after serving a suspension for taking the banned substance meldonium, has yet to win a tournament since then.

The five-times Grand Slam winner exited the China Open last week in the third round at the hands of Romania's Simona Halep, the newly crowned world number one.

But Sharapova had no such trouble against Begu, seeing off the 57th-ranked Romanian in 82 minutes.

The opening matches of the Tianjin Open have been badly disrupted because of rain and Sharapova said she was glad to finally get into action.

"It's been a long wait for everyone, it hasn't been easy," the Russian was quoted as saying by the official WTA website.

"I had a first practice outdoors and then I think it rained for 70 hours straight, unfortunately for the players."

Maria Sharapova may play WTA Moscow in mid-October

(10/10/17) Maria Sharapova may play WTA International Moscow, that will take place from 16 to 22 October. The Kremlin Cup tournament director Alexei Selivanenko will try, along with his staff, to bring the five time Grand Slam champion in the event.

'There are some chances to see her play, we discussed about it with her manager (Max Eisenbud) in New York during Us Open', Selivanenko said. 'He said that if Maria feels fresh after Beijing and Tianjin, she would like to play our event.' Sharapova made three appearances in Moscow in the past: in 2005 she lost to Dinara Safina in the quarter-finals, in 2006 to Anne Chakvetadze in the second round and in 2007 in the first round to Victoria Azarenka.

There will be Johanna Konta and Kristina Mladenovic, who both withdrew from Hong Kong, Dominika Cibulkova, Jelena Ostapenko, Ekaterina Makarova, Elena Vesnina, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova Will play.

Sharapova gets red-hot Garcia in tough Tianjin opener

(10/8/17) Maria Sharapova's stop-start comeback from a 15-month doping ban takes her to the Chinese city of Tianjin this week and a tough draw against France's on-form Caroline Garcia.

The five-time Grand Slam champion and former number one from Russia has been paired with top seed Garcia in her opener at the Tianjin Open, where she was granted a wildcard.

However, 15th-ranked Garcia has been carrying a thigh injury and combined with her reaching Sunday's final of the China Open, she could yet choose to skip Tianjin.

Sharapova, now ranked a lowly 104 in the world, could hardly have a harder opponent.

Garcia is in the form of her life, winning the Wuhan Open last weekend and later Sunday playing new number one Simona Halep in the final in Beijing.

Also taking part in Tianjin, which is near the Chinese capital, is the two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova.

But as usual, most focus will be on the 30-year-old Sharapova, who has struggled for top form and fitness since returning to tennis in April following her suspension for taking the banned substance meldonium.

She fell in the third round at the China Open to Halep, who will be confirmed as number one for the first time on Monday.

Halep knocks error-prone Sharapova out of China Open

(10/4/17) World number two Simona Halep beat Maria Sharapova 6-2 6-2 in the China Open third round on Wednesday for her first win over the Russian in eight attempts.

Halep, who lost to Sharapova in the first round of the U.S. Open, won five out of nine break points and took advantage of an error-prone display to hand the Russian her first straight-sets defeat of the season in one hour and 12 minutes.

Despite hitting more winners than her rival, Sharapova committed 39 unforced errors and struggled to contend with the second seed's power and aggression in Beijing.

"It was a great match, I think I played my best tennis against her," Halep said.

"I served pretty well, and the work that I did after the U.S. Open, I could see it on court today. I'm really happy that I could do this. It's my first victory against her and I just want to enjoy the moment.

"Today, I said it's just another match, I just wanted to give everything I have, stay focused, calm and positive."

Sharapova agreed with Halep's assessment of the pair's second meeting in six weeks, after not playing the Romanian for almost two years.

"I think she played an incredible match, probably the best she's played against me in all of our previous meetings," Sharapova said.

"I wasn't as sharp. I wasn't seeing the ball as well. I wasn't moving up and down as well as I have been against her.

"She was hitting the ball consistently, not making a lot of unforced errors, her service percentage was quite high. She did all the right things."

The Romanian goes through to the quarter-finals where she will take on either 11th seed Agnieszka Radwanska or Daria Kasatkina, who face off later on Wednesday.

French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko of Latvia took one step closer to qualifying for the season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore with a 6-3 7-5 win over Australia's Samantha Stosur in round two.

Also advancing to the third round were China's Peng Shuai, who made short work of Romanian Monica Niculescu with a 6-3 6-2 win, and Wuhan Open champion Caroline Garcia of France who overcame Belgian Elise Mertens 7-6(4) 6-4.

Ukrainian Elina Svitolina then defeated Australia's Ashleigh Barty 6-4 6-2 in the second round to set up a clash with Russia's Elena Vesnina.

Halep sets up Sharapova rematch in Beijing

(10/4/17) World number two Simona Halep set up a mouth-watering third- round clash with Maria Sharapova at the China Open after the Romanian's opponent Magdalena Rybarikova retired due to illness trailing 6-1 2-1 on Tuesday.

Halep survived a break point in the opening game before powering her way to a 5-0 lead with two breaks of her own as Rybarikova struggled on serve and committed 19 unforced errors en route to conceding the first set.

The 28-year-old Slovakian conceded the match early in the second set after a medical timeout, giving Halep an opportunity to avenge her U.S. Open first-round defeat by Sharapova.

The Russian, who has never lost to Halep in seven previous meetings, beat compatriot Ekaterina Makarova 6-4 4-6 6-1 to record a second consecutive three-set victory in Beijing earlier on Tuesday.

"You can take a little bit away from all the matches we've played in the past," Sharapova said. "We know each other's games very well. They've always been very challenging, tough, competitive, emotional.

"I love the challenge of playing against someone that's number two in the world. She's a great player. She's had a great year."

Defending champion Agnieszka Radwanska made hard work of her 7-5 7-5 victory over China's Zhang Shuai, dropping serve while trying to close out the match at 5-4, but recovered to set up a third-round clash with Russian Daria Kasatkina.

Cheered on by a partisan home support, Zhang hit 35 winners to her opponent's 17, but also made 40 unforced errors as she slumped to her fourth career defeat by the Pole.

Twice grand slam champion Petra Kvitova dominated American qualifier Varvara Lepchenko in a battle of left-handers, the Czech winning 88 percent of points on serve to progress to the third round with a routine 6-4 6-4 victory.

Kvitova faces fifth seed Carolina Wozniacki next, in what promises to add another intriguing chapter to their eight-year rivalry.

Number 12 seed Kvitova holds a 6-5 lead in her head-to-head record with Wozniacki, having won their last two matches in straight sets.

Fourth seed Karolina Pliskova hit nine aces as she edged out German qualifier Andrea Petkovic 6-4 6-4 to set up a clash with Sorana Cirstea of Romania.

American CoCo Vandeweghe was forced to retire early in the second set against Daria Gavrilova, sending the Australian through to face Czech Barbora Strycova, while China's Duan Ying-ying lost to Russia's Elena Vesnina.

Sharapova digs deep in China Open epic

(9/30/17) Maria Sharapova got her revenge over Latvian 16th seed Anastasija Sevastova with a gutsy 7-6 (7/3), 5-7, 7-6 (9/7) victory in the China Open first round on Saturday.

It was the five-time Grand Slam winner's first appearance since she was beaten by Sevastova at the US Open in early September and gets her stop-start return from a doping ban back on track.

Sharapova, once number one but now ranked a lowly 104 in the world, is a wildcard in Beijing as she works her way back slowly from a 15-month ban for taking the banned substance meldonium.

She was far from her best, making a series of unforced errors, but Sharapova dug in and saved match point during an attritional encounter lasting more than three hours in the Chinese capital.

Sharapova, who has also been wrestling with injury, will take on American qualifier Jennifer Brady or fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova in the next round.

"I didn't give in, which I think is a really good sign considering it's been a few weeks since I played and she was someone that I lost to in my previous match," said a relieved Sharapova.

The 30-year-old said that "physically and emotionally" she did not have it in her when she faced Sevastova in New York in the fourth round, but feels she is getting stronger in both respects.

"When I saw the draw (Sevastova again), I was like, 'Of course,'" added Sharapova with a grin.

Sharapova, who controversially returned to tennis in April, said she was feeling "fresh" and is eager to finish the season on a high.

"Winning is very special and when you lose it's tough and you have to go on and build and work on things that didn't work out for you," she said.

Asked how far she was from getting back to her peak, Sharapova declined to say: "It's not really the way I think."

Sevastova broke the Russian -- who had the majority of the crowd behind her -- in the seventh game of the first set to seize the early initiative.

Sharapova immediately broke back for 4-4, before falling 6-5 down on her own serve when her drop shot went astray, only to strike back immediately to force a tie break.

"Come on!" the former China Open champion shouted as she wrapped up the first-set tie break.

Sharapova looked set to race through the second set to book her place in round two.

But her serve was suspect all match and the Latvian refused to submit.

Sevastova broke Sharapova once more as the match clock hit the two-hour mark to level the encounter at one-set each, before Sharapova finally saw off her resilient opponent in an epic decider.

Earlier, the second seed Simona Halep battled past the American Alison Riske in three sets, 6-3, 3-6, 6-2.

LAST CALL WITH CARSON DALY

(9/18/17) LAST CALL WITH CARSON DALY - NBC

Wednesday, September 20: Guests include Maria Sharapova with musical guest Jessica Hernandez & The Deltas and guest Ari Shaffir.

Maria Sharapova won’t say she likes Serena, but respects her

(9/16/17) Maria Sharapova, who beat Serena Williams at Wimbledon in 2004, writes about their bitter rivalry in new book “Unstoppable: My Life So Far” — and admits she doesn’t like the tennis great, but respects her.

“I respect Serena. I mean how can I say that I like someone that’s beaten me 19 times? That’d be silly,” Sharapova told Katie Couric at the 92nd Street Y, after making a comeback appearance at the US Open following a doping ban.

She added, “To me, respect is a very important word .?.?. That’s why I use the word respect when I talk about Serena. Because I know how much it takes, and I know how much she had to work in her upbringing without coming from any money, with having a tough childhood and making it. Going against diversity and being in a position where she is now, it would be very wrong for me to sit here and say I have no respect for her.”

Williams, meanwhile, just gave birth to her daughter with fiancé Alexis Ohanian, Alexis Olympia Ohanian Jr.

Former US Open champ Sharapova entered 2017’s tournament as a wild card and made it to the fourth round.

Maria Sharapova hits out at critics saying they 'don't have the facts' and questions why melodium is banned

(9/14/17) Maria Sharapova has rounded on her critics, saying they "don't have the facts" to be able to comment on her drugs ban and subsequent return.

The former world No 1 made her comeback in April following a 15-month ban for taking the banned substance meldonium.

Sharapova has never apologised and shown little remorse for her actions which in part has led to the outrage from fellow players and pundits within the sport since her comeback. Even now the Russian will only admit to making a "mistake" but is at a loss as to why melodium is now on WADA's prohibited list.

Sharapova, who has released her memoir Unstoppable, My Life So Far, has hit out at those criticising the manner of her comeback by stating she doesn't take their comments on board.

Eugenie Bouchard has been one fierce critic of Sharapova. The Canadian said back in April: "She's a cheater and I don't think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play again."

Sharapova said of Bouchard's reaction: "I think those are comments not based on facts, and therefore I don't take them into consideration."

The 30-year-old also took aim at Andy Murray who had doubted why athletes would take meldonium, which is a prescripted heart drug.

Sharapova said in a BBC news special, The Unstoppable Sharapova: "I don't think it's for them to really have an opinion, because they don't have the facts. So, you know, I think that those are the types of words that make headlines and they will be used as headlines."

She went on to say how she has "admitted my mistake", again without offering an apology for her actions, and indicated that she is keen to move on from the episode.

Sharapova was handed a wildcard for the US Open and was given centre stage by Flushing Meadows organisers throughout her run to the fourth round.

The 20 greatest tennis players of Open era

Her special treatment was questioned by Caroline Wozniacki who was baffled how a drugs cheat could be put on the main show court match after match. And while Sharapova insists she was at fault for taking meldonium, she has questioned whether it should be banned.

"The problem I have with that is there's no proof of what it does, and no one can give you that proof. What is the ban based on?"

Sharapova reflects on Serena rivalry in new autobiography

(9/13/17) Maria Sharapova muses on her long, lopsided rivalry with Serena Williams in a new autobiography released on Tuesday and how she believes a locker room moment fueled the American's drive to dominate her.

The Russian-born Sharapova was 17 when she defeated Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final. Rather than proving the start of a long, close-run rivalry, it was one of just two victories Sharapova can claim against the US great, who has beaten her 19 times.

In her new book, "Unstoppable: My Life So Far," Sharapova says it was not only her victory, but the fact that she overheard Williams weeping afterwards in the locker room that ensured the American would always find a way to elevate her game in their future contests.

"Guttural sobs, the sort that make you heave for air, the sort that scares you," Sharapova writes of the moment, according to excerpts released by The New York Times.

"It went on and on. I got out as quickly as I could, but she knew I was there. People often wonder why I have had so much trouble beating Serena; she's owned me in the past ten years.

"I think Serena hated me for being the skinny kid who beat her, against all odds, at Wimbledon," she said.

In the memoir published by Sarah Crichton Books, an imprint of Farrar, Straus and Giroux, Sharapova details her tennis career from the time of her move to Florida at the age of six -- and Williams caught her attention early on.

Sharapova recalls surreptitiously watching Serena and her sister Venus play during a visit to the Florida academy where she trained -- unwilling even then to "put myself in the position of worshiping them, looking up, being a fan."

Tensions between Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion who returned to competition in April after a 15-month doping ban, and 23-time Grand Slam champion Williams -- who gave birth to a daughter this month -- have sometimes spilled over into public spats.

Sharapova ponders the reasons, wondering if the antagonism between them has perhaps driven each to excellence.

"Maybe that's better than being friends," she writes, adding: "Someday, when all this is in our past, maybe we'll become friends. Or not. You never can tell."

Maria Sharapova dines with pals following US Open loss

(9/12/17) Maria Sharapova didn’t sulk about her US Open loss for long.

The disgraced tennis player was spotted dining with two friends, a male and a female, at Estiatorio Milos in New York City Saturday night, a source told Page Six. Sharapova, 30, kept it casual in a camel sweater, black pants, a white collared shirt and white Nike sneakers. The trio arrived around 8 p.m. and sat near the restaurant’s wine cellar.

Later on, two additional friends joined the trio. At the end of their night out, Sharapova treated her friends and styling team by paying the bill for their pricey night at the gourmet restaurant.

Sharapova returned to the US Open earlier this month after a 15-month ban for doping. Latvian tennis pro Anastasija Sevastova, 27, defeated Sharapova in three sets.

The Russian tennis player must have taken a cue from Roger Federer, who, following his crushing loss at the US Open, had lunch with Bill Gates at Le Bilboquet Friday.

Sharapova felt 'tricked, trapped' by failed drugs test

(9/10/17) Maria Sharapova felt "trapped" and "tricked" after learning she had failed a drugs test for taking the banned substance meldonium.

The former world number one tested positive at the 2016 Australian Open and was initially banned until January 2018.

However, the Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced the two-year suspension to 15 months after ruling that she was taking meldonium – which had only been added to WADA's prohibited list at the start of 2016 – for medical purposes and not to enhance performance.

Sharapova returned to the WTA Tour in April and played at her first major tournament since her ban at the US Open, where she reached the fourth round.

The five-time grand slam champion said she was making plans for her retirement before she received news of her failed test.

Writing in her autobiography 'Unstoppable, by Maria Sharapova', an excerpt of which was published in The Guardian, she wrote: "I was imagining my retirement in the winter of 2015. I'd play through the winter and spring, appear at the Olympics in Rio, then begin my last professional season, with my book published just before the 2017 US Open. I’d tell my story and say goodbye.

"The 2016 season began at the Australian Open. Serena Williams beat me in the quarter-finals. It felt like a decent start to my 12th pro season. But, as sometimes happens in nightmares, what felt like the beginning turned out to be the end.

"A few weeks later, when I was back in LA, training, I got a funny-looking email. It was from the International Tennis Federation. As I read, my heart started to pound.

"It said the urine sample I had given in Australia had come back positive. In other words, and I had to read this again and again to make sure I was not hallucinating, I had failed the drug test. How? What the hell could it be?

"I took nothing new, nothing that was not legal and prescribed by a doctor. It was called meldonium. OK, obviously this was a mistake. Who had ever heard of that? I Googled it, just to make sure.

"Then I understood. I knew meldonium as Mildronate, the brand name. It was a supplement I'd been taking for 10 years. It's an over-the-counter supplement in Russia, so common that you don't think of it as a drug, let alone a performance-enhancing one.

"I'd first been told to take it when I was 18 and getting sick a lot; I had an issue with irregular heartbeats. For seven years, I had written confirmation that all the supplements I was taking, including Mildronate, were permissible.

"As of January 2016, meldonium was included in a catalogue of banned substances that the ITF sent out to players. It was viewable by clicking through a series of links in an email. I never followed those links, and didn't ask any of my team to.

"That was my mistake. But the ITF didn't draw any attention to the fact that they were suddenly banning a supplement that was being legally used by millions of people. That was their mistake.

"I felt trapped, tricked, but I figured all I had to do was explain myself. Meldonium had been banned for four weeks. At worst, I had inadvertently been in violation of the ban for less than 28 days.

"But I soon realised I was running into a brick wall. If I failed to win my case, I could be banned for up to four years. It would be the end of my career."

The View – ABC - Appearance

(9/7/17) The View – ABC

Tuesday, September 12

Maria Sharapova (author, “Unstoppable: My Life So Far”)

The Daily Show - Appearance

(9/6/17) THE DAILY SHOW WITH TREVOR NOAH, Comedy Central

Tuesday 9/12: Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova’s U.S. Open run ends in fourth round

(9/3/17) Maybe this was just one three-setter too many for Maria Sharapova.

Sharapova tried a bit of everything, even resorting to switching over her racket to hit a few lefty shots. Still, the five-time major champion could not quite keep her Grand Slam comeback from a doping suspension going, losing in the fourth round of the U.S. Open to 16th-seeded Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia 5-7, 6-4, 6-2 on Sunday.

"Look, three-set matches are challenging . I love being part of them. There’s an element of concentration, focus, physicality that goes into all of it. And you have to put it all together. Yeah, you just have to get through it," Sharapova said. "There’s no doubt that not playing those matches certainly cost me today. I did feel like I was thinking a little bit too much and not playing by instinct."

This was the third time in her four matches that Sharapova went the distance and she faded down the stretch, while also dealing with a blister on her right hand that was treated and taped by a trainer in the final set. Sharapova’s miscues kept closing exchanges, and she dropped 13 of the first 14 points in that set.

The 30-year-old Russian finished with 51 unforced errors, compared to 14 for Sevastova.

"It’s been a really great ride," Sharapova said.

"Ultimately, I can take a lot from this week," she continued. "It’s great to get that major out of the way. It was an incredible opportunity. I’m very thankful for the opportunity."

Sharapova’s exit leaves Venus Williams as the only past U.S. Open champion in the women’s field . The 37-year-old Williams, who won the title in 2000 and 2001, got to the quarterfinals by beating Carla Suarez Navarro 6-3, 3-6, 6-1. Next for Williams will be a showdown against No. 3 Garbine Muguruza or No. 13 Petra Kvitova, who were scheduled to face each other Sunday night. Muguruza beat Williams in the Wimbledon final in July; Kvitova owns two trophies from the All England Club.

Sharapova hadn’t played in a major tournament since the Australian Open in January 2016, when she tested positive for the newly banned drug meldonium. She served a 15-month ban for that, returning to the tour this April with a ranking too low to get into Grand Slam events.

The French Open denied her a wild-card invitation, then she planned to try to qualify for Wimbledon before pulling out because of an injured left leg.

But she was able to enter the U.S. Open thanks to a wild card from the U.S. Tennis Association, which then proceeded to put its 2006 champion in Arthur Ashe Stadium every time she played over the past week, drawing strong support from spectators — and criticism from another former No. 1-ranked woman, Caroline Wozniacki.

On Day 1 of the tournament, Sharapova won a three-set thriller under the lights against No. 2 seed Simona Halep.

"Just competing, you know, being in that competitive environment — that’s what I missed," Sharapova said. "You can’t replicate that anywhere, especially at a Grand Slam. So … Monday night was a special night for me. I will always remember it."

This time, Sevastova made Sharapova run a lot by pulling her forward with drop shots or tight angles, then would often deposit follow-up strokes into open spaces. On one point won by Sharapova in the second set, she twice tracked down lobs that she got back over the net by hitting the ball left-handed.

But she could not sustain enough strong play, and Sevastova reached the U.S. Open quarterfinals for the second consecutive year.

"I allowed the match to become physical," Sharapova said about the late-going. "I don’t think I played as aggressive or was stepping in as much as I did in the first set."

Sevastova will face unseeded American Sloane Stephens, who reached her first quarterfinal in New York by eliminating No. 30 Julia Goerges 6-3, 3-6, 6-1. Stephens has won 12 of her past 14 matches, a remarkable run for someone who was off the tour for 11 months because of foot surgery in January.

Earlier Sunday, 18-year-old Canadian Denis Shapovalov’s entertaining stay ended with a 7-6 (2), 7-6 (4), 7-6 (3) loss to 12th-seeded Pablo Carreno Busta of Spain. In the quarters, Carreno Busta will play No. 29 Diego Schwartzman of Argentina.

Shapovalov was trying to become the youngest male quarterfinalist at Flushing Meadows since Andre Agassi in 1988, but he wasted a 5-2 lead and three set points in the opener, and finished with 55 unforced errors.

"Honestly, it was so much fun to be part of that atmosphere and the match and this whole two weeks," Shapovalov said. "You know, it’s another life-changing event for me."

Women main focus on Arthur Ashe on Sunday

(9/2/17) Women's tennis's biggest names still remaining at the U.S. Open take center stage on Sunday with grand slam winners Maria Sharapova, Venus Williams, Garbine Muguruza and Petra Kvitova all appearing on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Even with forecasters predicting rain, the show will go on under the retractable roof with Canadian teenager Denis Shapovalov and Spanish 12th seed Pablo Carreno Busta providing the opening act before three successive women's matches.

Despite criticism, Sharapova will be back on Arthur Ashe for her fourth successive match where she will face Latvian 16th seed Anastasija Sevastova for a spot in the quarter-finals

Playing her first grand slam since returning from a 15-month doping ban, Sharapova has enjoyed wild fan support every time she steps on to the court but not everyone is happy to see the five-time winner back.

Fifth seeded Caroline Wozniacki criticized U.S. Open organizers for putting her on an outside court in her second round loss while Sharapova soaked up the applause on Arthur Ashe.

One of the biggest draws in tennis, Sharapova has played to sellout crowds of 23,771 every match and the Russian wildcard has been unapologetic, delivering Wozniacki a stinging rebuke.

"I'm in the fourth round. I'm not sure where she (Wozniacki) is," shot back Sharapova, adding she would be happy to play in parking lot if that is where she was scheduled.

The most intriguing clash, however, may be the last of the women's matches with Wimbledon champion and third seed Muguruza facing double Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova.

The 13th seeded Czech is continuing to make her way back from a career-threatening hand injury sustained when she was stabbed in the hand by an intruder in her home last year.

Ninth seeded Williams, a twice U.S. Open champion and a crowd favorite for almost two decades, takes on Spanish veteran Carla Suarez Navarro in the final women's match on the main showcourt.

Sam Querrey, the last American hope in the men's draw, then wraps up singles action on the main court when he plays German 23rd seed Mischa Zverev.

I'd play on a parking lot, says Sharapova

(9/2/17) Maria Sharapova has shrugged off Caroline Wozniacki's criticism of U.S. Open organizers for giving the Russian center court billing in her return to grand slam tennis after a doping ban.

Defeated by Ekaterina Makarova on an outside court in the second round, former world number one Wozniacki lashed organizers for scheduling Sharapova at Arthur Ashe Stadium in her opening matches.

Sharapova, who returned from a 15-month ban in April, was handed a wildcard for the year's final grand slam and made her third consecutive appearance in the main stadium on Friday, beating American teenager Sofia Kenin 7-5 6-2 to reach the fourth round.

"With regards to scheduling, as you know, I don't make the schedule," Sharapova told reporters.

"I'm a pretty big competitor. If you put me out in the parking lot of Queens in New York City, I'm happy to play there.

"That's not what matters to me. All that matters to me is I'm in the fourth round. Yeah, I'm not sure where she is."

The 2006 U.S. Open champion has been warmly embraced at Flushing Meadows, playing to standing ovations and raucous cheers from sellout crowds.

She will play Latvian 16th seed Anastasija Sevastova for a place in the quarter-finals.

Sharapova swats away Wozniacki’s U.S. Open court complaint

(9/2/17) Maria Sharapova doesn’t care where she plays at the U.S. Open, only that she’s still playing.

Sharapova responded Friday to comments from Caroline Wozniacki, who complained after she was eliminated that Sharapova was scheduled for Arthur Ashe Stadium while she played on an outer court.

"That’s not what matters to me," Sharapova said following her 7-5, 6-2 victory over American Sofia Kenin. "All that matters to me is I’m in the fourth round. I’m not sure where she is."

Sharapova, given a wild card by the U.S. Tennis Association into her first Grand Slam tournament since a 15-month doping ban, has played all three matches on the main court.

Wozniacki, the No. 5 seed, said she thought that was a poor example following her second-round defeat Wednesday in a match that was scheduled for one outside court and eventually moved to another late in the day.

"When you look on centre court, I understand completely the business side of things and everything, but someone who comes back from a drug sentence and performance-enhancing drugs and then all of a sudden gets to play every single match on centre court, I think that’s a questionable thing to do," Wozniacki told Ekstrabladet TV of Denmark.

Ashe is usually reserved for the top players. Sharapova is a five-time Grand Slam champion, but she is unseeded here with a ranking that has tumbled to No. 146 following her suspension.

"With regards to scheduling, as you know, I don’t make the schedule," Sharapova said. "I’m a pretty big competitor. If you put me out in a parking lot of Queens in New York City, I’m happy to play there."

Sharapova battles past Kenin to reach fourth round in New York

(9/1/17) Maria Sharapova's mix of grit and power were enough to see off American teenager Sofia Kenin 7-5 6-2 in the third round of the U.S. Open on Friday.

Sharapova, who made her competitive comeback in April after a 15-month ban following a positive test for meldonium, battled through the first two rounds and it seemed that she would also struggle against the 18-year-old Kenin.

Hitting winners and unforced errors in almost equal measure in the opening set, the former world number one however, dug deep to take the advantage.

Kenin's tank was empty in the second set and Sharapova, who next faces Latvian 16th seed Anastasija Sevastova, opened up a 3-0 lead and ended the contest on the first match point when the American sent a backhand wide.

"We had never faced each other and she came out having nothing to lose and it's always dangerous so I'm happy I went through," said Sharapova, who won her only U.S. Open title in 2006.

Sporting a leather-collared black dress encrusted with crystal, Sharapova made a rock star entrance on a packed Arthur Ashe Stadium to close the night session.

However, she made nine unforced errors in the first three games, which continued throughout the first set but she broke in the 12th game when Kenin could not retrieve a powerful flat forehand and she then raced through the second set.

It was a relief for Sharapova after she had to endure two three-set matches to reach the third round.

"Coming into this match playing two three-setters, I'm just happy I got it done in two. Give my body a little bit of a break," she said.

"I took a day off yesterday just as a prevention.

"I did not see the ball too well at the beginning of the match, I wasn't getting the shots that I wanted ... but got better as the match went on."

American Kenin faces resurgent Sharapova at U.S. Open

(9/1/17) Eighteen-year-old American Sofia Kenin will look to put an end to Russian Maria Sharapova's return to grand slam play when they meet for the first time under the lights of Arthur Ashe Stadium on Friday night.

Sharapova is still looking to shake off the rust that came while serving a 15-month doping ban, but looked solid during the biggest moments of her first two matches.

Kenin will be one of five Americans in action to kick off the Labor Day weekend on Friday, all of who can expect a warm reception from the vocal New York crowd.

Two-time U.S. Open champion Venus Williams will battle Maria Sakkari of Greece in the morning. Her big-serving countryman John Isner will kick off the night session on Arthur Ashe.

Over on Louis Armstrong Stadium, 24-year-old American Sloane Stephens will continue to pursue her first grand slam victory when she faces Ashleigh Barty of Australia.

Sam Querrey will look to end a grand slam drought that dates back to 2003 on the American men's side when he battles Radu Albot of Moldova.

Rising Canadian 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov, who played through qualifiers to enter into the tournament, will attempt to dispatch 22-year-old Brit Kyle Edmund.

Sharapova, Federer embrace New York state of mind

(9/1/17) Roger Federer has conquered virtually everything in his two decades on tour but even the greatest tennis player of all time can't beat New York's notorious traffic snarl-ups.

The US Open, where the Swiss star has been champion on five occasions, is staged in the New York borough of Queen's, across the East River from glamorous Manhattan, where players and media stay for the fortnight.

However, the 10-mile journey can often take an hour or more during the working week.

It's one of the many challenges, on and off the court, which reinforce the city's reputation as no place for shrinking violets.

Federer has found one way of making the tournament come to him by practicing on public courts in Central Park.

"I was like, ‘Yeah, anything that doesn't make me drive very long,'" said Federer.

Fellow superstar Maria Sharapova, never one short of confidence, admits that when she first saw the city of 8.5 million souls, she hated it.

"When I first came to New York I was intimidated by the noise, the traffic, the people. But now I love it," said the Russian star who was 2006 champion at the US Open.

The feeling appears to be mutual.

When Sharapova played her first Grand Slam match since the end of her 15-month doping ban on the 24,000-capacity Arthur Ashe stadium on Monday, she wore a black dress, dotted with Swarovski crystals.

"It's prime time baby!" said Sharapova.

The Ashe stadium, the largest tennis venue in the world, can be a constant cauldron of noise.

At night, the din is ratcheted up with music and commercials thumping out during changeovers while fans chat and fidget, usually on their way back from the bars around the sprawling venue.

"It's intimidating, it's so big, there's so much going on. The screens are working during the points. Yeah, there's a lot of people moving and talking. It's not easy to play in," said Canadian 18-year-old Denis Shapovalov.

Shapovalov even interacted with a spectator who was merrily enjoying his evening out.

"I noticed a couple of guys had a little bit too much to drink. I mean, some of them were standing and, like, just talking to me as if we're buddies.

"I was up a break in one game, I think it was probably 40-15, I just miss a backhand. He's like, 'Ah, no.' I'm like, 'Don't worry, man, I got this.'"

The noise on Ashe is always impossible to ignore, although it wasn't to everyone's taste on Tuesday when the $150 million roof was shut all day as torrential rain washed away most of the programme.

With fans happily chatting away, the sound turned the arena into a giant echo chamber, much to the irritation of Rafael Nadal

"I understand it's a show, but under the roof we need to be a little bit more strict about the noise," said the world number one, a two-time champion at the tournament.

Most players who experience Ashe insist that you have to get the crowd on your side -- otherwise you are doomed.

"It's hard to beat a New York crowd when they're for you -- it's a lot to go against," said CoCo Vandeweghe of the United States.

Shapovalov, Sharapova set to share Arthur Ashe spotlight

(9/1/17) Denis Shapovalov may not be old enough to drink in New York but is quickly becoming the toast of the Big Apple and the 18-year-old Canadian will again have a chance to light up the U.S. Open when he takes on Briton Kyle Edmund.

After knocking off eighth seeded Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, the Canadian giant killer returns to the Arthur Ashe Stadium court chasing a place in the fourth round.

Shapovalov's hit list includes back-to-back wins over U.S. Open champions Rafa Nadal and Juan Martin De Potro at the recent Rogers Cup in Montreal, and the Canadian will now try to add the 42nd ranked Edmund to his list of scalps.

Another of the tennis young guns in Croatia's Borna Coric, who took down fourth seed Alexander Zverev in the second round, finds 28th seeded South African Kevin Anderson standing between him and a fourth round berth.

Against some criticism, Maria Sharapova will be back on Arthur Ashe for the third straight match where she will face American wild card Sofia Kenin.

Playing her first grand slam since returning from a 15-month doping ban, Sharapova has enjoyed wild fan support every time she steps on to the court but not everyone is happy to see the five-time winner back in action.

Fifth seed Caroline Wozniacki ripped U.S. Open organizers for putting her on an outside court while Sharapova soaked up the applause on Arthur Ashe.

"When you look at center court, and I understand completely the business side of things, but someone who comes back from a drugs sentence, performance-enhancing drugs, and then all of a

sudden gets to play every single match on center court, I think that's a questionable thing to do," said Wozniacki. "It doesn't set a good example."

There will be no complaints from the home crowd about seeing ninth seed Venus Williams or 10th seed John Isner on the Arthur Ashe stage.

Williams, a twice U.S. Open champion, takes on Greece's Maria Sakkari before turning over the spotlight to the big-hitting Isner, who goes up against Germany's 23rd seed Mischa Zverev.

At the US Open, Sharapova sniping practically a sport itself

(8/31/17) Listen to the crowds, and Maria Sharapova seems as popular as ever.

Listen to the competitors, and it's clear she hasn't been welcomed back with open arms.

Tennis isn't the only game going on at the U.S. Open, where complaining about Sharapova has become practically a sport itself.

''Everyone has their own opinion,'' No. 4 seed Elina Svitolina said Thursday.

And they aren't shy about sharing it.

Some rivals don't like that she keeps getting to play on Arthur Ashe Stadium - and guess where she's headed again Friday night?

''When you look on center court, I understand completely the business side of things and everything, but someone who comes back from a drug sentence and performance-enhancing drugs and then all of a sudden gets to play every single match on center court, I think that's a questionable thing to do,'' No. 5 Caroline Wozniacki told Ekstrabladet TV of Denmark after losing on an outside court Wednesday night.

''I think it doesn't set a good example.''

Others don't like that Sharapova's even here at all.

The Russian required a wild card to get into the tournament because of her low ranking and the U.S. Tennis Association was happy to provide it. That's what the organization has traditionally done for its former champions in need, and Sharapova won the event in 2006.

But this was different. She wasn't an injured veteran, or an up-and-coming youngster. Her ranking fell because she'd been suspended for doping, a cheat in the eyes of some peers.

Give her spot to someone else, they felt.

''Wild cards are appointed by the USTA. I can't say I agree. I wish it was an American instead, selfishly, because it is a USA tournament,'' American CoCo Vandeweghe said.

''I know from receiving a wild card here, it can be a huge platform to kind of progress through maybe a developing junior or someone that's coming back from injury or, you know, just somebody that's on the cusp, next American out that has an opportunity to kind of help their own ranking.''

But there's no young player, American or otherwise, who has Sharapova's box office appeal.

She's a five-time Grand Slam champion who hits with force and dresses with flair. People want to see her from their seats or on their screens, whether she's ranked No. 1 or 100.

''Tournament directors, people around, they would love to watch her play,'' former U.S. Open champ Svetlana Kuznetsova said. ''You can see after her first match how the crowd welcomed her back.''

Sharapova beat No. 2 Simona Halep that night in her first Grand Slam match in 16 months and believed that had ended the sniping about her situation.

''I think with the way that I played Monday night, I don't think there are any more questions,'' she said.

Turns out, they were only just beginning.

Asked about Sharapova, Eugenie Bouchard replied that her thoughts were already public. In case anyone forgot what they were, she called Sharapova a ''cheater'' earlier this year when her suspension ended.

Others are more forgiving. The heart drug meldonium had only recently been placed on the banned list when Sharapova tested positive for it at the 2016 Australian Open, and Kuznetsova said Sharapova paid the price for her mistake.

''She did her time. I think now it has to be over, the talk,'' Kuznetsova said.

It probably won't, though.

Despite what she's done in the past, she's just a 146th-ranked wild card now, not the kind of player who gets unlimited access to the most exclusive real estate on the property. Yet she'll be on center court for the third time in three matches Friday when she faces American Sofia Kenin in the second night match on Ashe.

Win that one, and she'll be in another featured match during Labor Day weekend. Then there would be plenty more time to talk about her.

''She's here,'' No. 25 seed Daria Gavrilova said. ''Can't do anything about it.''

Caroline Wozniacki: It's unacceptable that I am on Court 5 while Maria Sharapova gets to play on Centre

(8/31/17) The ill-feeling between two of tennis’s leading women is only likely to deepen after Caroline Wozniacki objected to the way that a doping offender - Maria Sharapova - has been given plum spots on Arthur Ashe Stadium for her first two matches at the US Open.

Fifth seed Wozniacki was originally shunted out to Court 5 for her own second-round match on Wednesday, before a late shift moved her and her opponent Ekaterina Makarova to Court 17. And after losing the match by a 6-2, 6-7, 6-1 margin, Wozniacki complained that Sharapova had been granted preferential treatment.

“Putting out a schedule where the No. 5 is playing on Court 5, fifth match on after 11pm, I think that’s unacceptable,” Wozniacki said afterwards.

“And when you look on Centre Court – I understand completely the business side of things – but someone who comes back from a drugs sentence, performance-enhancing drugs, and all of a sudden gets to play every single match on Centre Court, I think that’s a questionable thing to do.”

Wednesday’s schedule had been an unusually difficult one to compile, because the backlog created by Tuesday’s persistent rain required no fewer than 87 matches to be completed in the day. Sharapova was scheduled third on Arthur Ashe Stadium against Timea Babos, and overcame a slow start to win 6-7, 6-4, 6-1.

Wozniacki was upset at the courts she was given Credit: AP

“I think it doesn’t set a good example,” said Wozniacki, “and I think someone who has fought their way back from injury and is five in the world deserves to play on a bigger court than Court No. 5. I think they should probably look into what they need to do in the future.”

This outburst has not come out of the blue. Wozniacki, who is a close friend of Sharapova’s old rival Serena Williams, has long been critical of the way many tournament directors – and even the bosses of the Women’s Tennis Association itself - have welcomed Sharapova back to the tour.

"I think it's disrespectful to other players and the WTA," she said in March, when news emerged that Sharapova would make her comeback in Stuttgart, at a tournament which started two days before the end of the doping ban. “Obviously the rules are twisted and turned in favour of who wants to do what.”

A few weeks later, Sharapova’s agent Max Eisenbud hit back in an unsolicited email to the American tennis writer Ben Rothenberg in which he called Wozniacki – along with the equally outspoken Agnieszka Radwanska - a “journeyman” and suggested that she wanted to keep Sharapova out of tournaments in order to boost her own chances.

Sharapova feels the love at the U.S. Open

(8/31/17) Maria Sharapova has been inspired by the reaction from fans, and felt the respect from other players, since coming back from her 15-month doping ban, the Russian told reporters following her second-round victory at the U.S. Open on Wednesday.

"I've had an amazing reaction from fans since I've been back and that's been very special. I mean, I felt it while I was away. I felt it in a real presence since I've been back," she said.

"It's a very special feeling."

Sharapova won an electric three-setter against world number two Simona Halep on Monday to get the tournament off to a thrilling start.

Asked if she was at peace with fellow players and fans who were disappointed that she was found to be using meldonium after it had been added to the list of banned substances, she was blunt.

"With the way that I played Monday night, I don't think there are any more questions," she said.

Sharapova has maintained that she was unaware of the policy change regarding the drug, which she had been taking for years before it was moved to the banned list in 2016.

In addition to fan support, Sharapova said she feels the respect of other players.

"I definitely feel the respect from the athletes. Certainly when I play against them, in terms of the level they play with," she said.

"That's important to me. I think from a respect level, when you're able to respect your rivals and compatriots, that's really important, and I feel that."

The 30-year-old followed up Monday's big win with a come-from-behind victory over Hungarian Timea Babos 6-7(4) 6-4 6-1 on Wednesday.

Next up for Sharapova is a third-round meeting with American Sofia Kenin on Friday.

Mats Point: Never-say-die Sharapova is a rock star

(8/31/17) Maria Sharapova did not just reach the third round of the U.S. Open on Wednesday, she also showed that she is a rock star who never disappoints her fans, according to former world number one Mats Wilander.

The Russian, back on the grand slam scene for the first time since she returned from a 15-month doping ban in April, beat Hungary's Timea Babos 6-7(4) 6-4 6-1 on Arthur Ashe Stadium despite playing below her best.

"The saying 'the heart of a champion' was invented for her," Wilander, who is at the U.S. as an analyst for Eurosport, said in a daily chat with Reuters.

"She does not have a mental meltdown, it's amazing. She keeps hanging in, hanging in even if she's not playing well and expectations are through the roof for the rest of the people.

"She could easily have let go in the second set but as soon as she turns the second set around it's over."

Sharapova saved two break points to hold for 3-3 in the second set and after that won nine of the 11 remaining games and Wilander said her drive was key to her success.

"It's not enough to be a good competitor. Good competitors, they want to win. But with her you have the feeling she needs to win," he said.

"Today was another typical Maria Sharapova performance. She's been like that throughout her career. The great champions are not always those who have won the most, the great champions become great champions when people have expectations.

"Great champions always deliver. What people come to see, they give it to them.

"They don't come to see Sharapova win, they come to see Sharapova because they know they're going to get their absolute best fight.

"She delivers every single time. That's talent. She's a rock star."

Maria Sharapova versus Timea Babos: match stats

(8/31/17) The following are the key statistics from Russian Maria Sharapova's 6-7(4) 6-4 6-1 second-round victory over Hungarian Timea Babos at the U.S. Open on Wednesday.

Sharapova Babos

Aces 12 0

Double faults 6 1

Break points won 8/13 4/10

Winners 39 13

Net points won 7/10 6/9

Unforced errors 36 24

Total points won 108 84

Match time: Two hours and 19 minutes

Sharapova sees off Babos to extend New York stay

(8/31/17) Maria Sharapova showed she was willing to extend her grand slam comeback when the former world number one defeated Hungary's Timea Babos 6-7(4) 6-4 6-1 on Wednesday to advance to the U.S. Open third round.

The Russian, in her first appearance at a major since she returned from a 15-month doping ban in April, did not have the same inspiration that helped her beat world number two Simona Halep in the opening round but her willpower was enough.

Sharapova, who was granted a wildcard entry to the tournament, made too many unforced errors in a scrappy first set that featured six breaks of serve.

Once she found her groove midway through the second set, however, the 30-year-old, sporting a pale peach pink crystal-encrusted dress, was too strong for Babos, who bowed out on the second match point when she sailed a backhand long, triggering a huge roar on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Maria Sharapova - Unstoppable: My Life So Far

(8/30/17) (Hardcover, Kindle, Audio) From Maria Sharapova, one of our fiercest female athletes, the captivating?and candid?story of her rise from nowhere to tennis stardom, and the unending fight to stay on top.

In 2004, in a stunning upset against the two-time defending champion Serena Williams, seventeen-year-old Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon, becoming an overnight sensation. Out of virtual anonymity, she launched herself onto the international stage. “Maria Mania” was born. Sharapova became a name and face recognizable worldwide. Her success would last: she went on to hold the number-one WTA ranking multiple times, to win four more Grand Slam tournaments, and to become one of the highest-grossing female athletes in the world.

And then?at perhaps the peak of her career?Sharapova came up against the toughest challenge yet: during the 2016 Australian Open, she was charged by the ITF with taking the banned substance meldonium, only recently added to the ITF’s list. The resulting suspension would keep her off the professional courts for fifteen months?a frighteningly long time for any athlete. The media suggested it might be fateful.

But Sharapova’s career has always been driven by her determination and by her dedication to hard work. Her story doesn’t begin with the 2004 Wimbledon championship, but years before, in a small Russian town, where as a five-year-old she played on drab neighborhood courts with precocious concentration. It begins when her father, convinced his daughter could be a star, risked everything to get them to Florida, that sacred land of tennis academies. It begins when the two arrived with only seven hundred dollars and knowing only a few words of English. From that, Sharapova scraped together one of the most influential sports careers in history.

Here, for the first time, is the whole story, and in her own words. Sharapova’s is an unforgettable saga of dedication and fortune. She brings us inside her pivotal matches and illuminates the relationships that have shaped her?with coaches, best friends, boyfriends, and Yuri, her coach, manager, father, and most dedicated fan, describing with honesty and affection their oft-scrutinized relationship. She writes frankly about the suspension. As Sharapova returns to the professional circuit, one thing is clear: the ambition to win that drove her from the public courts of Russia to the manicured lawns of Wimbledon has not diminished.

Sharapova’s Unstoppable is a powerful memoir, resonant in its depiction of the will to win?whatever the odds.

US Open glance: Sharapova, Venus, del Potro in action

(8/29/17) A quick look at the U.S. Open:

LOOKAHEAD TO WEDNESDAY

Maria Sharapova plays in the second round in Arthur Ashe Stadium against Timea Babos, trying to follow up on her upset of No. 2 seeded Simona Halep on Day 1.

Sharapova is a five-time major champion, including at the 2006 U.S. Open, and a former No. 1 who needed a wild card from the U.S. Tennis Association to get into the field after a 15-month doping suspension caused her ranking to plummet.

Babos, meanwhile, is ranked 59th and has only once made it as far as the third round at a Grand Slam tournament, getting to that stage at Flushing Meadows a year ago. She lost in the first round at the other three majors this year.

Other past major champions in action Wednesday include Venus Williams (against Oceane Dodin of France) and Juan Martin del Potro (against Henri Laaksonen of Switzerland).

The night's final match in Ashe is intriguing: No. 8 seed Jo-Wilfried Tsonga of France, the runner-up at the 2008 Australian Open, against 18-year-old qualifier Denis Shapovalov of Canada. Shapovalov became the youngest man to reach a Masters semifinal, doing so this month at a hard-court tournament in Montreal.

WEDNESDAY'S FORECAST

Sunny. High of 81 degrees (27 Celsius).

TUESDAY'S WEATHER

Rain. High of 68 degrees (20 Celsius). All but nine matches were postponed to Wednesday.

TUESDAY'S WINNERS

Seeded winners in the men's first round: No. 1 Rafael Nadal.

Seeded winners in the women's first round: No. 1 Karolina Pliskova, No. 12 Jelena Ostapenko, No. 15 Madison Keys, No. 23 Barbora Strycova.

TUESDAY'S LOSERS

Seeded losers in the women's first round: No. 6 Angelique Kerber, No. 28 Lesia Tsurenko.

STAT OF THE DAY

2 - Number of defending women's champions at the U.S. Open who have lost in the first round in the professional era, which began in 1968: Angelique Kerber on Tuesday and Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2005.

QUOTE OF THE DAY

''All the noise stays inside and this is difficult.'' - Rafael Nadal, complaining about how loud it is in Arthur Ashe Stadium with the roof closed.

Maria Sharapova Podcast

(8/29/17) Mental Performance, Work-Life Balance, and the Rise to the Top – Maria Sharapova: Listen.

Sharapova gets down to business at US Open

(8/29/17) Maria Sharapova begins to explore just how well she can finish at the US Open on Wednesday after a successful and emotional Grand Slam comeback following a 15-month doping ban.

The 30-year-old Russian, who ousted second seed Simona Halep in her opener, faces Hungary's Timea Babos for the first time in the second round of the year's final Grand Slam tournament.

And with Halep and British seventh seed Johanna Konta both ousted already, Sharapova would not see another top-10 foe until potentially 10th-ranked Dominika Cibulkova in the quarter-finals even as three top-10 foes lurk as possible semi-final rivals.

The draw is wide open for a deep run by Sharapova despite her relative lack of matches and nagging injuries that allowed her only one hardcourt tuneup to the Open.

"From the moment that I've been here, I've really understood what this means to me, to be back and to be playing," Sharapova said.

"Not playing a lot of matches coming into this, it almost seemed like I had no right to (beat Halep). And I somehow did. I think that is what I'm most proud of."

Sharapova served a 15-month doping ban after testing positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open, returning in April to fanfare and controversy.

She missed Wimbledon with a thigh injury after being snubbed for a French Open wildcard but was given a wildcard into the US Open and wants to make the most of it.

"I was obviously extremely excited. I realized how long it had been since I played at the US Open," said Sharapova, who missed three of the prior four New York showdowns.

"Since I've come back, I feel like I'm on a team. I'm not just winning for myself, but I'm winning for everyone that has stood behind me. That is a very special feeling to have."

Applause and support from the crowd at Arthur Ashe Stadium bolstered her confidence and enthusiasm against Halep as she improved to 18-0 in night matches on the main court.

"So much. So special. I felt the support in the States," Sharapova said. "This is obviously a different scale, completely different caliber to anywhere you play in the world. It's electric."

Spanish third-seed Garbine Muguruza, the reigning Wimbledon champion, can reach the US Open third round for the first time by beating China's Duan Ying-Ying.

US ninth seed Venus Williams, this year's Wimbledon and Australian Open runner-up, meets France's Oceane Dodin while Danish fifth seed Caroline Wozniacki faces Russian Ekaterina Makarova.

On the men's side, German 20-year-old fourth seed Alexander Zverev, the top ranked player in his half of the draw, meets Croatian Borna Coric in the second round as he tries to crack the final eight at a major for the first time.

"You have to improve everything a little bit," Zverev said. "Obviously you can't be satisfied after a first-round win. I want to go deeper."

Sharapova sparkles on return to grand slam stage

(8/28/17) Maria Sharapova proved she will be someone to contend with for the U.S. Open crown after the Russian wild card outlasted second seed Simona Halep 6-4 4-6 6-3 on Monday, to get the year's final grand slam off to an electrifying start.

Still shaking off the rust from a 15-month doping ban and a string of nagging injuries, the 30-year-old Sharapova needed all her skill, determination and two hours and 44 minutes to snatch victory in front of a packed Arthur Ashe stadium.

The victory becomes the highlight of what has been a torturous comeback for the former world number one, who returned to tennis in April after being banned after testing positive for metabolic modulator meldonium at last year's Australian Open.

Her progress has been slowed by a thigh injury that forced her out of the Italian Open in May and more recently left arm issues in that took her out of the second round at Stanford earlier this month.

However, there was no hint of distress against an in-form Halep as she improved her record to 7-0 against the feisty Romanian in an opening round clash that was played with the intensity more befitting of a final.

Factbox: Maria Sharapova v Simona Halep - match stats

(8/28/17) Double faults 7 4

Break points won 5/22 4/10

Winners 60 15

Net points won 4/5 4/6

Unforced errors 64 14

Total points won 113 108

Match time: Two hours and 42 minutes

Sharapova edges No. 2 Halep at US Open in Grand Slam return

(8/28/17) So much about Maria Sharapova was the same as it ever was during her first Grand Slam match since a 15-month doping suspension: the shot-punctuating shrieks, the aggressive baseline style, the terrific returning, the sometimes-shaky serving.

Another familiar sight: The five-time major champion gutted out a victory.

Sharapova recovered after faltering midway through the match and emerged to beat No. 2-seeded Simona Halep 6-4, 4-6, 6-3 at the U.S. Open on Monday night to reach the second round.

''This girl has a lot of grit and she's not going anywhere,'' Sharapova told the crowd in an on-court interview.

After leading by a set and 4-1 in the second, Sharapova showed some fatigue and rust, dropping five games in a row. But in the third, Sharapova regained control by going ahead 3-0, using her power to keep two-time French Open runner-up Halep under pressure.

Sharapova had not played at a Grand Slam tournament since January 2016, when she tested positive for the newly banned heart drug meldonium during the Australian Open. It was as if every one of Sharapova's winners - and she compiled 60, 45 more than Halep - was her way of declaring, ''I'm back!''

When a Halep shot sailed long to end the match after more than 2 1/2 hours, Sharapova dropped to her knees on court, then covered her face as her eyes welled with tears.

''I just thought that was another day, another opportunity, another match,'' Sharapova said. ''But this was so much more. I tried not to think about it.''

The 30-year-old Russian was allowed back on the tour this April, but she was denied a wild-card invitation for the French Open the next month. The U.S. Tennis Association did grant a wild card to Sharapova, who was once ranked No. 1 but is currently 146th.

That is 144 spots below Halep, who is among eight women that entered the U.S. Open with a chance to top the WTA rankings by tournament's end. The draw at Flushing Meadows randomly paired the two players, providing a buzz-generating matchup that managed to live up to the hype on Day 1 at the year's last Grand Slam tournament.

It was a tremendously entertaining and high-quality contest, more befitting a final than a first-rounder.

These two women have, indeed, faced off with a Grand Slam title at stake: Sharapova beat Halep in the 2014 French Open final, part of what is now her 7-0 head-to-head record in the matchup.

On Monday, they traded stinging shots, often with Sharapova - dressed in all black, from her visor to her dress that sparkled under the lights, to her socks and shoes - aiming to end exchanges and Halep hustling into place to extend them.

Points would last 10 or 12 strokes, or more, repeatedly leaving a sellout crowd of 23,771 in Arthur Ashe Stadium clapping and yelling and high-fiving, no matter which player won them. The chair umpire repeatedly admonished spectators to hush.

Halep blinked at the end of the hour-long first set, double-faulting to face a break point, then watching Sharapova punish a 71 mph second serve with a forehand return winner. That was Sharapova's sixth return winner; she would finish with 14, more than enough to counter her seven double-faults.

It was quickly 4-1 for Sharapova in the second set and she held a break point there to allow her to go up 5-1 and serve for the victory. But she couldn't convert it. Then, only then, did Sharapova struggle for a bit. Her footwork was a bit off. Her forehand lost its way. She would end up losing that game and the next four, too, as Halep managed to force a third set.

But with the outcome in the balance, Sharapova once again looked as if she had never been away. She raced ahead 3-0 in the third, then 5-2. And this time, she did not let Halep back in, improving to 11-0 in first-round matches in New York.

This was by far the day's most significant match, no matter happened later in the men's encounter in Ashe between No. 4 Alexander Zverev and qualifier Darian King of Barbados.

Earlier Monday, seven-time major champion Venus Williams picked up a 6-3, 3-6, 6-2 victory against Viktoria Kuzmova of Slovakia, a 19-year-old qualifier who is ranked 135th, joining past Wimbledon winners Garbine Muguruza and Petra Kvitova in the second round.

But No. 7 seed Johanna Konta, a Wimbledon semifinalist just last month, was bounced by 78th-ranked Aleksandra Krunic of Serbia 4-6, 6-3, 6-4.

''I don't take anything for granted,'' Konta said. ''I think it would be quite obnoxious of me to come in here expecting I have a right to be in second week.''

And in another surprise, 13th-seeded Jack Sock of the United States was eliminated 6-2, 7-6 (12), 1-6, 5-7, 6-4 by 73rd-ranked Jordan Thompson of Australia.

Sharapova-Halep match headlines Day one at the U.S. Open

(8/28/17) The 2017 U.S. Open is set to begin with near-perfect weather and a much-anticipated match.

That comes Monday night when No. 2-seeded Simona Halep takes on former No. 1 and five-time major champion Maria Sharapova, who was given a wild-card entry to the U.S. Open after returning from a 15-month doping ban. Halep is winless against Sharapova in six previous meetings.

Play begins in the day session in Arthur Ashe Stadium with Wimbledon champ Garbine Muguruza against American Varvara Lepchenko. The 2014 U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic is next up against aptly named Tennys Sandrgen of the U.S. And seven-time major champion Venus Williams plays Viktoria Kuzmova of Slovakia.

Other big names on Monday’s schedule include No. 4 Alexander Zverev, two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and top American John Isner.

Sharapova vs. Halep at U.S. Open; Federer-Nadal could meet in semi

(8/25/17) Maria Sharapova’s first Grand Slam match in more than 1 1/2 years will come against No. 2-seeded Simona Halep at the U.S. Open.

Sharapova’s first-round matchup with two-time French Open runner-up Halep was set up by Friday’s draw, which also put Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal on the same side of the men’s bracket, meaning they could meet only in the semifinals.

The U.S. Tennis Association awarded a wild-card invitation to Sharapova, who is ranked only 147th after returning from a 15-month doping suspension in April, so she could have been randomly placed to face any other player.

Sharapova was kicked off the tour after testing positive for the newly banned drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.

Her five major championships include the 2006 U.S. Open.

The year’s last Grand Slam tournament starts Monday.

Nadal is seeded No. 1 at Flushing Meadows for the first time since 2010 after returning to the ATP’s top ranking this week. Federer is seeded No. 3. They have played 37 head-to-head matches, including 12 at major tournaments — at least twice in a final — but never at Flushing Meadows in any round.

Federer beat Nadal in the Australian Open final in January. Nadal then won his 10th French Open trophy in June, and Federer won his eighth Wimbledon title in July.

Federer owns a record 19 Grand Slam championships. Nadal ranks second among men with 15.

The bottom half’s semifinal could be No. 2 Andy Murray vs. No. 4 Alexander Zverev.

The potential men’s quarterfinals could be Nadal against No. 7 Grigor Dimitrov, Federer against No. 6 Dominic Thiem, Murray against No. 8 Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, and Zverev against No. 5 Marin Cilic, the 2014 U.S. Open champion.

Possible women’s quarterfinal matchups on the draw’s bottom half include Halep or Sharapova against No. 7 Johanna Konta of Britain, a semifinalist at Wimbledon; and Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza against No. 5 Caroline Wozniacki or No. 9 Venus Williams, a seven-time major champion and the runner-up at the All England Club last month at age 37.

Williams’ sister, 23-time major champion Serena, is not playing in the U.S. Open because she is pregnant and expecting to give birth in September.

On the top half of the bracket, the quarterfinals could be No. 1 Karolina Pliskova against 2004 U.S. Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova; and defending champion Angelique Kerber or French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko against No. 4 Elina Svitolina or No. 15 Madison Keys of the United States.

Kerber beat Pliskova in last year’s final in New York and moved up to No. 1 in the rankings for the first time. But Kerber’s 2017 has been rough, including a first-round loss at the French Open, and she is seeded No. 6 at the U.S. Open.

The 30-year-old Sharapova was eligible to make her return to Grand Slam action at the French Open in May, but that country’s tennis federation declined to offer her a wild card. Sharapova then was going to try to qualify for Wimbledon in June, but she ended up skipping the grass-court portion of the season because of an injured left thigh.

Sharapova has been participating in tournaments via wild-card invitations, beginning on red clay at Stuttgart, Germany, in April.

Sharapova was 19 when she won her U.S. Open trophy. Two years before that, at 17, Sharapova won her first major title at Wimbledon. She has since completed a career Grand Slam.

John McEnroe on Maria

(8/25/17) Maria Sharapova got a wild-card entry into the U.S. Open main draw despite a ranking of No. 147 as a result of a 15-month doping ban that ended in April. She tested positive for a newly banned heart drug at the 2016 Australian Open. The French Open chose not to give her a wild card and she skipped Wimbledon because of a thigh injury.

''Her suspension ... was a lot harsher than almost any other suspension that I've been aware of in any other sports,'' he said. ''If (NFL players) get caught red-handed taking steroids, they're suspended for four games the first time.''

McEnroe says the 2006 U.S. Open champion is one to watch.

''She's someone who knows how to win,'' he said. ''I don't know where she is fitness-wise and emotionally. She's been through a lot, and obviously, a lot of it was self-imposed. But on a given day, she could beat anyone out there. No question.''

Questions abound as Sharapova returns to U.S. Open

(8/25/17) Maria Sharapova can expect a warm reception from fans in New York when she makes her grand slam return at the U.S. Open next week following a 15-month doping ban, but just how competitive she will be is hard to say, ESPN analyst Chris Evert said.

The former world number one, who returned to action in April after a 15-month ban, was awarded a main-draw wildcard for the tournament she won in 2006 after French officials denied her that same courtesy for the French Open earlier this year.

"The American crowd is going to be very respectful of Maria and I would think she will get a warm reception coming back," Evert, a winner of 18 majors during her career, said on a conference call this week.

"Most people think that she has paid her dues and it's time to get back on the circuit."

Sharapova tested positive for the drug meldonium in 2016, which had been added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned substances list in January of that year.

The 30-year-old Russian, a winner of five grand slam titles, said she was unaware of the change.

The bigger question is how her game will match up against a competitive women's field and whether the injuries that kept her out of the grasscourt season and parts of the hardcourt season have healed.

"She really had a great start this summer but was injury prone," Evert said.

Sharapova's U.S. Open preparations were disrupted by an arm injury suffered during a first-round win at the Stanford Classic earlier this month. She then withdrew from events in Toronto and Cincinnati as a precautionary measure before the final grand slam of the year.

"Lack of tournament play really wreaks havoc on your body. Not only physical but I'm sure mental and emotional as well," Evert said.

"So if it's a healthy Maria Sharapova, you can't put anything past her. She looked good two months ago so with a good draw, it's possible she gets to the second week."

American tennis great John McEnroe said the reaction from the notoriously vocal U.S. Open crowd to Sharapova will be "somewhat mixed," but said interest in her performance will be at an all-time high.

"She's obviously the biggest name in the draw so that's going to provide some interest. A lot of us are interested to see how she does, there's no question."

One-on-one with @MariaSharapova

(8/24/17) #USOpen Exclusive: one-on-one with @MariaSharapova at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center: Video.

Maria Sharapova Reveals What’s On Her Phone

(8/24/17) (wsj.com) Number of contacts in phone: 439.

Number of unread emails: 0. My mind would be cluttered otherwise.

Most-liked photo in your Instagram feed: It’s probably a bikini picture if I had to guess. But I’m hoping it’s a tennis action shot!

Most-listened-to track on iTunes or Spotify: Right now it’s Kings of Leon’s “Muchacho.”

Strangest autocorrect mishap: When I type in my last name, it changes it to “Sugarpova,” which is actually [the name of] my candy company.

Craziest place you’ve ever lost your phone: I have never lost it. But the amount of screens I’ve cracked makes up for that.

Alarm settings: Don’t use the alarm. Early riser.

Biggest time-wasting app: GarageBand.

When do you feel compelled to charge your phone? [It’s always] 100%. Yes, that’s right: 100%. I consistently wear a battery case.

Are there times when you try to stay off your phone entirely? Always during practice or training.

Favorite fitness app: Nike+ Training Club App is the only one I’ve ever tried.

Cities listed in weather app: Sochi, Russia; New York City; Longboat Key, Florida; Manhattan Beach, California; Tokyo; Indian Wells, California.

Most recent Uber ride: Laurel Canyon to Manhattan Beach ($78).

Favorite podcasts: Lewis Howes’s School of Greatness; TED Radio Hour; The Tim Ferriss Show.

People you FaceTime most often: My mom and my best friend, Estelle.

App you wish someone would invent: Please don’t invent any more.

Sharapova determined to prove point on Slam return

(8/23/17) Former world number one Maria Sharapova makes her first Grand Slam appearance next week since serving a 15-month doping suspension, bringing renewed passion and resolve to the US Open.

The 30-year-old Russian was given a wildcard into the tournament by the US Tennis Association (USTA), a move critics complained about earlier in the season but another key step in the road back for the five-time Grand Slam winner.

"When it comes to tennis, good or bad -- there's really only one thing that I know for certain -- I've missed it," Sharapova wrote on the Players' Tribune website.

"Though these last two years have been tougher -— so much tougher -— than I ever could have anticipated... my passion for the game has never wavered. If anything, it has only grown stronger."

Sharapova was issued a two-year suspension after testing positive for the banned heart and blood boosting drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced the ban on appeal.

She said that she had taken it for several years and did not know it had been placed on the banned list at the start of 2016.

Sharapova made her return in April at Stuttgart, reaching the semi-finals as a wildcard, but such invitations sparked criticism from some WTA rivals, saying she should have to work her way back without such benefits, some suggesting a life ban.

"I'm aware of what many of my peers have said about me and how critical of me some of them have been," she wrote.

"If you're a human being with a normal, beating heart... I don't think that sort of thing will ever fully be possible to ignore."

Sharapova was refused a wildcard by French Open organizers and missed Wimbledon with a thigh injury, so the US Open will be her first Grand Slam event since last year's Australian Open.

Shaking off criticism after the French Open snub, Sharapova tweeted, "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."

Sharapova has missed three of the past four US Opens, her last visit ending in the 2014 fourth round.

The USTA defended its wildcard offer, saying, "Her suspension under the terms of the tennis anti-doping program was completed and therefore was not one of the factors weighed in our wildcard selection process."

"Consistent with past practice, a wildcard was provided to a past US champion who needed the wildcard for entry into the main draw."

Former world number one Sharapova won the 2006 US Open as well as Wimbledon in 2004, the 2008 Australian Open and the 2012 and 2014 French Opens.

"I'm sure this is a great moment for her to have an opportunity to be back to a place where she has done so well," seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams said.

- Sharapova plays catch-up -

Sharapova was bolstered by fans with "Welcome back Maria" signs in Germany and cheering support last month in Stanford, her first US match in more than two years.

"I feel like I just want to hug everyone and say thank you," Sharapova said.

Sharapova defeated American Jennifer Brady 6-1, 4-6, 6-0 in her Stanford opener but suffered a left forearm injury and has not played competitively since.

"I feel like I'm playing catch-up against everyone who has had a head start," she said of being hurt during US Open tuneup events.

Sharapova granted wild-card entry into US Open

(8/15/17) Maria Sharapova has been granted a wild-card invitation for the U.S. Open's main draw.

Sharapova is among eight women who were given entry into the 128-player field by the U.S. Tennis Association on Tuesday — and by far the most noteworthy.

The former No. 1-ranked player and owner of five major titles, including at the 2006 U.S. Open, will be participating in her first Grand Slam tournament in more than 1 1/2 years. Sharapova has not entered a major tournament since the Australian Open in January 2016, when she tested positive for the newly banned drug meldonium.

That led to a 15-month doping ban, which expired in April.

The U.S. Open starts in Flushing Meadows on Aug. 28.

Sharapova pulls out of Western and Southern Open

(8/12/17) An ongoing left arm injury has forced former world number one Maria Sharapova to withdraw from the Western and Southern Open.

With her eyes on the upcoming US Open at Flushing Meadows later this month, Sharapova announced her decision to pull out of the WTA Premier Five event in Cincinnati on Saturday.

Sharapova – back on Tour since April after serving a 15-month ban for doping – was handed a wildcard for the tournament and was due to face French Open champion Jelena Ostapenko in the opening round.

However, the five-time grand slam champion will skip Cincinnati, having sat out the Rogers Cup in Toronto following her withdrawal at the Bank of the West Classic.

"I arrived in Cincinnati yesterday eager to play. However, following the doctor’s advice on-site, as a precaution for the US Open, I am unfortunately withdrawing from the tournament with the left forearm injury I sustained in Stanford," Sharapova said.

"I want to thank the tournament for the wildcard opportunity and really look forward to competing here next year."

Sharapova made a comeback from an eight-week absence with a leg problem in her first-round win over Jennifer Brady in Stanford.

But an arm injury forced the Russian to pull out ahead of her scheduled round-two clash against Lesia Tsurenko, and she has not returned since.

Maria Sharapova out of Rogers Cup, Canada’s Andreescu in main draw

(8/3/17) Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova will miss next week’s Rogers Cup in Toronto due to an injury.

Organizers say she is suffering from "pain in her left forearm."

Toronto’s Bianca Andreescu will take Sharapova’s wild-card spot in the draw.

Sharapova is making a comeback following a 15-month doping ban.

Several players, including Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, have been critical of Sharapova and tournament organizers for giving her wild card entries. Due to her suspension, she is no longer ranked high enough to automatically qualify for main draws.

She is currently ranked 173rd in the world.

"I am so sorry to be missing Rogers Cup this year," Sharapova said in a statement. "I am so appreciative to the tournament for the wild card and my fans in Toronto for their support. I am disappointed that injury is keeping me from the tennis court once again, and I will work as hard as I can to return to the game I love as soon as possible."

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

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.

Canadian Carol Zhao will take Andreescu’s spot in the qualifying tournament.

Sharapova withdraws from Stanford with left arm injury

(8/2/17) Five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova withdrew from the WTA Bank of the West Classic just before her scheduled second-round match Wednesday with a left arm injury, tournament officials announced.

"We're sad to announce that @mariasharapova has withdrawn after doctor's advice regarding her left arm," a post on the tournament's Twitter feed said.

Sharapova played her first US match in more than two years on Monday, defeating American Jennifer Brady 6-1, 4-6, 6-0 in an opening-round match at the hardcourt event in Stanford, California.

The former world number one from Russia hadn't played in the US since March of 2015, before serving a 15-month doping suspension for the use of meldonium.

"I feel like I just want to hug everyone and say thank you," Sharapova told fans in a post-match interview. "It's my first match in the States in a really long time, and it's the closest thing to home for me."

Seventh-seeded Ukrainian Lesia Tsurenko advanced by walkover as a result of wildcard entrant Sharapova's early exit.

The latest injury brings into question whether or not Sharapova will be fit in time for the US Open, which starts August 28, as well as for another key tuneup event in Cincinnati in two weeks for which Sharapova has also accepted a wildcard.

Sharapova, 30, returned to competition in April, but her comeback was disrupted by a hip injury that forced her to withdraw from Wimbledon qualifying.

Sharapova's ranking has fallen to 171 in the world.

"I feel like I'm playing catch-up against everyone who has had a head start," Sharapova said after her Monday match. "All that matters is that I keep playing."

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