Maria Sharapova: News Archive

Sharapova wins first WTA match in US since 2015

(7/31/17) Maria Sharapova played her first WTA match in the United States since 2015 and beat Jennifer Brady 6-1, 4-6, 6-0 on Monday night in the opening round of the Bank of the West Classic.

Sharapova, a wild-card entrant and five-time Grand Slam champion, won the opening four games of the match, lost the first three of the second set and cruised in the third.

''I feel like I just want to hug everyone and say thank you,'' Sharapova said in an on-court interview. ''It's my first match in the States in a really long time, and it's the closest thing to home for me.''

Sharapova served a 15-month ban after testing positive for a newly banned drug at the 2016 Australian Open. She returned in April and played in three tournaments, but missed Wimbledon because of an injury.

Top-seeded and reigning Wimbledon champion Garbine Muguruza will play 17-year-old American Kayla Day, a 6-4, 6-2 winner over Japanese veteran Misaki Doi.

Ana Konjuh, the No. 5 seed from Croatia, won 6-3, 1-0 aft

Sharapova gets Cincinnati wildcard

(7/27/17) Maria Sharapova was Thursday handed a wildcard into the Cincinnati WTA tournament, a key warm-up for the US Open, the season's final Grand Slam which has yet to guarantee the Russian star a place.

Former world number one and five-time Grand Slam title winner Sharapova is still rebuilding her career following a 15-month doping ban which ended in April.

Injury then ruled her out of contention for Wimbledon where she had been due to play qualifying after French Open organisers had refused her a wildcard.

The Cincinnati event, which runs from August 12-20, also granted a wildcard to Victoria Azarenka, the two-time major winner who only recently returned to the tour after maternity leave.

"The addition of these players add to our already strong player field," said tournament director Andre Silva.

"We anticipate the WTA's No. 1 ranking to be on the line during the tournament and adding players of this calibre will make the battle for the top spot even more compelling."

Sharapova, 30, was champion in Cincinnati in 2011 with Azarenka taking the title two tears later.

Sharapova, now ranked 173 in the world, hasn't played since being injured in Rome in May but will return next week at the Stanford tournament.

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

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

On her return to the sport in Stuttgart in April, she reached the semi-finals.

However, she has relied on wildcards to play in events with many players critical of the decision to invite her against the background of her doping ban.

Into The Unknown - Maria Sharapova

(7/27/17) Into The Unknown - Maria Sharapova: theplayerstribune.com

Sharapova says suspension only fueled passion for game

(7/27/17) Five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova says her 15-month doping ban has only fueled her passion for tennis.

The former world number one from Russia, preparing to play at Stanford next week in her first WTA tournament in the United States since her suspension ended, wrote on the Players' Tribune website of the roller-coaster of emotions she has experienced since returning in April from her suspension for the use of meldonium.

"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," Sharapova wrote. "If anything, it's only grown stronger."

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

Similar wildcards offered to Sharapova upon her comeback sparked criticism from some of her WTA peers, who felt she should have to work her way back from suspension without such benefits.

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

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

"I'm aware of what many of my peers have said about me, and how critical of me some of them have been in the press," she wrote. "If you're a human being with a normal, beating heart, you know … I don’t think that sort of thing will ever fully be possible to ignore."

But Sharapova said she'd been bolstered by the loyalty of her fans, describing how touched she was by the "Welcome back Maria" signs she saw upon her return to the WTA tour at Stuttgart.

Although her comeback has already been disrupted by a hip muscle injury, Sharapova said she was looking forward to tackling the US hardcourt season.

She warmed up with a World Team Tennis appearance in Orange County, California, this week, and is now looking to Stanford and Toronto.

"I'm sure my dozens of critics will show up, and so will my thousands of fans," she wrote. "But ultimately, who knows? When it comes to tennis, good or bad — there's really only one thing that I know for certain.

"I've missed it."

Sharapova makes first US match appearance since drug ban

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Davenport thinks Sharapova, Azarenka could make WTA Finals

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharapova to return in July for World Team Tennis

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

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

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

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

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

Sharapova receives invite to WTA Stanford event

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharapova's Wimbledon qualifying bid to be broadcast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharapova's Wimbledon qualifying bid to be broadcast

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maria Sharapova awarded wild card into Rogers Cup main draw

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She is currently ranked 173rd in the world.

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharapova faces 10-match marathon to win Wimbledon title

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maria Sharapova: My grass court tournament schedule

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

An update on my grass court tournament schedule.

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

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

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

Maria

Sharapova receives wild card into pre-Wimbledon event

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharapova's French 'ban' raises question

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quite a day, huh?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharapova retires from match in Rome with apparent injury

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The French Open starts in less than two weeks.

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

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

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

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

Maria Sharapova denied wild-card entry for French Open

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The French Open begins on May 28.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Although sympathetic, Giudicelli was also unrepentant.

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

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

Win in Rome lets Sharapova try to qualify for Wimbledon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

OLYMPIC BID COULD BOOST ROLAND GARROS

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

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

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

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

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

The issue of Sharapova has been a sensitive one.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The French Federation did not respond when asked for comment.

Sharapova overcomes shaky start to beat McHale in Rome

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Players need to lay off Sharapova, says Navratilova

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

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

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

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

Sharapova's wildcards driven by media coverage: Murray

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharapova more disappointed to lose early than to Bouchard

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

Not losing to arch critic Eugenie Bouchard.

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

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

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

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

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

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

She has declined to enter that debate.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Motivated Bouchard overcomes Sharapova in second round of Madrid Open

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Grudge match: Sharapova to play Bouchard in Madrid

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharapova not worried yet about Wimbledon wild card

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

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

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

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

Sharapova beaten in Tie Break Tens as Halep and Dimitrov triumph

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Murray confident that Sharapova will play at Wimbledon

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The rankings deadline for Wimbledon qualification is May 29.

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

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

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

Sharapova to find out Wimbledon wild card fate on June 20

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

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

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

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

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

Five memorable Sharapova quotes at Stuttgart comeback

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharapova: Oh God.

Journalist: Nice to see you, too.

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

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

Sharapova: First time, wow. Virgins.

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

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

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

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

Tennis authorities to step-up anti-doping efforts

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharapova falls to Mladenovic in Porsche Grand Prix semifinals

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

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

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

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

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

Tennis authorities to step-up anti-doping efforts

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

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

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

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

Sharapova wins again, reaches semifinals at Porsche GP

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharapova reaches quarterfinals after 2nd win since return

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

French Open tell Sharapova - wait until May 16

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

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

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

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

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

Sharapova returns from doping ban with straight sets win

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

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

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

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

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

Sharapova gets lukewarm welcome after 15-month doping ban

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharapova returns to tennis after 15-month doping ban

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Halep, Cornet give Sharapova wild-card debate new impetus

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharapova rags-to-riches journey resumes in Stuttgart

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Wimbledon celebrity -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Serena rivalry -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

All eyes on Stuttgart as Sharapova poised for return

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

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

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

Debate still rages about Sharapova's crime and punishment.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharapova's return divides rivals

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

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

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

Those against:

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

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

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

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

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

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

Those for:

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

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

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

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

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

Sharapova draws Vinci with critic Radwanska waiting

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharapova rivals are jealous 'journeymen', says agent

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Live and work on your own terms

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

3. Only focus on what you can control

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

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

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

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

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

Maria Sharapova doesn't appreciate being pitted against Serena Williams

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maria Sharapova doesn't appreciate being pitted against Serena Williams

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

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

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

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

Sharapova 'absolutely' sure doping suspicions will linger

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Evert has no issue with Sharapova wildcards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Players divided on Sharapova wild cards

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

- Complicated question -

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

French Open reluctant to hand Sharapova wild card

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharapova deserves second chance, says Becker

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharapova handed Madrid Open wildcard

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Her case divided opinion in the sport.

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

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

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

Sharapova boxes clever as return nears

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maria Sharapova, Supergoop!

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

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

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

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

Sounds like a grand slam!

Sharapova to return from ban in April

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SHARAPOVA TO MAKE UP FOR LOST TIME?

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

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

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

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

Maria Sharapova to take on Monica Puig in Puerto Rico

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

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

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

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

Reduced ban

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

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

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

Puig victory

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

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

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

Festive homecoming

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

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

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

Housing projects

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

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

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

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

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

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

"I am very fortunate to be in the position that I am -- both in life and as an athlete," she said. "I want to bring tennis to Puerto Rico, help grow the sport, and have people enjoy and take pleasure out of this great sport and also for the next generation to be able to learn to play tennis, and use it as a tool to be successful in life."

Novak Djokovic and Simona Halep are the fastest players in tennis, find out who made the list

(11/30/16) Tennis players are known for their high levels of intensity and speeds as their game is based on how they combine both of them into one perfect package. Speed is measurable and according to a new study from Tennis Australia's Game Insight Group, Serbian Novak Djokovic and Romanian Simona Halep are the world's fastest tennis players.

The Game Insight Group (GIG) undertook a study that measured players while running across a distance of 3m or more, involving the use of statistics from the Australian Open over the years. The study found that Djokovic has the highest top speed (36.0km/h) while current world number one Andy Murray has a higher average top speed (15.89km/h) as compared to the Serb.

Tennis legends Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal came in second and third in the list of the average top speed with timings of 15.55km/h and 15.38km/h respectively. Their top speed figures were not too flattering though, with Federer coming 17th in the list and Nadal finishing in 12th position.

In the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) circuit, Angelique Kerber had the highest average top speed with 14.27km/h while Julia Goerges (13.85km/h) came in second followed by Agnieszka Radwanska (13.79km/h) and Simona Halep (13.69km/h).

Halep finds herself on top of the list when it comes to highest top speed with 23.04km/h with Carla Suarez Navarro (22.48km/h) coming in second and Dominika Cibulkova finding herself in third place. Research on two of the most popular players on the circuit, Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova, was also done, with the Russian surprisingly posting better numbers in both higher top speed and average top speed.

List of Top Speed and Average Top Speed timings of players (in km/h)

ATP (Men's)

1) Novak Djokovic (36.02/14.89)

2) Andy Murray (34.87/15.89)

3) Lleyton Hewitt (31.24/15.24)

4) Gilles Simon (30.76/14.93)

5) Grigor Dimitrov (28.91/15.05)

6) David Ferrer (27.82/14.71)

7) Stan Wawrinka (27.66/15.17)

8) Tomas Berdych (27.28/14.49)

9) Milos Raonic (27.28/15.36)

10) Kei Nishikori (27.17/14.52)

12) Rafael Nadal (26.84/15.38)

17) Roger Federer (26.03/15.55)

WTA (Women's)

1) Simona Halep (23.04/13.69)

2) Carla Suarez Navarro (22.48/13.56)

3) Dominika Cibulkova (21.98/13.43)

4) Agnieszka Radwanska (21.82/13.79)

5) Eugenie Bouchard (21.82/12.95)

6) Ajla Tomljanovic (21.69/13.33)

7) Angelique Kerber (21.46/14.27)

8) Garbine Muguruza (21.32/13.21)

9) Ana Ivanovic (20.9/13.64)

10) Julia Goerges (20.75/13.85)

11) Maria Sharapova (20.61/13.6)

13) Serena Williams (20.52/13.5)

Sharapova to return as UN goodwill ambassador

(11/11/16) Maria Sharapova will once again be a UN goodwill ambassador when her doping ban expires in April and she returns to international tennis competition, a UN statement said Thursday.

The United Nations had suspended Sharapova's role as goodwill ambassador in March after she failed a drug test, putting a hold on a nine-year partnership with the UN Development Programme.

"UNDP was glad to learn that Maria Sharapova can return to the sport she loves sooner than expected and we will lift the suspension of her role as our goodwill ambassador once the reduced ban expires in April 2017," said a UNDP spokesperson.

"We understand that Ms. Sharapova will be focused on resuming her tennis career and we look forward to discussing her role and engagement with UNDP at an appropriate date."

Last month, the Russian star's 24-month ban for testing positive for meldonium was cut to 15 months by the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Sharapova, 29, had admitted using meldonium for 10 years to help treat illnesses, a heart issue and a magnesium deficiency.

As a goodwill ambassador, Sharapova has been active in helping recovery efforts after the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

The tennis sensation has made visits to Belarus and donated $100,000 to support youth projects in rural areas that suffer from the after-affects of the Chernobyl nuclear accident.

Sharapova's family fled the city of Gomel in Belarus in 1987 after the Chernobyl disaster, moving to Siberia where the tennis star was born.

The family lived in Nyagan, Siberia for two years and then moved to Sochi on the Black Sea where Sharapova took her first tennis lessons.

WTA chief 'looking forward' to Maria Sharapova's return from doping ban

(11/9/16) Steve Simon, the CEO of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA), has said he is "looking forward" to seeing Maria Sharapova back on the circuit once she has served her drugs ban.

The Russian star, who has five grand slam titles to her name, is eligible to compete again on April 26 2017.

The penalty followed a positive test for banned substance meldonium at this year's Australian Open.

"I believe that the game, the fans, the tour ... everybody is going to welcome Maria back," Simon told CNN's Open Court host Pat Cash at this year's WTA Finals in Singapore.

"We're looking forward to seeing her back on tour. I do believe that the fans and everyone else is going to be excited to see her back as well."

Sharapova's original two-year ban was reduced to 15 months in October, meaning she will be able to compete in the French Open in May.

Simon spoke of his admiration for the way Sharapova has conducted herself since receiving the ban.

"She's gone through a long and difficult year going through this process," he said. "I think she's shown a tremendous level of integrity.

"Maria owned up to everything she did. We wish all athletes and people would own up to what they do and take responsibility for their actions.

"She did. She's gone through the process. She received no special considerations due to her celebrity status."

Simon acknowledged the impact the ban has had on the Russian's career.

"She's paid a hefty fine," he said. "She's lost all her ranking; she's lost 15 months of income. That's a significant hit for anybody. She's paid her dues and she's available to come back when her suspension will end in the spring."

Simon is not the only CEO in world tennis to welcome Sharapova's comeback. Johan Eliasch, CEO of tennis manufacturer Head who sponsor Sharapova, congratulated the Russian star after her ban was reduced.

Maria Sharapova on Becoming a Champion with Lewis Howes

(10/19/16) Maria Sharapova on Becoming a Champion with Lewis Howes: Video.

Smiling Sharapova plays Las Vegas charity event

(10/11/16) (Pic) Maria Sharapova set foot on a tennis court for the first time since her positive drug test at the Australian Open on Monday, smiling throughout an appearance in the World Team Tennis Smash Hits charity event in Las Vegas.

The Russian star, who last week earned a reduction in her drug ban that will allow her to return to tennis in April, played in two light-hearted doubles matches in the event at Caesar's Palace to benefit the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Sharapova lost her doubles match with American youngster Taylor Johnson when they faced Martina Navratilova and Liezel Huber.

The 29-year-old indicated had felt a hint of nerves along with her 16-year-old doubles partner Johnson.

"It was a big occasion for her (Johnson) and also for me," Sharapova told ESPN.

"I haven't been on a court for a while, for both of us, it was to have some fun and a bit of laughs," she added.

Sharapova later paired with US legend John McEnroe in the evening's final game against Navratilova and Andy Roddick.

Sharapova had not played since testing positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in January.

Her initial 24-month ban was slashed to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport last Tuesday, a ruling which has divided opinion among her peers.

Sharapova to test comeback waters in Las Vegas exhibition

(10/9/16) Maria Sharapova, targeting an April return to the WTA after the reduction of her doping ban, will try to start sharpening her game on Monday in the friendly confines of a charity event in Las Vegas.

The Russian superstar will play in the World Team Tennis Smash Hits event at Caesars Palace, which is hosted by Billie Jean King and Elton John for the benefit of the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Her appearance alongside such stars as Martina Navratilova and Andy Roddick will delight her legion of fans, who remain faithful despite the controversy Sharapova stirred last week with her charge that the International Tennis Federation wanted to make an example of her in her doping case.

"I got a 24-month suspension, but they (the ITF) wanted four years for me," Sharapova said in an interview with US broadcaster PBS, a claim ITF officials denied.

In the same media offensive last week, Sharapova indicated to ESPN she wasn't convinced the drug meldonium, newly banned this year by the World Anti-Doping Agency, enhances performance.

"I think the one thing that I'd love to see -- and if anyone could show me -- is evidence on the performance-enhancing effect that it has," she told the US sports network.

Sharapova's initial 24-month ban for testing positive for meldonium was cut to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport last Tuesday.

That CAS decision divided opinion among her peers.

"I can’t believe it actually," Australian Samantha Stosur said at a tournament in Hong Kong, calling it "remarkable" that Sharapova's ban was reduced on the argument she didn't realize a drug she'd long used had been added to the banned list.

Stosur, in comments reported in Tennis Magazine, said she thought most WTA players felt the same.

"So I wouldn’t imagine there’s a whole lot of support from the playing group," the Aussie said.

But five-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova can likely expect a warm welcome in Las Vegas, where she'll arrive after a stop-off in Henderson, Nevada, to promote her candy company Sugarpova.

"Important to put this behind us for tennis and Maria," King tweeted after Sharapova's ban was reduced. "Look forward to her return to the WTA Tour@wta."

Navratilova added on Twitter: "A big price to pay for a big mistake, it will still be hard to come back for Maria. But we know how tough she is..."

Samantha Stosur: Maria Sharapova shouldn't ‘get away with that excuse,’ won't be backed by WTA players

(10/9/16) At the WTA event in Hong Kong, Samantha Stosur said she was surprised by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) decision on Maria Sharapova, adding that Sharapova should not have been allowed to "get away" with saying she did not know the product had recently become banned.

Sharapova tested positive for meldonium, saying she had taken it for many years for medical reasons. It was prohibited by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) at the beginning of the 2016 season.

"I can’t believe it, actually,” Stosur said. “I don’t even know what to say ... I don’t know how you can get away with that excuse and have that overturned ... I think it’s remarkable that you can use that excuse and get away with it ... It really sets a bad precedence for athletes moving forward, where you can almost put your hands up and say it was not my fault."

Sharapova initially received a two-year ban from an independent International Tennis Federation (ITF) tribunal. The CAS reduced it to a 15-month suspension, and noted, among other things, that she had not received significant warning from the ITF or WADA about the change.

Stosur indicated that she and other WTA players are not likely to get behind Sharapova.

"I’ve spoken to a few people and we all seem to have the same idea," she said "...We had the same idea beforehand, and now we have the decision. So I wouldn’t imagine there’s a whole lot of support from the playing group."

Gasquet says return will be 'tough' for Sharapova

(10/7/16) French tennis player Richard Gasquet -- who was once banned after testing positive for cocaine -- said Wednesday that Maria Sharapova will face a "tough" return when her 15-month doping ban ends next year.

Gasquet faced an emotional comeback himself after he tested positive for cocaine at the Miami Open in 2009.

"It is never easy to come back, of course. I think she had 15 months... it's quite long to come back (after that). Mentally and physically it will be tough for her," Gasquet told AFP in Beijing.

The 30-year-old Frenchman was banned for just two and a half months after he persuaded the International Tennis Federation's tribunal panel that he had inadvertently ingested cocaine during a nightclub kiss with a girl who had taken the drug.

Sharapova had her two-year doping ban cut to 15 months by the Lausanne-based Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) on Tuesday, after it ruled she was not an "intentional doper".

The 29-year-old Russian tennis star -- who is estimated to be worth $200 million -- said she aims to return to the tour in April next year.

At the time of his court comeback, Gasquet said that he had been too upset to pick up a tennis racket during his suspension.

But his career has since rebounded. He has ended three of the last four years inside the top ten and achieved his best ever Grand Slam performance this year, reaching the quarter finals at Roland Garros.

"(Sharapova needs) to play enough and of course it will be ok for her in the future. We will see... for every case it is different," Gasquet added.

Russian two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova said Sharapova would not be planning a comeback if she wasn't confident she could return to the top of women's tennis.

"Maria is (a) very good player and a hard worker. She won't be coming back if she (didn't) think she can be the top," Kuznetsova said.

ITF hits back at Sharapova over tribunal claims

(10/6/16) Maria Sharapova's claims that the International Tennis Federation (ITF) tried to enforce a lengthier ban for her doping rule violation have been rejected by the governing body.

The Russian's suspension for using the banned substance meldonium was on Tuesday reduced by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) from two years to 15 months, but the former world number one said the ITF had pushed for a four-year sanction.

In addition to rejecting that suggestion, the ITF dismissed the notion that it could have done more to inform the five-time grand slam champion and other eastern European athletes about meldonium's inclusion on the banned list.

"The ITF did not try to ban Ms Sharapova for four years, as has been suggested," read a statement. "The ITF stated clearly that it was the responsibility of the Independent Tribunal - and subsequently the CAS Panel - to determine what the appropriate sanction should be.

"Ms Sharapova has stated that the Independent Tribunal was 'not neutral'. Ms Sharapova's legal team was given the opportunity to object to the appointment of any member of that Tribunal in advance of the hearing and they agreed in writing that they had no such objection.

"It has also been suggested that the ITF should have given specific notice to eastern European athletes relating to the change in status of meldonium, because it was in common use by those athletes, and that this was known by the ITF prior to 2016.

"This is not true. In fact, it was accepted by Ms Sharapova in the hearing before CAS that the ITF did not know before 2016 about the extent to which meldonium was used by athletes from any region, or that Ms Sharapova herself was using meldonium.

"In addition to Ms Sharapova's failure to declare her use of meldonium on any of her doping control forms, the WADA monitoring program is conducted anonymously, so even WADA itself does not know the names of athletes using the substances being monitored.

"Furthermore, WADA does not inform any anti-doping organisation about the prevalence of such use until it publishes the results of the monitoring program, which for the 2015 monitoring program was in May 2016."

Thursday's statement was prompted by remarks from Sharapova on the Charlie Rose Show, in which the former world number one addressed the question of whether she felt she was being made an example of.

"I never wanted to believe that, but I am starting to think that," said the 29-year-old.

"I got a 24-month suspension, but they wanted four years for me. The ITF wanted to ban me for four years.

"I went through the ITF arbitration which was chosen by the ITF. I'm in a hearing knowing that the people I am speaking to were chosen by the people I am in a fight with. That's not neutral.

"CAS is neutral and this is what CAS awarded."

Sharapova's reduced ban expires in April 2017.

WTA chief Simon wants to provide more education to avoid Sharapova repeat

(10/5/16) WTA chief executive Steve Simon says the organisation will take a greater role in educating players on doping rules to avoid a repeat of the Maria Sharapova case.

Sharapova was handed a two-year ban after testing positive for banned substance meldonium at this year's Australian Open, but the former world number one claimed to be unaware it had been added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's list of prohibited substances on January 1.

The five-time grand slam winner's suspension was reduced to 15 months on Tuesday following an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, clearing her to return to action next April.

Simon called on competitors to be more mindful of the regulations but revealed the WTA intends to offer increased help from now on.

He said: "Well I think it is really clear that not only does the athlete need to pay attention to what the latest rules are and what they are ingesting into their systems, but I also think there is a take away for us at the WTA that we cannot sit back and wait for the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme or the ITF [International Tennis Federation] to give their education to the players.

"We need to take a stronger role in that.

"You will see an increased effort from the WTA to ensure that we never see another positive drugs test because a player was uninformed. Nobody wins and nobody benefits when things like this happen."

Simon is pleased the case has reached a conclusion and believes Sharapova will be welcomed back and is looking forward to seeing her back on court.

"Obviously it's been a time coming for sure. I am glad to see it has come to a conclusion. We are looking forward to seeing Maria [Sharapova] back on the court in 2017," he added.

"More importantly I think the process worked right. It came out with a decision and we are very supportive of the decision and we look forward to seeing Maria back in 2017.

"Anytime you lose a star to injury or suspension it's not a good thing. You miss them, the fans and the sport wants to see them. It will be great to see her back on court and I am sure she will be welcomed back with open arms."

Sharapova to play at WTT Smash Hits in Las Vegas

(10/5/16) Maria Sharapova returns to the court for the first time since her doping ban was reduced when she makes her World Team Tennis Smash Hits debut next week in Las Vegas.

WTT announced Wednesday that Sharapova will play in the charity event, co-hosted by Billie Jean King and Elton John, on Monday at Caesars Palace. Proceeds go to the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

Sharapova says she’s "really excited to get back on the court for a great cause" and "looking forward to a great night of tennis."

She joins a field that includes John McEnroe, Andy Roddick, Martina Navratilova, Mardy Fish, Mark Philippoussis and Liezel Huber.

Sharapova's two-year ban was reduced to 15 months on Tuesday by a sports court. She tested positive for the prohibited heart medication meldonium at the Australian Open in January.

Maria on Today

(10/4/16) Tennis star Maria Sharapova will sit down with Matt Lauer in her first live television interview since her two-year doping suspension from tennis was reduced to 15 months. The live, in-studio interview will air tomorrow, Wednesday, October 5 on NBC News’ TODAY.

Maria on Charlie Rose

(10/4/16) @MariaSharapova: I'll be appearing on @charlierose Show tonight,10/4 on @PBS. Have been a huge fan of his show for a long time! Hope you tune in!!

Sharapova: CAS ruling provides one of my happiest days

(10/4/16) Maria Sharapova says the Court of Arbitration for Sport's (CAS) decision to reduce her doping ban from two years to 15 months has provided her with "one of my happiest days".

The Russian was initially suspended until January 2018, after testing positive for the banned substance meldonium at this year's Australian Open.

However, Sharapova claimed to be unaware that meldonium had been added to WADA's prohibited list at the start of 2016 and an appeal to CAS has resulted in her sanction being reduced by nine months.

Sharapova will therefore be free to return to the court in April 2017 and said in a statement: "I've gone from one of the toughest days of my career last March when I learned about my suspension to now, one of my happiest days, as I found out I can return to tennis in April.

"In so many ways, I feel like something I love was taken away from me and it will feel really good to have it back.

"Tennis is my passion and I have missed it. I am counting the days until I can return to the court."

The 29-year-old says that her case should be a lesson to the International Tennis Federation and other anti-doping agencies to ensure other players avoid a similar fate.

The statement added: "I have learned from this, and I hope the ITF has as well. CAS concluded that 'the Panel has determined it does not agree with many of the conclusions of the [ITF] Tribunal…'

"I have taken responsibility from the very beginning for not knowing that the over-the-counter supplement I had been taking for the last 10 years was no longer allowed.

"But I also learned how much better other Federations were at notifying their athletes of the rule change, especially in Eastern Europe where Mildronate [another name for meldonium] is commonly taken by millions of people.

"Now that this process is over, I hope the ITF and other relevant tennis anti-doping authorities will study what these other Federations did, so that no other tennis player will have to go through what I went through."

Sharapova also she had a message of thanks to her fans.

"And to my fans, (Hello SharaFamily!), I thank you so much for living and breathing so many of these tough months together," she said.

"During this time, I have learned the true meaning of a fan and I am so fortunate to have had your support.

"I'm coming back soon and I can't wait."

Reacting to the news, WTA CEO Steve Simon said in a statement: "The TADP has a comprehensive and fair process in place and we support the final result. We are pleased that the process is now at completion and can look forward to seeing Maria back on court in 2017."

Maria Sharapova’s doping ban cut from two years to 15 months

(10/4/16) Maria Sharapova’s doping ban was reduced from two years to 15 months on Tuesday, meaning the Russian tennis star can come back in April and return to Grand Slam play at the French Open.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport cut nine months off the suspension imposed on Sharapova, who tested positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in January.

Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1-ranked player, appealed to CAS in June seeking to overturn or reduce the two-year suspension imposed by the International Tennis Federation.

The CAS panel found that Sharapova "bore some degree of fault" for the positive test, saying a 15-month sanction was "appropriate."

The ban took effect on Jan. 26 and was originally due to run until Jan. 25, 2018. Now she will be eligible to return nearly a year earlier.

"I've gone from one of the toughest days of my career last March when I learned about my suspension to now, one of my happiest days, as I found out I can return to tennis in April," Sharapova said in a statement.

"In so many ways, I feel like something I love was taken away from me and it will feel really good to have it back," she added. "Tennis is my passion and I have missed it. I am counting the days until I can return to the court."

Steve Simon, CEO of the WTA tour, welcomed the ruling.

"We are pleased that the process is now at completion and can look forward to seeing Maria back on court in 2017," he said.

An independent ITF panel had found that Sharapova did not intend to cheat but that she bore "sole responsibility" and "very significant fault" for the positive test.

The panel also said the case "inevitably led to the conclusion" that she took the substance "for the purpose of enhancing her performance."

Sharapova acknowledged taking meldonium before each match at the Australian Open, where she lost in the quarterfinals to Serena Williams.

Sharapova said she was not aware that meldonium, also known as mildronate, had been included on the World Anti-Doping Agency's list of banned substances from Jan. 1, 2016.

The ITF said she also tested positive for meldonium in an out-of-competition control in Moscow on Feb. 2.

The 29-year-old Sharapova missed this year's French Open, Wimbledon and U.S. Open, as well as the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Sharapova said she was first prescribed the Latvian-made drug, typically used for heart conditions, by her family doctor for various medical issues in 2006. She cited a bout of the flu, possible onset of diabetes and a magnesium deficiency.

Meldonium increases blood flow, which improves exercise capacity by carrying more oxygen to the muscles.

More than 100 athletes, including many Russians and other eastern Europeans, tested positive for meldonium early in the year. Some escaped with no sanctions because they argued successfully that they stopped taking the drug before Jan. 1 and that traces had lingered in their system. Sharapova, however, acknowledged that she used meldonium after Jan. 1.

Sharapova to learn appeal verdict Tuesday

(10/3/16) The verdict in Maria Sharapova's appeal against a two-year doping ban will be announced Tuesday.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport says it will issue the decision at 9am et.

Sharapova challenged an International Tennis Federation ban imposed after she tested positive at the Australian Open for meldonium.

An ITF panel found that the Russian did not intend to cheat, but was at "very significant fault."

Sharapova acknowledged taking meldonium before each match in Melbourne, claiming she was not aware it had been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency.

Sharapova said she was prescribed the Latvian-made heart drug since 2006. Meldonium, also known as mildronate, is not approved for use in the United States where she lives.

Her ban expires in January 2018.

UFC Adds Hollywood, Music, And Sports Stars To Its Ownership Roster

(10/1/16) UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship) just added some celebrity glitter to its ownership ranks following the $4 billion acquisition in July by an investor group led by WME | IMG.

The mixed martial arts power says today that its owners now include Abel “The Weeknd” Tesfaye, Adam Levine, Anthony Kiedis, Ben Affleck, Calvin Harris, Cam Newton, Conan O’Brien, Flea, Guy Fieri, Jimmy Kimmel, Li Na, LL Cool J, Maria Sharapova, Mark Wahlberg, Michael Bay, Rob Dyrdek, Robert Kraft, Serena Williams, Sylvester Stallone, Tom Brady, Trey Parker, Tyler Perry, and Venus Williams.

“Expanding our ownership group to include this caliber of talent and entrepreneurs is a strong indicator of UFC’s fast-growing global presence,” UFC President Dana White says. “Our new investors bring an incredible depth of knowledge and experience to help us continue to elevate this brand and capitalize on its entertainment and sports crossover appeal.”

The sports company, founded in 1993, has soared in popularity in recent years with crossover stars including former champion Ronda Rousey (Furious 7) and Randy Couture (Expendables 3).

It has more than 40 live events a year and boasts that it’s the world’s largest Pay-Per-View event provider with broadcasts in 29 languages to more than 156 countries and territories with 1.1 billion-plus television households.

Maria Sharapova to find out decision on doping appeal in October

(9/13/16) The verdict in Maria Sharapova’s appeal against a two-year ban for doping has been delayed for a second time.

Sharapova should now find out the decision in her case against the International Tennis Federation early next month, the Court of Arbitration for Sport said Tuesday.

The Russian tennis star had initially hoped to get fast-track verdict in July before the Rio de Janeiro Olympics began. After both sides’ lawyers said they needed more time to prepare their case, the target was then set for Sept. 19.

Now, CAS plans to issue its verdict during the first week of October.

Sharapova was banned in June by the ITF after testing positive for meldonium at the Australian Open.

She acknowledged taking meldonium before each match in Melbourne, claiming she was not aware that the drug, also known as mildronate, had been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency as of Jan. 1.

An independent three-person panel appointed by the ITF ruled that Sharapova did not intend to cheat, but that she bore "sole responsibility" and "very significant fault" for the positive test.

Sharapova said she first was prescribed the Latvian-made drug, typically used for heart conditions, for medical reasons in 2006.

Her ban is due to end on Jan. 25, 2018, which would force her to miss eight Grand Slam tournaments. She would turn 31 before the 2018 French Open begins.

No tennis, no problems for shopaholic Maria Sharapova

(9/1/16) Maria Sharapova’s new drug of choice: retail.

The tennis superstar, who is serving a two-year suspension after testing positive for the banned substance meldonium in January, indulged at luxury label Isabel Marant on Wednesday in West Hollywood.

Pairing her cream color blazer with a white T-shirt, pale pink skirt and brown booties, Sharapova’s attire is severely different from the skin-tight styles she might flaunt on the courts at the US Open.

While tennis rivals Coco Vandeweghe and Serena Williams, among others, are competing in Queens, Sharapova is keeping busy with shopping and studying.

The 29-year-old beauty enrolled in a two-week program at Harvard Business School this summer, and recently completed a three-day internship with the NBA in New York.

“She took part in many of our department meetings to learn about NBA operations,” a spokesperson for NBA commissioner Adam Silver told The Post. “She’s very smart, incredibly inquisitive about our process and initiatives.”

Sharapova’s agent confirmed she wants to focus on business ventures once she retires.

Maria Sharapova is spending her summer as an intern

(8/29/16) Maria Sharapova was in New York City this month on a sports venture that had nothing to do with tennis or the U.S. Open.

As Sharapova prepares for her post-playing career, the Russian tennis star completed a three-day informal internship with the NBA in Manhattan, working closely with commissioner Adam Silver.

Sharapova is barred from the U.S. Open after testing positive for a drug — meldonium — that’s deemed a performance-enhancer and recently was placed on the WTA’s banned list. The two-year suspension currently is under appeal.

The 2006 Open champion attended several high-level meetings and met with executives for the NBA, WNBA and D-League. She was recommended for the internship by a friend, Sophie Goldschmidt, who formerly ran the league’s European office.

“She took part in many of our department meetings to learn about the NBA operations,” Mike Bass, a spokesman for Silver, told The Post. “She’s very smart, incredibly inquisitive about our process and initiatives.”

According to an NBA source, meldonium will be placed on the NBA’s banned list in time for the coming season.

Sharapova has kept busy since her ban, which began in June, diving into academia. She took a two-week class at the Harvard Business School in July and had an internship this summer at an ad agency and Nike.

She already is running one business, candy company Sugarpova. Her agent, Max Eisenbud, said she’s focused on a business career after she retires.

She will not be in New York during the Open.

Sharapova could return in January - tennis chief

(8/15/16) Five-times grand slam winner Maria Sharapova, banned in June for two years for doping offences, may be allowed to return in January, according to Russian Tennis Federation president Shamil Tarpishchev.

"Everything will be decided in September. It is impossible to say for certain but I think she will start playing again by January," Tarpishchev was quoted as saying by the TASS news agency on Monday.

Former world number one Sharapova was suspended following a positive test for the banned drug meldonium during January's Australian Open.

The 29-year-old was named in Russia's official entry list for the Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro but the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) decided in July to defer its decision on her appeal against the ban until Sept. 19.

Sharapova is seeking to have her suspension, which was handed down by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) in June, wiped out or reduced.

The postponement of the ruling came because Sharapova and the ITF needed more time to "complete and respond to their respective evidentiary submissions", the CAS said in a statement.

Maria on CHELSEA

(8/4/16) CHELSEA, Netflix

Friday, August 12: Maria Sharapova

Sharapova out of Rio as CAS delays doping decision

(7/11/16) The Court of Arbitration for Sport said Monday it has put back its ruling on the two-year doping ban for Maria Sharapova for two months to September, ruling the tennis superstar out of the Rio Olympics.

The 29-year-old Russian tested positive for the banned medication meldonium during January's Australian Open, in a severe blow to her reputation.

If the ban -- which Sharapova has called "unfairly harsh" -- is upheld it would almost certainly end one of sport's most celebrated and high-profile careers.

"Maria Sharapova and the International Tennis Federation (ITF) have agreed to defer the CAS decision until September 2016," said a CAS statement.

"Due to the parties requiring additional time to complete and respond to their respective evidentiary submissions, and several scheduling conflicts, the parties have agreed not to expedite the appeal.

"A decision is expected to be issued by September 19, 2016."

The original ruling was expected by July 18, with Sharapova hoping that a successful appeal would have allowed her to spearhead the Russian tennis team in Rio.

CAS confirmed to AFP that Sharapova will not be able to compete at the Olympics.

Russia's participation at the Games, which begin on August 5, is already under fierce scrutiny after its track and field team was banned for separate state-sponsored doping.

The Russian tennis federation chief said Sharapova's absence in Rio would badly dent their medal hopes.

"(It is) a serious loss for our team at the Olympics as we counted on her medal in women's singles," TASS news agency quoted Shamil Tarpishchev as saying.

Sharapova's ban was backdated to January 26 this year, when she tested positive for the prohibited substance.

Meldonium was added to the world anti-doping WADA list on January 1. Sharapova said she had been taking it for 10 years to help treat illnesses, a heart issue and a magnesium deficiency.

The CAS statement added: "In her appeal to the CAS, Ms Sharapova seeks the annulment of the (ITF) tribunal’s decision to sanction her with a two-year period of ineligibility further to an anti-doping rule violation.

"Ms Sharapova submits that the period of ineligibility should be eliminated, or in the alternative, reduced. The final decision will be announced and published by CAS when it is available."

- 'Huge mistake' -

The former world number one and five-time Grand Slam champion, who is based in the United States, told a packed press conference in Los Angeles in March that she had failed a dope test at the Australian Open and admitted making a "huge mistake".

"I let my fans down. I let my sport down that I've been playing since the age of four that I love so deeply," added Sharapova, her voice wavering.

"I know that with this, I face consequences and I don't want to end my career this way -- and I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game."

Sharapova burst onto the international scene as she giggled and grunted her way to the Wimbledon crown in 2004.

She won the US Open in 2006, the Australian Open in 2008 and the French Open in 2012 and 2014.

Her ferocity on the court, business acumen and glamorous looks have all combined to make her a marketing juggernaut and the overseer of such successful ventures as her Sugarpova line of candy.

She has 35 WTA singles titles and more than $36 million in career earnings.

'Hey Harvard!' Maria Sharapova Attending Business School for 2-Week Program During Tennis Ban

(6/29/16) Maria Sharapova is heading to Harvard Business School during her time off the court.

The 29-year-old Russian native announced the news on Twitter recently, posing next to a sign on the school's Cambridge, Massachusetts, campus.

"Not sure how this happened but Hey Harvard! Can't wait to start the program," she wrote alongside the image.

According to the Associated Press, Sharapova will participate in a two-week program. Her agent, Max Eisenbud, said that the program involves two classes on campus.

Sharapova's enrollment comes as the tennis star is forced to refrain from professional tennis for at least two years – she was banned by the International Tennis federation after failing a doping test at January's Australian Open – leaving plenty of time for higher education.

Sharapova tested positive for Meldonium, a drug that can help an athlete's endurance and rehabilitation. Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion, said she had been taking Meldonium for the past decade, as it was not banned in the tennis world until this year.

"I have let my fans down, and let the sport down that I have been playing since the age of four that I love so deeply," Sharapova said in March of the scandal. "I know that with this I face consequences and I don't want to end my career this way. I really hope to be given another chance to play this game."

Sharapova attending Harvard Business School during ban

(6/27/16) Maria Sharapova says she’s headed to Harvard Business School while she serves a two-year doping ban.

The 29-year-old Russian tennis star posted on Facebook and Twitter on Saturday a picture of her seated next to a sign for the school and the message: "’Not sure how this happened but Hey Harvard! Can’t wait to start the program!"

Representatives for Harvard and Sharapova didn’t immediately comment Monday.

Sharapova tested positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in January, taking it before each match at that tournament even though the substance was banned at the start of 2016.

The five-time Grand Slam champion and former No. 1-ranked player has appealed to the Court of Arbitration for Sport in Switzerland. She is trying to overturn or reduce the suspension, which was imposed by the International Tennis Federation.

Sharapova lawyer blasts WADA chief over income comment

(6/20/16) Maria Sharapova's attorney John Haggerty hit out at World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) head Craig Reedie for comments he made about the Russian tennis star's earnings.

Speaking at a WADA symposium in London on Monday, Reedie complained that his organisation's yearly budget of $30 million (26.5 million euros) was potentially less than Sharapova's annual earnings.

But that brought a furious rebuke from Haggerty.

"The statement made today by the WADA president is unprofessional," said the attorney in a statement.

"Justice, whether in the eyes of WADA or a court, must be blind, including being blind to a player's earnings.

"Mr. Reedie owes an apology to Maria and to all successful tennis players unless he wants fans to think WADA has different standards for players depending on their ranking and earnings."

Sharapova was banned for two years by the International Tennis Federation earlier this month after admitting in March she had taken the banned medication meldonium.

The 29-year-old has vowed to contest her ban at the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Reedie said on Monday that WADA was punching above its weight due to its limited budget but suggested that it was a satisfaction to have caught Sharapova despite her potential to earn more than that in a year.

Maria Sharapova appeals to CAS in doping case; ruling by July 18

(6/14/16) Maria Sharapova appealed her two-year doping ban to the highest court in sports on Tuesday, with an expedited ruling to be issued next month ahead of the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Sharapova filed an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport seeking to overturn or reduce the suspension imposed by the International Tennis Federation last week after the Russian tested positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in January.

CAS said both sides agreed to an "expedited procedure" which will allow the court to issue its ruling by July 18, at the latest.

The timing means that, if the suspension is thrown out, Sharapova would be eligible to compete at the Rio Games, which open on Aug. 5.

CAS said it hasn't decided whether to hold a hearing or not.

Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion, announced she would appeal following last Tuesday's announcement of her suspension.

An independent three-person panel appointed by the ITF said Sharapova did not intend to cheat because she didn't know meldonium was banned, but that she bore "sole responsibility" and "very significant fault" for the positive test.

Sharapova was provisionally suspended by the ITF in early March, when she announced at a news conference in Los Angeles that she failed a doping test in January.

Sharapova said then she was not aware that the World Anti-Doping Agency barred athletes from using meldonium, also known as mildronate, from Jan. 1.

In addition to testing positive at the Australian Open, the ITF said she also failed a test for meldonium in an out-of-competition control in Moscow on Feb. 2.

Sharapova's ban is due to end on Jan. 25, 2018.

Sharapova said she first was prescribed the Latvian-made drug, typically used for heart conditions, for medical reasons in 2006. She could have been barred from competing for up to four years.

Racket sponsor keeps backing Sharapova despite 2-year ban

(6/9/16) Maria Sharapova’s racket supplier reinforces its support of the five-time Grand Slam champion, one day after she was banned for two years for doping.

Head CEO Johan Eliasch calls the suspension imposed by an ITF anti-doping tribunal "a flawed decision," repeating his comment that the substance Sharapova tested positive for, meldonium, shouldn’t be on WADA’s banned list because of a lack of scientific evidence for its supposed performance-enhancing effect.

Eliasch says his company "will continue to stand by Miss Sharapova."

Earlier, Nike also announced its continued support for Sharapova after initially putting their long-term deal on hold in March, when she revealed she failed a doping test at the Australian Open in January.

Sharapova has said she will appeal the suspension.

Nike 'will continue to partner' with Sharapova

(6/8/16) Nike says it "will continue to partner" with Maria Sharapova, despite her two-year suspension for failing a drug test.

The sportswear giant said in a statement Wednesday: "We hope to see Maria back on court."

Sharapova was punished by a three-person Tennis Anti-Doping Program tribunal appointed by the International Tennis Federation, which concluded she took meldonium "for the purpose of enhancing her performance." She had been taking it since 2006.

Meldonium was banned as of Jan. 1. Sharapova tested positive at the Australian Open on Jan. 26, and said later she didn't know the substance was newly banned.

In March, when Sharapova announced she failed a drug test, Nike said it had "decided to suspend our relationship with Maria while the investigation continues" but that it would "monitor the situation."

Factbox: Banned player Maria Sharapova

(6/8/16) Factbox on Russia's Maria Sharapova who was banned until January 2018 on Wednesday after testing positive for the banned drug meldonium at this year's Australian Open:

Born: April 19, 1987 in Nyagan, Russia

GRAND SLAM TITLES: Five: Wimbledon (2004); U.S. Open (2006); Australian Open (2008); French Open (2012, 2014)

MAKING HER NAME

* Born in Siberia, moves to Black Sea coastal resort of Sochi aged two.

* Moves to Florida in 1996 to train at Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy in Bradenton. Sharapova's father Yuri, armed with just $700, moves to U.S. with her. Her mother Yelena has to stay in Russia due to visa restrictions.

* Turns professional in 2001.

TENNIS CAREER

* Wins first tour title in Tokyo in 2003. Finishes inside top 50 for first time.

* Becomes first Russian woman to win Wimbledon in 2004 aged 17, beating holder Serena Williams 6-1 6-4 in the final.

* In August 2005 becomes first Russian woman to reach the top of the world rankings.

* Wins her second grand slam after defeating second seed Justine Henin 6-4 6-4 in the 2006 U.S. Open final.

* Beats Ana Ivanovic of Serbia 7-5 6-3 in 2008 to win her third grand slam title, and first Australian Open.

* Regains number one ranking by beating Petra Kvitova in the French Open semi-finals in 2012 before defeating Sara Errani 6-3 6-2 in the final to complete her collection of grand slam trophies.

* Wins a silver medal in her Olympic debut at the 2012 Games in London, losing the final against Serena Williams 6-0 6-1.

* Wins fifth grand slam title at 2014 French Open.

OTHER NOTES

* Has shoulder surgery in 2008 followed by a nine-month injury layoff.

* Misses second half of 2013 season with a shoulder injury.

* Is the richest woman in sport and, with more than 15 million fans, she is the most followed female athlete on Facebook.

FAILED TEST

*Sharapova tells a news conference in Los Angeles in March that she tested positive at this year's Australian Open for meldonium, which is used to treat diabetes and low magnesium and has been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) since Jan. 1.

*She is provisionally banned by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) pending the outcome of an anti-doping hearing in London in May

*ITF announces a two-year ban for Sharapova backdated to Jan. 26. Sharapova says she will appeal against the length of the ban.

Sharapova, rags to riches to doping shame

(6/8/16) From the shadow of Chernobyl's nuclear wasteland to international super-stardom and from penniless arrival in the United States, without a word of English, to a fortune nudging the $200 million mark.

It may sound like the stuff of Hollywood dreams, but the story of Maria Sharapova, the world's richest sportswoman, was a testament to the power of one individual to make it, whatever the odds.

However, on Wednesday, the 29-year-old Russian's rags-to-riches story was seemingly at an end when she was banned for two years for failing a drugs test at January's Australian Open.

Sharapova shot to international fame as a giggly 17-year-old Wimbledon winner in 2004 -- the third youngest player to conquer the All England Club's famous grass courts.

She would go on to win once in Australia and once at the US Open while claiming two titles at the French Open, despite famously likening her movement on Roland Garros's crushed red brick as a "cow on ice."

Siberia-born Sharapova first picked up a racquet at the age of four when she was living in Sochi, where her Belarus-born parents had settled after escaping the deadly clutches of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Spotted by Martina Navratilova, she was encouraged to move to Nick Bollettieri's Florida academy, the proving ground of Andre Agassi and Monica Seles.

Father Yuri and the seven-year-old Maria left for the US in 1994 with just a borrowed $700 to their names.

"I was living a normal, average, everyday life back in Russia and we had a dream," she recalled.

Yuri took odd jobs like dishwashing to finance his daughter's dreams although visa restrictions meant mother Yelena was back in Russia, separated from her daughter for two years.

When Sharapova was nine, the mighty IMG group spotted her talent, funded the $35,000 fees required for the Bollettieri school and the young Maria was on her way.

- Wimbledon celebrity -

She made her professional debut at 14 in 2001 and by 2003 she reached the world top 50. She won her first tour titles in Japan and Quebec.

Then in 2004, the tennis world was turned upside down when her Wimbledon final triumph over Serena Williams made her an overnight international celebrity.

One year later, she became the first Russian woman to be ranked at number one in the world while, in 2006, she won her second major at the US Open.

But in 2007 and 2008, she began her long, on-off battle with shoulder trouble.

She still had time to win the Australian Open before a second shoulder injury kept her off tour for the second half of the season, including missing the US Open and Beijing Olympics.

A 10-month absence from the sport, as she recuperated from surgery, saw her ranking slip to 126, but she was back in 2012, capturing the French Open to become the 10th woman to complete a career Grand Slam and adding Olympic silver to her resume that year.

Her 2014 French Open title was another high after a dispiriting injury low.

More injury troubles followed before the bombshell announcement of her positive test for the banned heart drug meldonium at the Australian Open -- where she fell in the quarter-finals to Williams.

- Serena rivalry -

With Williams, she endured her most testing rivalry -- on and off the court.

The two famously exchanged personal barbs over their private lives when Sharapova began a two-year romance with Bulgarian player Grigor Dimitrov, a rumoured previous boyfriend of the American.

Sharapova had previously been engaged to former Los Angeles Laker basketball star Sasha Vujacic.

She may have been unlucky in love, but Sharapova hit the jackpot in her commercial affairs. She made almost $30 million in 2015, according to Forbes, with $23 million of that coming from endorsements.

Sharapova was a brand ambassador for Porsche, Cole Haan and in 2010 signed a contract extension with Nike worth a reported $70 million.

"Beauty sells. I have to realize that's a part of why people want me. I understand it. It's fine. I'm not going to make myself ugly," she said.

She has two luxury homes -- one in Florida, one in California -- and is making a lucrative career as an entrepreneur. In 2012, she launched her own line of candy, Sugarpova, selling 30,000 bags in the first six months.

She acknowledged in Melbourne that she never expected still to be playing tennis at the age of 28, but when she revealed her positive drugs test at a news conference in Los Angeles on March 7, she said she wasn't ready to leave the game.

"I don't want to end my career this way," Sharapova said. "And I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game."

Maria Sharapova doping timeline

(6/8/16) Timeline on Maria Sharapova doping case after the Russian star was banned for two years on Wednesday:

2016

Jan 26 - Sharapova loses to old rival Serena Williams in the Australian Open quarter-finals.

March 7 - Sharapova calls press conference at a Los Angeles hotel where she reveals that after her loss in Melbourne she tested positive for meldonium, a substance placed on the WADA banned list at the start of the year.

March 8 - Nike, Tag Heuer and Porsche halt their lucrative relationships with Sharapova.

March 8 - Sharapova's old rival Williams praises the Russian's "courage" in fronting up to developments.

March 9 - World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) president Dick Pound describes Sharapova's actions as "reckless beyond description".

March 10 - Sharapova's racquet manufacturer Head says it will stand by the Russian.

March 12 - Sharapova insists that contrary to media reports, she had not received five separate warnings about changes to anti-doping rules. "I should have paid more attention to it. But the other 'communications'? They were buried in newsletters, websites, or handouts," the Russian star said. "I guess some in the media can call that a warning. I think most people would call it too hard to find."

March 15 - United Nations suspends Sharapova as a goodwill ambassador.

March 24 - World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) says 123 cases involving meldonium recorded since the endurance-boosting drug was banned on January 1.

April 13 - WADA says athletes could escape a ban for taking meldonium because it does not know for sure how long it takes the substance to leave the body.

April 14 - Russian President Vladimir Putin declared athletes' use of the performance-boosting drug does not constitute doping.

May 26 - Named on Russian Olympic tennis team

June 7 - Sharapova earned $21.9 million (19.2 million euros) over the past 12 months, down almost $8 million from the previous year, according to Forbes Magazine.

June 8 - Banned for two years by ITF, Sharapova announces she will appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Maria’s statement on twitter about 2 Year Ban

(6/8/16) Maria Sharapova: Today with their decision of a two year suspension, the ITF tribunal unanimously concluded that what I did was not intentional. The tribunal found that I did not seek treatment from my doctor for the purpose of obtaining a performance enhancing substance. The ITF spent tremendous amounts of time and resources trying to prove I intentionally violated the anti-doping rules and the tribunal concluded I did not. You need to know that the ITF asked the tribunal to suspend me for four years – the required suspension for an intentional violation -- and the tribunal rejected the ITF’s position.

While the tribunal concluded correctly that I did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules, I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension. The tribunal, whose members were selected by the ITF, agreed that I did not do anything intentionally wrong, yet they seek to keep me from playing tennis for two years. I will immediately appeal the suspension portion of this ruling to CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

I have missed playing tennis and I have missed my amazing fans, who are the best and most loyal fans in the world. I have read your letters. I have read your social media posts and your love and support has gotten me through these tough days. I intend to stand for what I believe is right and that’s why I will fight to be back on the tennis court as soon as possible.

Love, Maria

P.S. My lawyer prepared a short summary of how the ITF process works so I thought I would pass it along to my fans so you too can be aware of what the ITF rules call for (Read)

Maria Sharapova banned two years by ITF for doping violation

(6/8/16) Maria Sharapova was suspended from tennis for two years Wednesday for testing positive for meldonium at the Australian Open, and immediately responded by saying she would appeal the decision to sport’s highest court.

The ruling by an independent three-person panel appointed by the International Tennis Federation said Sharapova did not intend to cheat, but that she bore "sole responsibility" and "very significant fault" for the positive test.

"While the tribunal concluded correctly that I did not intentionally violate the anti-doping rules, I cannot accept an unfairly harsh two-year suspension," Sharapova said in a statement. "The tribunal, whose members were selected by the ITF, agreed that I did not do anything intentionally wrong, yet they seek to keep me from playing tennis for two years. I will immediately appeal the suspension portion of this ruling to CAS, the Court of Arbitration for Sport."

The five-time Grand Slam champion was provisionally suspended by the ITF in early March, when she announced at a news conference in Los Angeles that she failed a doping test in January.

Sharapova said then she was not aware that the World Anti-Doping Agency had barred athletes from using meldonium, also known as mildronate, as of Jan. 1.

Her lawyer, John Haggerty, said Sharapova took the substance after that date.

Lawyers representing the ITF argued their side, while Haggerty argued hers. He said she spoke at the hearing.

In addition to testing positive at the Australian Open, the ITF said she also failed a test for meldonium in an out-of-competition control in Moscow on Feb. 2.

Sharapova said she first was prescribed the Latvian-made drug, typically used for heart conditions, for medical reasons in 2006. She could have been barred from competing for up to four years.

"Today with their decision of a two-year suspension, the ITF tribunal unanimously concluded that what I did was not intentional," Sharapova said. "The tribunal found that I did not seek treatment from my doctor for the purpose of obtaining a performance enhancing substance.

"The ITF spent tremendous amounts of time and resources trying to prove I intentionally violated the anti-doping rules and the tribunal concluded I did not."

The ban throws into doubt the on-court future of Sharapova, a 29-year-old Russian who is one of the most well-known and — thanks to a wide array of endorsements — highest-earning athletes in the world.

She is a former top-ranked player who is one of 10 women in tennis history with a career Grand Slam — at least one title from each of the sport’s four most important tournaments. So much came so easily for her at the start: Wimbledon champion in 2004 at age 17; No. 1 in the rankings at 18; U.S. Open champion at 19; Australian Open champion at 20.

An operation to her right shoulder in 2008 took her off the tour for months, and her ranking dropped outside the top 100. But she worked her way back, and in 2012, won the French Open, then added a second title in Paris two years later.

Sharapova hasn’t played since a quarterfinal loss to Serena Williams at this year’s Australian Open, and she is ranked 26th this week.

Meldonium increases blood flow, which improves exercise capacity by carrying more oxygen to the muscles.

In April, citing a lack of scientific evidence about how long the drug remains in a person’s system, WADA said that provisional suspensions may be lifted if it is determined that an athlete took meldonium before it went on the list of banned substances.

About 200 athletes tested positive for meldonium this year from various sports and countries — many, like Sharapova, were Russian — and some said the drug stayed in their systems for months even though they stopped using it in 2015.

But, according to Haggerty, that was not the case for Sharapova.

Serena usurps Sharapova as highest-paid sportswoman

(6/6/16) Serena Williams has replaced Maria Sharapova as the world's best-paid female athlete.

The women's tennis' number one reached the French Open final on Saturday, only to lose out to Garbine Muguruza at Roland Garros.

It was her second major final defeat of the year, after losing out to Angelique Kerber at the Australian Open, as her search for a record-equalling 22nd grand slam goes on.

Williams, who won three out of four majors in 2015, has moved to the top of the list ahead of Sharapova, who has been out of action since January after she tested positive for banned substance meldonium at the Australian Open.

In the 12-month period from June 1 last year, Williams' earnings totalled $28.9million - $20m of which was endorsements.

Sharapova raked in $21.9m while UFC superstar Ronda Rousey ($14m) completes the top three.

American race driver Danica Patrick is fourth, having earned £13.9m, while the remainder of the top 10 are all tennis players, including Muguruza - seventh with $7.6m - although those earnings will not include prize money garnered from her French Open win.

Suspended Sharapova named on Russian Olympic team

(5/26/16) Russia have included Maria Sharapova in their Olympic tennis team despite the star player being suspended over a positive test for the banned drug meldonium, the country's tennis federation said on Thursday.

"By the end of the first week of Roland Garros, the question of Sharapova's participation at the Olympic Games should be resolved," Shamil Tarpischev, the head of Russia's tennis federation, told R-Sport news agency.

"She has been put on our Olympic application. It has to be submitted by June 6."

Sharapova, who won silver at the 2012 London Olympics, was suspended in March after she admitted she had tested positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in January.

Since then, a string of high profile Russian athletes -- including Olympic swimmer Yulia Efimova -- also tested positive for meldonium.

But the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), which had only banned the Latvian-made drug from January 1, said in April that athletes could escape a ban for taking meldonium because of uncertainty about how long it takes for the substance to leave the body.

Many athletes who had been suspended for testing positive for meldonium have since been absolved.

In April, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) said that Sharapova's case would be heard in accordance with WADA's recommendations on how to deal with cases involving meldonium.

Russia is poised to send its four highest-ranked players to compete in the singles event at the Rio Olympics, which as of Monday were Sharapova, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Ekaterina Makarova.

If Sharapova cannot compete, Tarpischev said, the team would select the fifth highest-ranked player in the WTA rankings, 19-year-old Daria Kasatkina.

Russia has been rocked by a series of doping scandals, including recent allegations by the former head of Russia's national anti-doping lab, Grigory Rodchenkov, about a doping cover-up scheme that involved at least 15 medallists at the 2014 Sochi Games, as well as the sports ministry and the FSB security service.

The country is also striving to reinstate its athletics federation, suspended in November over evidence of state-sponsored doping and mass corruption in Russian track and field, in time for Rio.

The International Association of Athletics Federations (IAAF) is set to rule next month on Russia's participation in the Games.

The International Olympic Committee (IOC) is expected to soon announce the number of failed doping tests from the 2012 London Olympics that have been found during the retesting of samples.

The IOC has already revealed the existence of 31 new suspect cases from the 2008 Beijing Games, 14 of which involve Russian athletes, Russia's Olympic Committee has said.

Head of Russian tennis backtracks on Sharapova retirement claim

(5/19/16) The head of the Russian Tennis Federation backtracked on his comments Thursday, saying he didn’t mean to suggest that Maria Sharapova’s failed doping test could spell the end of her career.

Russian news agency R-Sport had quoted Shamil Tarpishchev on Thursday as saying that Sharapova’s situation is "bad" and that it is "very doubtful" that she will resume her career.

"I only said that she can’t play now because no ruling on her case has been issued," Tarpishchev later told the Tass news agency.

Sharapova tested positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in January. She said she had taken the drug for a decade for medical purposes and didn’t know it had been banned for 2016.

Sharapova remains provisionally suspended from competition pending a ruling from the International Tennis Federation.

Sharapova may not play again, says Russia's Tarpishchev

(5/19/16) Maria Sharapova may not play again after testing positive for the banned substance meldonium, the president of the Russian tennis federation was quoted as saying on Thursday.

Shamil Tarpishchev told the R-Sport news agency that Sharapova's situation was "bad".

The five-times grand slam champion faces a possible ban of up to four years for failing a drugs test at the Australian Open in January.

British media reported that she had been due to attend an International Tennis Federation (ITF) anti-doping hearing in London on Wednesday.

There has been no subsequent comment by the ITF.

Sharapova stunned the world in March when she said she had returned a positive test for the Latvian-made heart medication which was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA's) banned list from Jan. 1.

The world's highest-paid sportswoman claimed to have been taking meldonium on doctor's orders for 10 years and had failed to note that it had become a banned substance until hearing of her failed test at the year's first grand slam.

She was provisionally suspended on March 12 pending the hearing, and has lost a number of her lucrative sponsorship deals.

She said at the time that she hoped she would be allowed to play again.

The World Anti-Doping Agency WADA said in April, after hundreds of athletes had tested positive for meldonium, that bans might be overturned due to a lack of clear scientific information on how long the drug takes to be excreted.

Sharapova hearing not before June - Russia tennis chief

(5/18/16) Maria Sharapova's meldonium hearing may not take place until June, says Shamil Tarpishchev, the president of the Russian Tennis Federation (RTF).

It was revealed in March that the Russian failed a drugs test at the Australian Open in January, with meldonium having been added to the banned substance list at the start of the year.

Sharapova claimed she had been taking meldonium for health reasons and was not aware it had been placed on the prohibited list.

She was subsequently suspended, and a hearing into the matter was reportedly expected to take place this week.

However, RTF chief Tarpishchev has cast doubt on a swift conclusion, explaining that the matter is not a straightforward one.

"Sharapova's situation is complicated," he told TASS. "The thing is that she admitted that she had taken meldonium.

"The case will not be considered so long as the two laboratories do not study the preparation. I believe that's not going to happen earlier than June."

Sharapova to face anti-doping hearing in London

(5/18/16) Maria Sharapova will attend an International Tennis Federation anti-doping hearing in London on Wednesday, British media reported, with the Russian facing a possible ban of up to four years for failing a drugs test at the Australian Open.

The five-times grand slam champion stunned the world in March when she said she had returned a positive test for meldonium, a Latvian-made heart medication which was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA's) banned list from Jan. 1.

Sharapova, the world's highest-paid sportswoman, claimed to have been taking meldonium on doctor's orders for 10 years and had failed to note that it had become a banned substance until hearing of her failed test at the first grand slam of the year.

She was provisionally suspended on March 12 pending the hearing.

Hundreds of athletes have tested positive for meldonium this year but WADA admitted last month that their bans might be overturned due to a lack of clear scientific information on how long the drug takes to be excreted from the body.

The drug's manufacturer said traces could remain in the body for several months depending on dosage, duration of treatment and sensitivity of testing methods.

The ITF's anti-doping program calls for a four-year suspension for a failed test but it can be reduced in various circumstances, such as for first-time offences or if the player shows no significant fault or negligence.

Maria Sharapova: Could Tennis Star Play Wimbledon?

(5/17/16) Maria Sharapova’s hearing for her positive testing meldonium case should take place this week, the next and most crucial step in deciding the tennis superstar’s fate.

A report in The Independent says the Russian, who tested positive at the Australian Open in January, will appear in London, probably on Wednesday.

Here, then, is a breakdown of her case.

What is the hearing about?

Sharapova is under investigation for her use of meldonium, a substance banned under the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA) code since 1 January of this year.

Sharapova said she took meldonium, an anti-angina drug developed and manufactured in Latvia, from 2006 to treat a range of conditions including the possible onset of family-related diabetes, and was unaware it had been placed on WADA’s banned list.

How might Sharapova go free?

There has been some confusion—including at WADA—about exactly how long meldonium remains in the body after consumption, not to mention what kind of performance enhancement it actually provides.

Grindeks, the manufacturer of Mildronate, the make of meldonium taken by Sharapova, says the drug can remain in the body for months.

That is why WADA, in April, changed its guidelines for how sports governing bodies should approach sanctions over meldonium. Responding to the vast number—at that time, 172—positives for the drug since it was banned, WADA said punishments might be waived if the sample showed between 1 and 15 micrograms and the test was conducted before March 1.

Sharapova’s lawyers are expected to use this lack of scientific clarity at the hearing, to argue that the positive test at the Australian Open may have been from prior usage, before meldonium became a banned substance.

So could she play at Wimbledon?

A decision on Sharapova’s immediate future is likely to be processed within two weeks. Should the positive test be upheld, then a maximum ban of four years for a first offence is possible.

But if her lawyers can exercise that lack of scientific certainty to convince the International Tennis Federation (ITF) that she ingested the drug before the start of 2016, or that it was present in a small enough amount in her body to fall under WADA’s amnesty guidelines, then a vastly reduced ban is possible—enough, potentially, for her to appear at the All England Club.

Go Behind the Scenes As Maria Sharapova Gets Ready for the Met Gala!

(5/4/16) (Pic1, Pic2, Pic3) Maria Sharapova loves to dress up – and she takes PEOPLE behind the scenes of her preparation for the Met Gala to prove it.

A team of stylists helped her perfect her look, although the work started long before Monday night’s event. When choosing her dress, she chose a red satin slip dress by Colombian designer Juan Carlos Obando. (She considered wearing the same dress in black, but ultimately that the red popped more.)She accented the outfit with some of the designer’s bold gold jewelry. She finished the look with a pair of Gianvito Rossi heels.

“I like to take chances with my style,” the 29-year-old tennis star tells PEOPLE. Case in point: she eschewed a long dress for this year’s Oscars Vanity Fair Party, instead choosing a short white dress. “I like to do different things. Sometimes my dresses are short; other times, they’re long and people step on them on the red carpet.”

Sharapova’s hairstylist, Adir Abergel, pulled back Sharapova’s hair to better display her jewelry. Her makeup artist, Kara Yoshimoto Bua, used Chanel products to give her a smooth, natural look.

“When it comes to my style, I really like to switch things up,” she told PEOPLE before the Oscars this year. “I could look the same every time, but what’s the fun in that?”

ITF president says hearing scheduled in Sharapova case

(4/20/16) A disciplinary hearing has been scheduled in Maria Sharapova’s doping case, with a ruling possible before Wimbledon starts.

International Tennis Federation president David Haggerty said Wednesday that the Tennis Integrity Unit typically takes "two to three months" to process a case. That could deliver a verdict in June.

Haggerty said he has not been told details by the independent investigation unit, including when and where the hearing will be held.

Sharapova was provisionally suspended after announcing on March 8 that she tested positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in January.

The Russian said she had been prescribed the blood-flow boosting drug since 2006, and had been unaware the World Anti-Doping Agency had prohibited its use from Jan. 1.

Russian officials want Sharapova to play at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics in August.

Sharapova will not have her provisional ban lifted pending the verdict, despite WADA publishing new guidelines to sports bodies last week amid uncertainty over how long meldonium remains in an athlete's body.

Some athletes among nearly 200 who have tested positive claim they had not taken the drug this year.

Haggerty said Sharapova's case "will continue to he heard."

"For her, given her levels (of meldonium), it is not even a question," incoming WADA director general Olivier Niggli told The Associated Press this week.

Elected as ITF president last year, Haggerty said the governing body and its integrity unit will be more transparent in communicating about cases.

On Tuesday, the ITF announced a 10-year ban for a Croatian umpire who continued to work, including at the 2015 U.S. Open, while he was serving a one-year suspension which was never publicly disclosed.

"We don't always get things 100 per cent but you learn through this," Haggerty said in a briefing on the sidelines of the SportAccord conference.

On potential match-fixing cases, the TIU received more than 40 alerts of suspicious betting patterns in matches played in the first three months this year, Haggerty said.

Haggerty is due in Rio on May 4 to assess Olympic preparations which are "in progress, but not finished," including court surfaces and lighting at the Olympic Park venue.

"If you have a night session and you don't have lights, you have a problem," the American official said. "They are being installed."

Sharapova still faces meldonium hearing, says ITF

(4/15/16) Maria Sharapova still faces a hearing after testing positive for meldonium, despite the World Anti-Doping Agency issuing fresh rules for athletes who tested positive for the banned substance before March 1, the International Tennis Federation has said.

Five-times grand slam tennis champion Sharapova tested positive for the drug at this year's Australian Open after it was added to WADA's list of banned substances in January.

WADA said in a notice on Wednesday that athletes who tested positive for meldonium before March 1 could have bans overturned as the agency was unable to establish how quickly the drug cleared the human body.

But the change in policy will have no bearing on Sharapova's case, the world tennis governing body said.

"In light of the recent notice from WADA regarding the process for dealing with cases involving meldonium, the ITF can confirm that the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme case involving Maria Sharapova will proceed to a hearing in accordance with WADA's recommendations," the ITF said in a statement on Wednesday.

"The ITF does not intend to make any further statement until completion of this process due to the confidentiality of the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme."

WADA makes meldonium U-turn, could affect Sharapova ban

(4/13/16) Athletes who tested positive for meldonium before March 1 could have their bans overturned less than four months before the Rio de Janeiro Olympics after WADA said it was unable to establish how quickly the drug, outlawed since Jan. 1, cleared the system.

The World Anti-Doping Agency's notice to national anti-doping bodies is expected to have a major impact on many of the 172 athletes who have tested positive for the performance-boosting drug since January.

They include five-times grand-slam tennis champion Maria Sharapova, who was among 40 Russian athletes to test positive for the drug after it was added to WADA's list of banned substances in January.

Sharapova's lawyer John Haggerty accused WADA on Wednesday of "poorly" handling the issue and said they were now "trying to make up for it".

WADA said there was "currently a lack of clear scientific information on excretion times".

"As a result it is difficult to know whether an athlete may have taken the substance before or after January 1, when it became illegal.

"In these circumstances, WADA considers that there may be grounds for no fault or negligence on the part of the athlete," it said in a statement sent to anti-doping agencies and sports federations, adding that the presence of less than one microgram of meldonium in the samples was acceptable.

The anti-doping body's notice also gave hope to athletes who have tested positive for the drug since March 1, depending on studies being carried out to determine how long it stays in the body.

Sharapova, who said she had been taking meldonium for more than a decade because of health problems, was provisionally suspended by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) in March after announcing she had failed a test at the Australian Open.

"The fact that WADA felt compelled to issue this unusual statement now is proof of how poorly they handled issues relating to meldonium in 2015," Haggerty said in a statement.

"Given the fact that scores of athletes have tested positive for taking what previously was a legal product, it's clear WADA did not handle this properly last year and they're trying to make up for it now."

Russian Tennis Federation President Shamil Tarpishchev said Sharapova's ban could be addressed in a meeting with ITF head David Haggerty later this month.

"The situation with Sharapova could be resolved after April 21 when we meet with the head of the international federation. It is too early to talk about Sharapova competing at the Olympic Games," Russia's TASS news agency quoted Tarpishchev as saying.

Russian Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko welcomed WADA's decision.

"The Russian Sports Ministry supports and welcomes the decision made by WADA because it has shown a willingness to understand the situation, rather than stick to the rulebook," Mutko said in a statement.

"WADA has demonstrated impartiality and being objective in the fight against doping."

Alexei Kravtsov, president of the Russian Skating Union (RSU), said that five-times world champion Pavel Kulizhnikov and 2014 Olympic short track gold medallist Semen Elistratov -- both found to have taken meldonium -- should be allowed to compete again after the WADA decision.

"These sportsmen should be allowed to fall under the amnesty due to the amount found in their doping tests," Kravtsov was quoted as saying by the R-Sport news agency.

Two more Russian federations -- rugby and cycling -- said their athletes who had tested positive could be free to return to competition.

They include rugby player Alyona Mikhaltsova and cyclists Anastasia Chulkova and Pavel Yakushevsky who all tested positive for less than one microgram.

Meldonium, manufactured for people suffering from heart problems, can also increase blood flow and improve exercise capacity.

Russia says Sharapova in Olympic plans despite doping case

(4/12/16) Russia says Maria Sharapova is still in its plans for the Olympic tennis tournament in August despite her provisional suspension for failing a drug test.

Sharapova has been suspended since last month, when she admitted she tested positive for the banned substance meldonium at January's Australian Open.

Sharapova said she had been taking meldonium for medical reasons for 10 years and had not seen a World Anti-Doping Agency ruling last year that it would be banned for 2016.

Russian Tennis Federation president Shamil Tarpishchev says in a statement ''we really hope that Sharapova will still be allowed to take part in the Olympic Games.''

No date has been announced by the International Tennis Federation for a hearing into the case of Sharapova, who won Olympic silver in 2012.

Doping-Morality police should not judge Sharapova - GB Olympian

(4/7/16) Tennis player Maria Sharapova should not be judged by sport's 'morality police' for taking meldonium for 10 years before it was banned, according to British Olympian Susan Egelstaff.

Egelstaff, a badminton player, says the former world number one has been unfairly accused of acting against the spirit of sport.

Sharapova, the biggest name to test positive for meldonium since it was officially banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) in January, admitted using the drug, which boosts aerobic performance, for health reasons.

The Russian, who is provisionally banned pending an International Tennis Federation (ITF) investigation, said she had not read an email saying meldonium had been added to WADA's list of banned substances.

"When Maria Sharapova tested positive for meldonium the backlash was immediate and fierce," Egelstaff told The Mixed Zone website.

"The outcry focused more on the fact she had been taking meldonium, reportedly prescribed by a doctor for a decade without an apparent medical need for the drug, rather than the fact she failed a doping test.

"The morality police were out in force, decrying Sharapova for taking a drug for its performance-enhancing qualities," added Egelstaff, a Commonwealth Games bronze medallist in 2006.

"This condemnation amazed and frankly stupefied me. There was a remarkable number of people who believed themselves qualified to judge what is morally acceptable in sport."

There have been more than 100 positive tests since then but in some countries meldonium was routinely used as a supplement before it was added to the WADA list.

Egelstaff argues there is no difference between athletes who took meldonium to boost aerobic performance and the use of other legal treatments.

"During qualifying for London 2012 (Olympics) I had severe pain in my foot...I got a cortisone injection and within 24 hours I was completely pain-free," she said.

"This injection was, indisputably, performance-enhancing. Without it I'm not sure I could have continued playing, with it I qualified for Team GB.

"I didn't feel the tiniest pang of guilt about having the injection and neither should I, it was legal after all," added Egelstaff.

On Thursday, Russia's Sports Minister Vitaly Mutko said hundreds of sportspeople in his country used meldonium before it was prohibited.

"Anything that is not banned by WADA is fair game," Egelstaff said.

"WADA has a banned list for a reason, and testing positive for a substance on that list will, quite rightly, result in a ban. There is not another list entitled 'Legal But Morally Wrong'".

'Arrogant, conceited and cold', Cibulkova slams Sharapova

(4/5/16) Dominika Cibulkova said she does not feel for suspended former world number one Maria Sharapova, adding the five-time grand-slam champion is a "totally unlikeable person".

Sharapova was provisionally suspended from March 12 after testing positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in January.

Many past and present players had their say on Sharapova, who said she had been taking the substance for 10 years due to health reasons and was unaware it had been added to WADA's list of prohibited substances on January 1.

But 2014 Australian Open runner-up Cibulkova did not hold back when asked about the Russian, insisting she is not missed on the WTA Tour.

"I was surprised that most of the reactions were so diplomatic, because everyone's opinion is actually totally different," the 26-year-old Slovakian said via sport.sk.

"I didn't make any statement, as I didn't want to be the only person to openly say what they think about this case.

"I will only say that I don't feel sorry at all for Sharapova and I don't miss her on the tour.

"She's a totally unlikeable person. Arrogant, conceited and cold. When I sit beside her in the locker room, she won't even say hello."

Sharapova doping hearing could be in June

(3/30/16) The president of the Russian tennis federation says Maria Sharapova could have her disciplinary hearing for doping in June.

Sharapova has been provisionally suspended and faces a possible ban of up to four years after testing positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in January, though a reduced punishment is possible if she can show she did not intend to cheat.

Shamil Tarpishchev tells the state Tass news agency that "the hearings could be put off until June," adding that was "not official information, but my opinion."

Tarpishchev says he is in regular contact with Sharapova and says she is continuing to train.

Sharapova has said she took meldonium for medical reasons and was not aware it had been banned for 2016.

Nike brand chief leaves door open to Sharapova after doping scandal

(3/17/16) Nike Inc, which suspended ties with Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova after she failed a drug test, believes disgraced athletes can redeem themselves, global brand head Trevor Edwards said in an interview.

"Each time those situations happen, you are saddened and disappointed," Edwards said on Wednesday at a New York event where the world's biggest sportswear company announced new products like self-lacing shoes. "At the same time, there are many athletes that inspire us."

Edwards, a 53-year-old from Britain, has held his position since 2013 and is seen as a contender to succeed Chief Executive Officer Mark Parker one day. He oversees an annual marketing budget of more than $3 billion and has helped make deals with top athletes like basketball star LeBron James.

Earlier this month, Nike suspended its sponsorship of Sharapova, the highest-paid woman in sports, after she said she had failed a drug test at the Australian Open due to a substance she was taking for health issues.

However, Edwards hinted Sharapova could return to the Nike fold, as the company allowed U.S. sprinter Justin Gatlin to do after he twice served doping suspensions.

Asked about Sharapova, he said: "At the end of the day, athletes are humans just like the rest of us, and they have the same frailties that the rest of us have. And sometimes those moments become teaching moments."

Doping scandals surrounding Russian and Kenyan athletes could cast a shadow over the Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. A top official for the Nike-sponsored Kenya athletics federation has said he fears his country could be banned from the games.

There are also concerns that the Zika virus, which is linked to a surge in the birth of babies with abnormally small heads, could deter athletes and visitors from traveling to Rio.

The Rio Games will be the first for Nike as official apparel partner since Sydney 2000. Rival Adidas, which was the sponsor for the three previous games, said it decided not to bid as the brand had plenty of exposure in Brazil during the 2014 soccer World Cup.

Edwards said it was up to individuals to make up their own minds about Zika, but he is still optimistic for the games.

"Brazilians are passionate for sport," he said. "They will host an incredible event."

Edwards said the introduction on Wednesday of a new version of its Nike+ running app should be a bridge between amateur runners and the stars of Rio, offering customized training tips and product recommendations as well as invitations to local events.

"Consumers are looking for services: Don't just tell me to 'just do it,' help me to 'just do it,'" he said in a reference to the Nike slogan.

UN agency stops work with ambassador Maria Sharapova

(3/15/16) A United Nations agency says it has stopped working with Maria Sharapova pending the tennis star's doping case.

Sharapova faces being banned by tennis authorities after testing positive for meldonium, a blood-flow enhancing medication.

The New York-based United Nations Development Program says ''in light of Ms. Sharapova's recent announcement, we last week suspended her role as a Goodwill Ambassador and any planned activities while the investigation continues.''

The UNDP ''remains grateful to Maria Sharapova for her support of our work, especially around the Chernobyl nuclear disaster recovery.''

Since 2007, Sharapova has been an ambassador for the agency which works to combat poverty and inequality.

Her charitable foundation worked with the UNDP to fund education scholarships for people from Chernobyl-affected areas of Belarus.

Doping-Evert stunned by Sharapova news; not by doping in tennis

(3/15/16) Chris Evert said on Monday she was stunned to hear that Maria Sharapova failed a doping test, but not by the fact that there is doping in tennis, claiming that she knew players who doped during her career.

Evert, an 18-times grand slam champion who retired in 1989, said the use of performance-enhancing drugs in tennis went on during her career - which was before the sport adopted current anti-doping rules - and that it likely goes on in all sports.

"You'd have to have your head in the sand if you didn't at least assume that every professional sport might have some sort of performing-enhancing drugs being used," Evert told a conference call from Indian Wells, where she will do TV commentary for ESPN at the BNP Paribas Open.

"Honestly, in every professional sport I think this goes on to a certain extent. In tennis it doesn't worry me as much. This went on when I was playing."

"I know players on the women's tour who were using -- who were using performance-enhancing drugs and we didn't even have drug testing."

Sharapova faces up to a four-year ban by the International Tennis Federation for testing positive for meldonium in January, a drug she had taken for 10 years due to health problems and which was banned on Jan. 1.

Evert feels the length of Sharapova's ban will hinge on her medical records and that the former Russian world number one may only deserve to be barred for the rest of the year.

"It all comes down to viewing the medical records from the doctors that took care of her 10 years ago and examining exactly what her case is," said Evert.

"This drug is used for angina and severe heart issues. There's always suspicion when you hear what the drug is used for. That's why her defense needs to show medical records, and (her) dosage.

"If it does come out cleanly, I would say banning her for the rest of year would be enough."

Evert's ESPN colleague Patrick McEnroe said players always look for an advantage.

"Players of course are going to look to get an edge, whether in how they train, or in how they eat and how they recover," the former U.S. David Cup captain said.

"Do I think it's a major problem in tennis? No, I don't. I think the testing is very tough in tennis."

McEnroe doubts Sharapova was unaware of meldonium ban

(3/13/16) Tennis great John McEnroe finds it hard to believe that Maria Sharapova was unaware she was taking a banned drug that led to her suspension, the seven-times grand slam champion said on Saturday.

The player-turned-commentator weighed in on the recent news that Sharapova tested positive for a newly banned drug meldonium that went into effect on January 1.

"Would be hard to believe that no one in her camp, the 25 or 30 people that work for her, or Maria herself had no idea that this happened," McEnroe told the Tennis Channel Saturday during the BNP Paribas Open.

McEnroe noted that at the 1990 Australian Open he was ejected from a match after he did not realize a rule change that reduced a player's default from four steps to just three.

"Nobody told me, so it is possible that Maria did not know that, though it's extremely doubtful," he said.

Sharapova, 28, is facing a suspension of up to four years by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) and has already lost numerous sponsorships in the aftermath.

McEnroe joked that Sharapova should only be banned for two years because she says she did it unknowingly.

"Lift the ban, there's no suspension if when she comes back she promises not to grunt," McEnroe added in jest. "If you don't grunt Maria, no suspension. If you continue to grunt, two years."

New Maria Facebook Message

(3/11/16) (Facebook.com) To My Fans:

I want to reach out to you to share some information, discuss the latest news, and let you know that there have been things that have been reported wrong in the media, and I am determined to fight back.

You have shown me a tremendous outpouring of support, and I’m so grateful for it. But I have also been aware that some – not all, but some – in the media distort, exaggerate and fail to accurately report the facts about what happened.

A report said that I had been warned five times about the upcoming ban on the medicine I was taking. That is not true and it never happened.

That’s a distortion of the actual “communications” which were provided or simply posted onto a webpage.

I make no excuses for not knowing about the ban. I already told you about the December 22, 2015 email I received. Its subject line was “Main Changes to the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme for 2016.” I should have paid more attention to it.

But the other “communications”? They were buried in newsletters, websites, or handouts.

On December 18, I received an email with the subject line “Player News” on it. It contained a newsletter on a website that contained tons of information about travel, upcoming tournaments, rankings, statistics, bulletin board notices, happy birthday wishes, and yes, anti-doping information. On that email, if a player wanted to find the specific facts about medicine added to the anti-doping list, it was necessary to open the “Player News” email, read through about a dozen unrelated links, find the “Player Zone” link, enter a password, enter a username, read a home screen with more than three dozen different links covering multiple topics, find the “2016 Changes to Tennis Anti-Doping Program and Information” link, click on it and then read a page with approximately three dozen more links covering multiple anti-doping matters. Then you had to click the correct link, open it up, scroll down to page two and that’s where you would find a different name for the medication I was taking.

In other words, in order to be aware of this “warning”, you had to open an email with a subject line having nothing to do with anti-doping, click on a webpage, enter a password, enter a username, hunt, click, hunt, click, hunt, click, scroll and read. I guess some in the media can call that a warning. I think most people would call it too hard to find.

There was also a “wallet card” distributed at various tournaments at the beginning of 2016, after the ban went into effect. This document had thousands of words on it, many of them technical, in small print. Should I have studied it? Yes. But if you saw this document (attached), you would know what I mean.

Again, no excuses, but it’s wrong to say I was warned five times.

There was also a headline that said, “4-6 Weeks Normal Treatment for Drug in Maria Sharapova Case.” That headline has been repeated by many reporters who fail to tell their viewers and readers what the rest of the story says. The story quotes the manufacturer of my medicine as saying: “Treatment course can be repeated twice or thrice a year. Only physicians can follow and evaluate patient's health condition and state whether the patient should use meldonium for a longer period of time."

That’s exactly what I did. I didn’t take the medicine every day. I took it the way my doctor recommended I take it and I took it in the low doses recommended.

I’m proud of how I have played the game. I have been honest and upfront. I won’t pretend to be injured so I can hide the truth about my testing.

I look forward to the ITF hearing at which time they will receive my detailed medical records.

I hope I will be allowed to play again. But no matter what, I want you, my fans, to know the truth and have the facts.

- Maria

WADA: 99 meldonium cases found this year

(3/11/16) There have been 99 positive tests this year for meldonium, the drug found in Maria Sharapova’s sample at the Australian Open, the World Anti-Doping Agency said Friday.

WADA spokesman Ben Nichols told The Associated Press in an email that since the drug was banned on Jan. 1 "there have been 99 adverse analytical findings for Meldonium recorded."

Nichols did not provide details of who has tested positive.

Meldonium, a blood-flow boosting drug produced in Latvia, is most common in Eastern European and former Soviet countries, where it is often available over the counter.

Seven of the 16 confirmed cases come from Russian athletes, including Sharapova, who admitted she had tested positive on Monday at a news conference. Sharapova said she has been taking meldonium for 10 years for various health issues and did not know it had been banned.

Other cases involve athletes from Ukraine, Georgia and Sweden.

Athletes who fail doping tests can face a ban of up to four years for a first offence, but substantial reductions can be imposed if they demonstrate that they did not intend to enhance their performance.

Sharapova is one of four Olympic medallists to have tested positive for meldonium. The others are Russian speedskater Semyon Elistratov, Russian ice dancer Ekaterina Bobrova and Georgian wrestler Davit Modzmanashvili.

WADA announced in September that meldonium, which was once used to help boost the endurance of Soviet troops, would be banned from 2016, citing evidence of the drug's performance-enhancing benefits and widespread use in international sports.

Since Sharapova announced that she tested positive, WADA has been criticized by the Russian government. Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov said Thursday that meldonium should never have been banned, arguing that it doesn't enhance performance.

Murray says Sharapova scandal sends message to drugs cheats

(3/10/16) Andy Murray says Maria Sharapova should face the music for testing positive for a banned drug and that snaring the Russian sports icon sends a strong message to would be drugs cheats. World number two Murray applauded doping officials on Thursday for catching one of tennis' most high-profile stars. "The positive thing about what has happened to Maria is she is one of the biggest female athletes on the planet," Murray said on Thursday at the Indian Wells tournament. "If you take performance-enhancing drugs and you fail a drug test then you should be suspended." Former world number one Sharapova announced Monday that she failed a drug test at the Australian Open in January. Sharapova tested positive for Meldonium, which was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned list this year.

Sharapova's peers stunned, but support doping system

(3/10/16) While Maria Sharapova's fellow players were shocked by the Russian's announcement that she failed a drug test at the Australian Open, most of them felt the "huge mistake" could have been avoided.

World number three Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland described it as "a very sad day for tennis" but expressed the views of many by saying it was down to every player, via their doctor, to check whether prescribed medications were legal.

Five-times grand slam champion Sharapova tested positive for meldonium, which some researchers have linked to increased athletic performance and endurance, after failing by her own admission to realise that it had been outlawed since Jan. 1.

"I don't check those emails," Radwanska told reporters on Wednesday about receiving notification of which substances and medications were on the banned list before the start of every year. "That is what my doctor is doing and my agent.

"I am scared because I know every pill can have something in it so when I am sick I am just taking aspirins 100 percent because I am always afraid that it is going to be something else. (To be safe) I had better play with the flu."

Men's world number five Rafa Nadal pointed to Sharapova's negligence while also hoping that the Russian had made an innocent mistake.

"Everybody can have mistakes," the Spanish left-hander said at Indian Wells. "I want to believe for sure that it is a mistake for Maria, she didn't want to do it.

"But it is obvious that it is negligence. The rules are like this. It is fair and now she must pay for it."

SYMPATHY FOR SHARAPOVA

Eighth-ranked Czech Petra Kvitova, Wimbledon champion in 2011 and 2014, expressed sympathy for Sharapova but felt that the doping system was working well.

"Of course it's not great for her," the 26-year-old left-hander said. "It's something which we all should know, what we are taking and what we are putting into the body.

"It's a huge mistake unfortunately and she has taken responsibility for it. We see that they (doping authorities) are trying to have a clean sport. The system is working, they are doing a good job on that."

Sharapova, who faces a ban of up to four years pending an investigation by the International Tennis Federation, has got vocal support from fellow Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova but other players have taken a less charitable view.

Three-time grand slam champion Jennifer Capriati tweeted earlier this week: "I'm extremely angry and disappointed. I had to lose my career and never opted to cheat no matter what. I had to throw in the towel and suffer.

"I didn't have the high priced team of drs that found a way for me to cheat and get around the system and wait for science to catch up."

In stark contrast, twice grand slam champion Kuznetsova tweeted on Wednesday: "First of all, I want to say that Maria is a great athlete, and even this "strange mistake" will not be able to outshine all of what she has achieved in tennis.

"And most importantly, none of us, especially me, have no rights to comment this story - not to criticize or evaluate Maria. Doping agency has to see this case, not others."

Sharapova also has been backed by both world number ones, Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams.

"I obviously wish her all the best," Djokovic told TMZ Sports. "I've known her for a long time and I feel for her for what's happening. I just hope she gets out of this stronger."

Williams said: "It's just taking responsibility, which she admitted that she was willing to do and ready to do. She showed a lot of courage and a lot of heart. She's always shown courage and heart in everything she's done, and this is no different."

Racket sponsor backs Sharapova despite failed drug test

(3/10/16) Maria Sharapova's racket supplier became the first main sponsor to publicly back the five-time Grand Slam champion after she admitted to failing a doping test.

Austria-based company Head announced Thursday it was planning to extend its sponsorship deal, three days after Sharapova revealed her use of the banned substance meldonium.

Head CEO Johan Eliasch said Sharapova has made ''a manifest error'' by her continued use of the drug after it was banned, but added there was no ''evidence of any intent by Maria of enhancing her performance or trying to gain an unfair advantage.''

Eliasch said his brand, which started sponsoring Sharapova in 2011, ''is proud to stand behind Maria, now and into the future and we intend to extend her contract. We look forward to working with her and to announcing new sponsorships.''

Several other brands, including sports gear giant Nike, watch maker TAG Heuer, and sports car company Porsche, were quick to suspend their support of the world's highest-earning female athlete after her announcement Monday that she failed the drug test at the Australian Open in January, days after the substance was banned.

A former No. 1 for a total of 21 weeks, Sharapova earned an estimated $29.5 million last year alone, mostly off the court. Sharapova has 35 career singles titles and more than $36 million in career prize winnings.

Sharapova said she has taken meldonium for 10 years for various health issues and that she neglected to click on a link in a late December email to check the new list of banned substances. She faces a lengthy ban, which could prevent her from competing for Russia at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

''She has and still is dealing with the medical conditions she described,'' Eliasch said. ''Prior to 2016, we believe that Maria has never throughout her career been taking any WADA banned substances or any other illegal substances.''

Eliasch said Sharapova was taking meldonium in such low doses that the drug couldn't possibly have had a stimulating effect on her performance, and that ''we further conclude this falls into the category of 'honest' mistakes.''

According to Eliasch, it ''is common ground within the scientific community'' that for meldonium to provide ''any relevant performance enhancing effect it has to be taken in daily dosages in excess of 1,000 to 2,000mg.''

The dosages Sharapova had been taken ''were significantly short of performance enhancing levels,'' according to the CEO.

''The honesty and courage she displayed in announcing and acknowledging her mistake was admirable,'' Eliasch said. ''Maria may have made a mistake, but she has earned the benefit of the doubt and we are extending it to her.''

Maria's Facebook Statement

(3/9/16) (Facebook.com) I woke up yesterday morning with an inbox, in full capacity of love and compassion.

The first email I immediately opened was from my best friend, you know, the type of person who can make you smile and cry with only one word and who I spent the evening on the phone with, checking up on me, how was I doing?

On average, I love the mornings. New day, new start. It is fair to say that this day was not average. Nothing came to mind at 6am, except that I am determined to play tennis again and I hope I will have the chance to do so. I wish I didn't have to go through this, but I do - and I will.

I needed to sweat, to push through and grind as I have done most of my life, so I made my way to the gym. That's when I realized a bunch of tinted windowed cars were following me. The good old paparazzi, back on the trail.

I have not been online much except the odd search for a new antique coffee table (random, I know), but my friends made a collage for me with all your beautiful messages and hashtags that you created (?#?IStandWithMaria? and ?#?LetMariaPlay?). I spent the afternoon reading them next to my dog, who couldn't quite understand why this was more important than the walk he was expecting to take.

In this moment, I am so proud to call you my fans. Within hours of my announcement, you showed me support and loyalty, which I could only expect to hear when someone would be at the top of their profession.

I wanted to let you know that your wonderful words put a smile on my face. I'd like to play again and hope to have the chance to do so. Your messages give me great encouragement. This message isn't anything else but to say thank you. Thank you very much.

- Maria Sharapova

Djokovic sympathises with Sharapova

(3/9/16) Novak Djokovic has sympathised with Maria Sharapova after she failed a drugs test at the Australian Open in January.

The Russian announced in a media conference on Monday she had tested positive for meldonium at the first grand slam of 2016.

The substance was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's list of prohibited substances on January 1, a fact Sharapova claims she overlooked having used the medication for 10 years due to health reasons.

Sponsors of the former world number one, Nike, TAG Heuer and Porsche have all since distanced themselves from the tennis star.

Djokovic, who won his 11th grand slam at this year's Australian Open, hopes Sharapova returns from the controversy stronger.

"I obviously wish her all the best. I know her for a long time and I feel for her, for what's happening," the Serbian told TMZ Sports.

"I just hope she gets out of this stronger, that's all I can say."

Players shocked, saddened by Maria Sharapova's 'big mistake'

(3/9/16) Agnieszka Radwanska said she was ''shocked, like everyone else'' when Maria Sharapova revealed Monday that she failed a drug test in January at the Australian Open. ?

''It was a very sad day for tennis, that's for sure,'' Radwanska said Wednesday at BNP Paribas Open at The Indian Wells Tennis Garden.

Petra Kvitova and Simona Halep used much the same words while discussing Sharapova's positive test for the drug Meldonium.

Sharapova said she had been taking the drug since 2006 to help deal with a magnesium deficiency and other health issues, but wasn't aware the World Anti-Doping Agency had added it to the list of prohibited substances this year because she hadn't looked at the updated list.

Halep, the defending women's champion in the Indian Wells event that started Wednesday, called it ''a tough moment for the sport, a bit disappointing,'' and Kvitova said ''I hope it will not affect the tennis world. I hope that the fans will still like tennis.''

Men's star Rafael Nadal termed it ''terrible for the world of sport in general and for our sport especially.''

''It's terrible because the sport must be clean and must look clean,'' Nadal said. ''We have a good anti-doping program and the players who are not doing the right things are going on trial, so we will see how it goes.''

Nadal said he lets his doctor keep track of the changes on the prohibited substance list and is ''100 percent confident with my team'' and knows everything he is taking. But he also knows that nothing is foolproof.

''It's difficult to imagine that something like this can happen, but there's always mistakes. Everybody can have mistakes. I want to believe that for sure it's a mistake for Maria, she didn't want to do it, but there's always (the possibility) that it's negligence.

''The rules are like this and now she must pay for it.''

Halep said she personally checks the WADA update each year and ''always when I take something I turn to the people that are taking care of this, the anti-doping, and everything is sure. If you take something you have to check very carefully before.''

Kvitova, a two-time Wimbledon champion, said: ''I think it's something which we all should know, what we are taking and what we are putting into the body,'' and thinks Sharapova made ''a huge mistake.''

Radwanska called it a mistake as well, but she can understand how it happened.

''I'm scared because I know every pill can have something (prohibited) in it,'' said Radwanska, who said she has been tested three times this year. ''So when I'm sick I'm just taking aspirin because I'm always afraid there's going to be something else in it (medication). ''

Kvitova said in one way the incident can be a positive for the sport because ''I think this is the kind of example that we see that they are trying to have a clean sport. I think the system is working and they are doing a good job.''

What none of them knows or would even speculate on is what penalty Sharapova might face. The International Tennis Federation's anti-doping program regulations recommend a four-year ban if the violation was intentional and a two-year ban if it was accidental.

''For sure it's a sad day for tennis but what can I say more? We're all waiting for what they're going to do about it and that's it,'' Radwanska said. ''I don't know. I have no idea what they going to do.''

Maria Sharapova Spotted Out in L.A. After Doping Suspension

(3/9/16) (Pic) Maria Sharapova is still serving up a smile.

The five-time Grand Slam champion was spotted out in Los Angeles on Tuesday, just one day after announcing that she failed a doping test at January's Australian Open.

The Russian tennis star looked to be in good spirits as she left Whole Foods carrying a grocery bag.

The 28-year-old sported an all-black ensemble (except a pair of white sneakers) with dark sunglasses.

Sharapova admitted on Monday that she tested positive for meldonium, a drug that can boost an athlete's endurance and rehabilitation by increasing blood flow.

"I did fail the test and I take full responsibility for it," she said during a news conference in Los Angeles Monday. She noted that she has taken the drug – prescribed by her doctor under the name Mildronate – for the past decade.

It had not been a banned substance in the tennis world until this year.

"I received an email on 22 December from WADA [World Anti-Doping Agency] about the changes happening to the banned list and you can see prohibited items, and I didn't click on that link," she said Monday.

The International Tennis Federation subsequently suspended the athlete, while Nike and other sponsors distanced themselves from the star.

Another tennis superstar, Serena Williams, addressed the controversy at a news conference on Tuesday alongside Caroline Wozniacki, saying Sharapova showed "a lot of courage and heart" in making the announcement, the Associated Press reports.

"I think most people were happy that she was upfront and very honest and showed a lot of courage to admit to what she had done and what she had neglected to look at in terms of the list at the end of the year," Williams, a 21-time Grand Slam champion, said.

"As Maria said, she's ready to take full responsibility and I think that showed a lot of courage and a lot of heart. And I think she's always showed courage and heart in everything that she's done and this is no different."

Sharapova thanks her fans for support and loyalty

(3/9/16) Days after stunning the sports world by announcing she had failed a drug test at the Australian Open in January, Maria Sharapova thanked her fans for their "wonderful words" that put a smile on her face.

The Russian faces a ban of up to four years pending an investigation by the International Tennis Federation after testing positive for meldonium, which some researchers have linked to increased athletic performance and endurance.

"I woke up yesterday morning with an inbox, in full capacity of love and compassion," five-times grand slam champion Sharapova, 28, posted on Facebook. "In this moment, I am so proud to call you my fans.

"Within hours of my announcement, you showed me support and loyalty, which I could only expect to hear when someone would be at the top of their profession. I wanted to let you know that your wonderful words put a smile on my face.

"I'd like to play again and hope to have the chance to do so. Your messages give me great encouragement. This message isn't anything else but to say thank you. Thank you very much."

Sharapova, who has struggled with multiple injuries in recent years but is known for her never-say-die approach to the game, said she was prepared to battle through her latest setback.

"New day, new start," the former world number one wrote on Facebook. "It is fair to say that this day was not average.

"Nothing came to mind at 6am, except that I am determined to play tennis again and I hope I will have the chance to do so. I wish I didn't have to go through this, but I do - and I will.

"I needed to sweat, to push through and grind as I have done most of my life, so I made my way to the gym. That's when I realized a bunch of tinted windowed cars were following me. The good old paparazzi, back on the trail."

Sharapova, the world's highest-earning sportswoman, has accepted full responsibility for her mistake in taking a drug that has been outlawed since Jan. 1, having previously used it on the advice of her family doctor for a decade.

The International Tennis Federation's anti-doping program calls for a four-year suspension for a positive test. That ban can be reduced in various circumstances, such as if the player shows no significant fault or negligence.

WTA players stunned by Sharapova's failed drug test

(3/9/16) WTA Tour players rocked by Maria Sharapova's admission that she had failed a drug test are now waiting to see what sanction the Russian superstar will face.

Sharapova's positive test for meldonium was the talk of the locker room as the hardcourt tournament at Indian Wells got underway on Wednesday.

Two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova said she was "shocked" and world number three Agnieszka Radwanska described it as a "sad day for tennis".

Radwanska said she was in the locker room in Indian Wells with a group of WTA players getting ready train for this week's tournament in southern California when she heard the news on Monday.

"It is a sad day for tennis," she said on Wednesday. "Nobody expected that. We are all waiting to see what they are going to do about it."

Czech Kvitova said Sharapova has made a "huge mistake" by not paying more attention to what drugs are on the banned list.

"We should all know what we are putting into our body," she said. "It was a huge mistake and she is taking responsibility for it."

Sharapova revealed on Monday that she had failed a drug test at the Australian Open in January, saying she had taken the circulation-boosting drug used to treat heart ailments since 2006, but had not spotted that it was added to the banned list as of January 1.

Sponsors of the world's highest-earning sportswoman immediately distanced themselves, with Nike, Porsche and TAG Heuer all halting their relationships with the former world number one.

The five-time Grand Slam winner could face a ban of up to four years, although her lawyer John J. Haggerty told the Daily Telegraph on Wednesday that he believed she can plead mitigating circumstances and receive a lesser punishment.

"There is no evidence whatsoever that this was intentional on Maria's behalf," Haggerty said.

Sharapova, whose on-court prowess and business savvy have brought her an estimated personal fortune of $200 million (180 million euros), wrote on her Facebook page that she woke up early Wednesday morning determined to fight through the scandal and eventually continue her storied career.

"New day, new start. It is fair to say that this day was not average," Sharapova wrote. "Nothing came to mind at 6am, except that I am determined to play tennis again and I hope I will have the chance to do so.

"I wish I didn't have to go through this, but I do - and I will."

- 'Must look clean' -

Spain's Rafael Nadal, who has won 14 Grand Slam titles, said Sharapova's positive test is a black eye on the sport.

"It is terrible news for our sport," Nadal said. "It is terrible because our sport must be clean and look clean.

"The good news is we have a good anti-doping programme."

The majority of the players who spoke to reporters on Wednesday chose their words carefully when speaking about Sharapova, most expressing shock but adding that it is up to the individual to check which drugs are on the banned substance list.

The players were speaking at the tournament in the California desert which which brings together the top players from both the women's and men's tours.

The women's main draw began Wednesday while the men kick off their first round Thursday in one of the biggest events of the season outside of the four Grand Slams.

Kvitova said Sharapova's failed test shows that the doping control officials are on top of things.

"This is an example that they are doing everything to have a clean sport. I think the system is working."

The 28-year-old Sharapova admitted she has been taking the now banned drug for about 10 years.

Former US Open singles champion Svetlana Kuznetsova said Sharapova should not be tried in public and her fate should be left in the hands of tennis officials.

"First of all, I want to say that Maria is a great athlete and even this "strange mistake" will not be able to outshine all of what she has achieved in tennis," Russia's Kuznetsova said on her Twitter account.

"And most importantly none of us, especially me, have no rights to comment on this story - not to criticize or evaluate Maria. The doping agency has to see this case not others."

Experts perplexed over why Sharapova was taking banned heart drug

(3/9/16) The medicine Maria Sharapova says she has taken for 10 years due to a family history of heart issues and diabetes is an old drug sold in just a few Eastern European countries that can also boost exercise tolerance.

The tennis star tested positive for the banned drug meldonium, or Mildronate, in a sample taken on January 26, the day of her Australian Open quarter finals defeat to Serena Williams.

She said her family doctor had first given her the drug 10 years ago after she frequently became sick, had irregular electrocardiogram results, a magnesium deficiency and a family history of diabetes.

The 28-year old Russian, a five-time grand slam champion and the highest paid woman in sports, will be provisionally suspended starting March 12, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) said.

For the health conditions Sharapova says she has, however, doctors say the scientific evidence for Mildronate is limited compared with many medicines widely available in Europe and the United States, where Sharapova trains, which have full regulatory backing and years of robust safety and efficacy data.

LATVIAN DRUG

Meldonium is cheap and available over the counter without a prescription in some eastern European countries, where it is marketed as Mildronate by the Latvian pharmaceutical firm Grindeks.

The drug, originally developed by scientists at the Latvian Institute of Organic Synthesis, is not licensed by two of the world's biggest medicines regulators: the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in the United States where Sharapova trains, and the EU's European Medicines Agency.

A spokeswoman for Grindeks said the firm had not applied for a license for Mildronate from either the FDA or the EMA, but said the drug is registered in Latvia, Lithuania, Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union.

She said it is designed to treat patients with certain cardiovascular diseases, including angina, chronic heart failure, cardiomyopathy and other cardiovascular disorders.

Grindeks' also promotes it for people with reduced working capacity from physical or psycho-emotional "overload," and during recovery from cerebrovascular disorders, head injury and encephalitis. It is not indicated for diabetes.

Tim Chico, a consultant cardiologist at Britain's Sheffield University, said it was unlikely that such a young and extremely fit woman would be suffering from a serious heart condition like angina, or would be able to play top level tennis if she were.

Asked how long the drug should be given to a patient, the Grindeks spokeswoman said in an emailed statement: "Depending on the patient health condition, treatment course of meldonium preparations may vary from 4 to 6 weeks." Such courses could be repeated two or three times in a year.

In an emailed reply to questions from Reuters about her medical reasons for using the drug, Sharapova's lawyer John Haggerty said: "While I cannot go into detail out of respect for the ITF process, I can confirm that Ms Sharapova had abnormal EKG tests in 2006 and was also diagnosed with asthenia (a lack of energy or strength), decreased immunity and diabetes indicators."

"She also had a family history of heart conditions," Haggerty said. "The Mildronate and the other medicines recommended by her doctor treated these conditions."

Munir Pirmohamed, a professor of molecular and clinical pharmacology at Britain's University of Liverpool, said the crucial issue with Mildronate for him is its lack of approval from EU and U.S. regulators.

"As a physician, this is not something I have, or would ever, prescribe," he said.

Others noted it was rare for a doctor treating illness to prescribe a drug that is unavailable in the country where the patient lives.

"Sharapova has been a U.S. resident since early in her career, which does bring in a question of how or why she is using a drug that is not licensed there," said Tom Bassindale, a lecturer in forensic science at Sheffield Hallam University.

Sharapova's agent Max Eisenbud was not available at his Miami office and did not immediately reply to an email seeking comment.

HELPS MUSCLES COPE

Whatever its medical benefits, research suggests Mildronate may have potential as a performance-enhancing drug for sports.

It reduces the level of a metabolite called carnetine in muscles, and by doing that helps muscles cope better with high levels of stress and low oxygen levels.

"Because it affects the cellular metabolism, it would increase energy production within cells and therefore make oxygen utilisation more efficient," said Pirmohamed.

In a 2010 academic paper published in a review journal called Seminars in Cardiovascular Medicine and cited on the Grindeks company website, it has been shown to improve exercise tolerance in patients with heart problems.

The World Anti-Doping Agency, which banned the drug in January after previously having it on a "watch list," ranks it as a prohibited metabolic modulator and cites "evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance."

Grindeks says the drug could protect athletes from cell damage, but says it would be unlikely to improve their competitive performance.

It would be "reasonable to recommend (sports people) to use meldonium as a cell protector to avoid heart failure or muscle damage in case of unwantedoverload," the spokeswoman said.

Athletes "should not expect increase of physical capacity, but, for sure, they will be protected against ischemic damages of cells in case of overload."

Proud Latvia regrets ban on meldonium drug its scientists invented

(3/9/16) Latvia expressed sadness on Wednesday over the banning of the drug that has cast a pall over the career of tennis star Maria Sharapova, describing it as "one of the most significant accomplishments" of the tiny nation's scientists.

The five-time grand slam champion has revealed she tested positive in January for the drug meldonium, which its Latvian inventor once said had been used to toughen up Soviet troops fighting at high altitudes three decades ago.

Latvia, a Baltic nation of under 2 million people that won independence from the Soviet Union in 1991, is relatively unknown to outsiders apart from visitors who use the capital Riga as a destination for partying.

So meldonium, which is marketed as Mildronate by the Latvian pharmaceutical firm Grindeks, is a source of some national pride.

"It's sad that there is such a situation, that this drug has been banned," said Andrejs Vaivars, a spokesman for Prime Minister Maris Kucinskis. "Especially given that is one of the most significant accomplishments of Latvian scientists in general."

Meldonium, which is available cheaply over the counter without a prescription in the Baltic states and Sharapova's native Russia, is normally used to treat heart conditions such as angina.

But the drug, which boosts blood flow and may enhance athletic performance, was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) as of Jan. 1. Sharapova said she had missed an email informing her about the ban.

Scientist Ivars Kalvins invented the drug in mid-1970s when Latvia was still a Soviet republic. Kalvins told the local newspaper Diena in 2009 that it had been used to boost troops' fighting stamina in the 1980s. At that time Soviet forces were battling insurgents in Afghanistan.

"There are high mountain conditions, lack of oxygen," Kalvins said. "They were all given Mildronate. They didn't know what they were using themselves. Nobody asked them anything back there."

Kirovs Lipmans, chairman of Grindeks and its biggest shareholder, said use of the drug did not constitute doping and he criticized the government for not defending its reputation against WADA.

"The government is not fighting against it, it is not doing anything, they are absolutely not interested in this. How can they act like that?" said Lipmans, who also heads the Latvian Ice Hockey Federation and is a member of the country' Olympic Committee. Government officials said WADA was acting independently and they could not influence its decisions. Grindeks is seeking to register Mildronate in China, and Lipmans said he would like to see it also registered in the future in western Europe. The company has said it was looking to diversify its sales as its revenues in Russia were hit by the fall in rouble.

Kremlin says Sharapova doping case doesn't reflect Russia

(3/9/16) The Kremlin says Maria Sharapova's doping case and others like it should not be considered a reflection of Russian sport as a whole.

Sharapova is the most prominent name to test positive for heart medicine meldonium since it was banned this year, but there have been five other reported cases in Russia across various sports.

Russian President Vladimir Putin's spokesman Dmitry Peskov told reporters Wednesday that the meldonium cases shouldn't be ''projected onto all of Russian sport'' and do not ''cast a shadow on Russian sport, on the amazing achievements of our athletes.''

Sharapova and the others who have tested positive are ''individual athletes, individual situations.''

Many athletes used Sharapova drug meldonium during 2015 European Games: study

(3/9/16) The use of meldonium - the banned drug taken by Russian tennis champion Maria Sharapova - was widespread among elite athletes competing at the European Games in Baku last year, according to research in the British Journal of Sports Medicine (BJSM).

The study, based on information volunteered by athletes and individual medical teams, and on laboratory data from doping tests from the Games in Azerbaijan, suggested up to 490 athletes may have been taking the drug during the competition.

The findings showed that during the Baku Games, 13 medallists or competition winners were taking meldonium, 66 athletes tested positive for it, and they said meldonium was detected in athletes competing in 15 of the 21 sports in the competition.

"This study highlights the widespread and inappropriate use and prescribing of this prescription drug in a generally healthy athlete population," said the researchers, led by Klaus Steinbach and Christian Schneider of the European Olympic Committees Medical and Anti-Doping Commission.

Some 6,000 athletes took part in the Games, the first major multi-sports event for the continent, with qualification spots on offer for August's Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

The BJSM said the research, published online on Wednesday, had been shared with the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) and had contributed to its decision to ban use of meldonium in competitive sport as of Jan. 1 this year.

Sharapova tested positive for meldonium, also known by the brand name Mildronate, in a sample taken on Jan. 26, the day of her Australian Open quarter-final defeat to Serena Williams.

She told a news conference her family doctor had first given her the drug 10 years ago after she frequently became sick, had irregular electrocardiogram results, a magnesium deficiency and a family history of diabetes.

The 28-year-old Russian, a five-time grand slam champion, will be provisionally suspended starting March 12, the International Tennis Federation said.

Meldonium is marketed as Mildronate by the Latvian pharmaceutical firm Grindeks , which told Reuters the drug could protect athletes from cell damage, but would be unlikely to improve their competitive performance.

The BJSM study said, however, that "the drug is evidently being used with the intention to either improve recovery or enhance performance - (and) use of a substance with the intention to improve performance is, by WADA's definition, a violation of the spirit of sport".

Mildronate is registered for sale in Latvia, Lithuania, Russia and other countries of the former Soviet Union, but does not have a license from either the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) or the EU's European Medicines Agency.

Steinbach and Schneider said since the samples and data from laboratories were "blinded" of all personal and demographic details, they could not say which specific countries the athletes who tested positive for meldonium came from.

Athletes' self-reported declarations of meldonium use suggested there is higher use in countries where the drug is registered and prescribed then in countries where meldonium is not registered for medical use, they said.

They added, however, that "athletes and healthcare providers from any country where the drug is not officially registered for medical use could easily obtain the drug through medicines importation and exportation routes, and even more easily through online purchases".

Russia says repeatedly warned athletes about Sharapova drug

(3/9/16) Russia's athletics federation, facing exclusion from the Rio Olympics over previous doping scandals, said on Wednesday it had repeatedly warned athletes and coaches not to take meldonium, the banned substance used by tennis player Maria Sharapova.

Since former world number one Sharapova admitted using meldonium, Russian sports officials have said a number of other competitors have taken the substance, which is used to treat diabetes and low magnesium, and more names could emerge.

So far none of the Russian sports people named have been involved in track and field, but if any are found to have used the drug it would set back what is already an uphill struggle by Russian athletics to prove it is tackling doping in time for the Rio Games in August this year.

In an announcement entitled: "To the attention of sports people and coaches," the Russian athletics federation, or ARAF, said it was reminding people in the sport yet again that meldonium is on the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA) banned list.

"The ARAF has on multiple occasions warned sports people, coaches, and support staff that, since Jan. 1 this year meldonium is included in the list of the banned substances."

The announcement said on several occasions last year items were posted on the federation's website stating meldonium was banned, the message was also passed on at a conference of coaches last October and at three training camps.

The governing body of world athletics, the IAAF, last year suspended Russian athletics from international competition after a report commissioned by WADA alleged there was a culture of doping in Russian athletics and that sports administrators helped cover up positive tests.

Russian sports officials say they are doing everything asked of them to comply with the IAAF's demands so they can return to competition. But they have only a few months left to get reinstated before the Rio Games.

Dick Pound, author of the report on Russia commissioned by WADA, said on Wednesday that Russia may not make it back in time for Rio.

Inventor of drug in Sharapova case says it's 'not doping'

(3/9/16) Meldonium doesn't enhance the performance of athletes, the Latvian scientist who invented the drug at the center of Maria Sharapova's doping case told The Associated Press.

Ivars Kalvins said that the drug ''is not doping,'' but added it does protect athletes against heart damage during extreme physical exercise.

If the heart is working very hard, the drug ''protects the heart cells ... against ischemia,'' a blood circulation condition, Kalvins said. ''This is not the same as increase of performance.''

Meldonium, a heart medicine that improves blood flow, was banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency on Jan. 1. WADA says it was prohibited ''because of evidence of its use by athletes with the intention of enhancing performance.''

Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion, admitted she failed a doping test at the Australian Open in January for meldonium, which she said she had been using for 10 years for various medical issues.

The drug, which is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, was once common in the Soviet military, Kalvins said.

He said he believes many militaries around the world are still giving the drug to soldiers ''because if the ischemia is caused by, let's say, the lack of oxygen in the air in mountains or whatever, in planes or in submarines, etc., it will protect the soldiers against damages.''

Also known as mildronate, the drug was banned because it aids oxygen uptake and endurance, and several athletes in various international sports have already been caught using it since it was prohibited.

It is normally prescribed for four to six weeks.

Grindeks, the Latvian company that manufactures mildronate, says it was one of the most important drug research centers in in the Soviet Union during the Cold War. It changed its name to Grindeks when Latvia regained independence in 1991. The company was privatized in 1997 and listed on the Latvian stock exchange a year later.

Mildronate is Grindeks' top-selling drug and a promotional video on the company website calls it a ''great pride for Grindeks and Latvia as a whole.''

The company doesn't disclose sales figures for individual drugs but its total sales of drugs and pharmaceutical ingredients in 2015 exceeded 82 million euros ($90 million).

Pound: Sharapova guilty of 'willful negligence' in drug test

(3/9/16) The former head of the World Anti-Doping Agency says Maria Sharapova was guilty of ''willful negligence'' for using meldonium, and international tennis officials knew that many players were taking the drug before it was banned this year.

Pound tells The Associated Press that Sharapova could face a ban of up to four years unless she can prove mitigating circumstances to explain her positive test for meldonium at the Australian Open in January.

Meldonium, a Latvian-manufactured drug designed to treat heart conditions, was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned list on Jan. 1 after authorities noticed widespread use of the substances among athletes.

Sharapova said she had been using the drug for 10 years for various medical issues. She said she didn't realize it had been banned this year.

Pound says ''it was willful negligence to miss that.''

Sharapova's failed drugs test is 'nonsense', says RTF president

(3/8/16) Russian Tennis Federation (RTF) president Shamil Tarpischev believes Maria Sharapova could still play at the Olympic Games in Rio later this year after labelling the former world number one's failed doping test as "nonsense".

Sharapova stunned the sporting world on Monday, revealing she failed a drugs test at the Australian Open in January, having been notified by the International Tennis Federation (ITF).

The five-time grand-slam champion said she had been taking Meldonium for a decade due to health reasons and had not realised the substance was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's (WADA) list of prohibited substances as of the start of this year.

However, outspoken Russian Tarpischev remains hopeful of having the 28-year-old at the Games in Rio in August.

"I think that it's nonsense. Athletes take what their physiotherapists advise them," Tarpischev told TASS.

"I believe that Sharapova will still have a chance to play at the Olympics though we will see how things are going to develop."

Tarpischev is no stranger to controversy, having landed himself in hot water for comments made about Serena and Venus Williams in 2014.

The 68-year-old was fined $25,000 and suspended from WTA Tour involvement for a year after calling the American pair the "Williams brothers" on a Russian television show.

Lengthy ban for Sharapova would be devastating: Bollettieri

(3/8/16) A lengthy ban for doping would be devastating for five-times grand slam champion Maria Sharapova but she would survive it, Nick Bollettieri, the man who discovered her, said on Tuesday.

Sharapova, 28, rocked the sporting world on Monday when she announced that she had tested positive for the banned substance meldonium at this year's Australian Open after failing to read an email saying it had been added to WADA's prohibited list.

She will be provisionally suspended from playing tennis on March 12 and could be hit with a four-year ban.

"I think it would be devastating if they didn't allow her to come back," Bollettieri, who spotted Russian Sharapova's potential when she arrived in Florida with her father in 1994, told Sky Sports.

"It's up to the testing people. But I don't think she should be banned for life because of this. I think Maria will find a way to survive what is happening to her."

Former world number one Sharapova, who won Wimbledon as a 17-year-old, told a news conference on Monday that she had made a "huge mistake", saying that she had been taking the drug for 10 years to combat health problems.

Meldonium was only added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned list on Jan. 1.

Bollettieri, who also nurtured the likes of Andre Agassi and Monica Seles at the academy he started in Bradenton, Florida and later sold to IMG, said Sharapova should not be judged too harshly.

"This will be devastating for Maria," he said. "She really has been an outstanding character on and off the court for all of these years.

"I'm not trying to say she's right or wrong, but she doesn't do discos, no drinking sprees, she has been an outstanding character on and off the court all these years.

"Maria's whole career has been one of dedication."

Doping now shadows Sharapova's rags-to-riches story

(3/8/16) From the shadow of Chernobyl's nuclear wasteland to international super-stardom; from penniless arrival in the United States, without a word of English, to a fortune nudging the $200 million mark.

It may sound like the stuff of Hollywood dreams, but the story of Maria Sharapova, the world's richest sportswoman, is a testament to the power of one individual to make it, whatever the odds.

The ending of the story is now shrouded in doubt after the Russian-born star announced on Monday she had failed a drug test.

She said she wants to stay in tennis -- the sport that has made her rich beyond her wildest dreams even as her talent has arguably gone unfulfilled.

Sharapova has won five Grand Slam titles, but her great rival, Serena Williams, has 21 and is still playing.

And when she shot to international fame as a giggly 17-year-old Wimbledon winner in 2004 -- the third youngest to conquer the All England Club -- no one would have thought that that would remain her only title on the lawns of southwest London.

She would go on to win once in Australia and once at the US Open while claiming two titles at the French Open, despite famously likening her movement on Roland Garros's crushed red brick as a "cow on ice."

Sharapova first picked up a racquet at the age of four when she was living in Sochi, where her Belarus-born parents had settled after escaping the deadly clutches of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

Spotted by Martina Navratilova, Sharapova was encouraged to move to Nick Bollettieri's Florida academy, the proving ground of Andre Agassi and Monica Seles.

Father Yuri and the seven-year-old Maria left for the US in 1994 with just a borrowed $700 to their names.

"I was living a normal, average, everyday life back in Russia and we had a dream and I had a talent and we moved to the US," she recalled.

Yuri took odd jobs like dishwashing to finance his daughter's dreams while visa restrictions meant mother Yelena was back in Russia, separated from her daughter for two years.

When she was nine, the mighty IMG group spotted her talent, funded the $35,000 fees required for the Bollettieri school and the young Maria was on her way.

- Wimbledon celebrity -

She made her professional debut at 14 in 2001 and by 2003 she reached the top 50. She won her first tour titles in Japan and Quebec.

Then in 2004, her world turned upside down as her Wimbledon final triumph over Williams made her an overnight international celebrity.

One year later, she became the first Russian woman to be ranked at number one in the world while, in 2006, she won her second major at the US Open.

But in 2007 and 2008, she began her long, on-off battle with shoulder trouble. She still had time to win the Australian Open before a second shoulder injury kept her off tour for the second half of the season, including missing the US Open and Beijing Olympics.

A 10-month absence from the sport, as she recuperated from surgery, saw her ranking slip to 126, but she was back in 2012, capturing the French Open to become the 10th woman to complete a career Grand Slam and adding Olympic silver to her resume that year.

Her 2014 French Open title was another high after a dispiriting injury low.

More injury troubles followed before the bombshell announcement of her positive test for the banned heart drug Meldonium at the Australian Open -- where she fell in the quarter-finals to Williams.

- Serena rivalry -

With Williams, she endured her most testing relationship. The two famously exchanged personal barbs over their private lives when Sharapova began a two-year romance with Bulgarian player Grigor Dimitrov, a rumoured previous boyfriend of the American.

Sharapova had previously been engaged to former Los Angeles Laker basketball star Sasha Vujacic.

She may be unlucky in love, but Sharapova has hit the jackpot in her commercial affairs.

She made almost $30 million in 2015, according to Forbes, with $23 million of that coming from endorsements.

Sharapova is a brand ambassador for Porsche, Cole Haan and in 2010 signed a contract extension with Nike worth a reported $70 million.

"Beauty sells. I have to realize that's a part of why people want me. I understand it. It's fine. I'm not going to make myself ugly," she said.

She has two luxury homes -- one in Florida, one in California -- and is making a lucrative career as an entrepreneur. In 2012, she launched her own line of candy, Sugarpova, selling 30,000 bags in the first six months.

She acknowledged in Melbourne that she never expected still to be playing tennis at the age of 28, but said Monday she wasn't ready to leave the game.

"I don't want to end my career this way," Sharapova said. "And I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game."

Sharapova starts to count cost of failed drug test, likely ban

(3/8/16) Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer cut ties with Maria Sharapova on Tuesday, the latest sponsor after Nike and Porsche to distance itself from the world's highest-paid female athlete following her failed drug test.

The swift response on the heels of Sharapova's announcement on Monday signaled a change in attitude among high-profile corporate backers following a series of doping and corruption scandals in world sports.

"We're now entering a zero tolerance era for sponsors," said Rupert Pratt, co-founder of sports sponsorship agency Generate. "It is now seen as not acceptable to 'stand by your man' because of the amount of scrutiny corporates are now under."

Sharapova's failed drug test at January's Australian Open, one of four annual Grand Slam events, will likely lead to a ban for the 28-year old Russian. The International Tennis Federation's anti-doping program calls for a four-year suspension for a positive test. That ban can be reduced in various circumstances, such as if the player shows no significant fault or negligence.

Loss of sponsor income would be costly for Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam winner who earned $29.7 million last year, according to Forbes magazine, most of it from endorsements, appearances and royalties rather than victories on court.

Sharapova, who lit up women's tennis when she won Wimbledon in 2004 as a 17-year-old, is still ranked among the top players. She was the world's highest-paid female athlete last year for the 11th consecutive year, and Forbes put her off-court career earnings at more than $200 million.

Fellow athletes had mixed reactions to Sharapova's announcement that she had tested positive for meldonium, a drug she said she had been taking for a decade to treat diabetes and low magnesium.

The substance, recently banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA), boosts blood flow and can enhance athletic performance. Sharapova, who lives in the United States, is at least the seventh athlete in a month to test positive for meldonium. It is widely available in Eastern Europe but not approved for use in the United States.

"She's ready to take full responsibility and I think that showed a lot of courage and a lot of heart," Serena Williams, the top-ranked player in women's tennis, told reporters at a briefing ahead of a game in New York on Tuesday.

Others were not so sympathetic.

"I'm extremely angry and disappointed. I had to lose my career and never opted to cheat no matter what," tweeted former world No. 1 Jennifer Capriati, in a long series of posts attacking Sharapova.

Aries Merritt, a U.S. hurdler, said there was no excuse for Sharapova to be unaware that WADA added meldonium to its latest list of banned drugs effective Jan. 1, which it circulated to competitors.

"As an athlete it is your responsibility to always know what's being placed on the banned list. Period," said Merritt at the U.S. Olympic Committee summit in Los Angeles.

Sharapova said she had not read an email informing her that meldonium was now banned for use in sport.

She will be provisionally suspended from playing tennis from March 12 and could be prevented from competing for Russia at the Rio de Janeiro Olympics this year.

SOME SPONSORS ON THE FENCE

Sharapova's deal with Tag Heuer, owned by French luxury goods group LVMH, expired at the end of 2015, and the company said on Tuesday it had dropped renewal talks in view of her announcement.

Nike Inc, the world's biggest sportswear brand, and German luxury car maker Porsche, a unit of Volkswagen AG , have said they are suspending their relationship with Sharapova as they gather more information and wait for a decision on a ban.

A person close to Sharapova told Reuters her team was encouraged that none of the sponsors so far have said they were terminating contracts with the player, although they had the right to do so.

"Suspension means to put on hold," the source said, requesting anonymity because of the sensitive nature of the situation. "Under the circumstances we're very pleased that everybody is willing to stand by and see what facts come out instead of terminating."

Danone SA, the maker of Evian water, a longtime Sharapova sponsor, said on Tuesday it would monitor developments. Avon Products Inc, another sponsor, declined to comment on its endorsements.

Brian Socolow, an expert in sports law and a partner at Loeb & Loeb LLP, said Nike's quick suspension was no surprise after its long support for now-disgraced U.S. cyclist Lance Armstrong.

But he said Sharapova may yet win back sponsors. "She has the chance, like other athletes, to redeem herself and regain her leadership position as an endorser," said Socolow. "She will have to demonstrate that it was an honest mistake and there are no other improper reasons she took the drug."

There was some scepticism about the sponsors' motives from tennis fans on social media.

Ben Stanley (@BDStanley) tweeted on Tuesday, "Nike is in the business of making money, not offering moral guidance. If it paid to keep Sharapova on, they'd do it."

Russia tennis chief still expects Sharapova to play at Olympics

(3/8/16) Russian tennis chief Shamil Tarpishchev expects Maria Sharapova to represent her country at this year's Olympics in Brazil despite being provisionally suspended from the game after testing positive for a banned substance.

Five-times grand slam champion Sharapova said on Monday she had failed a drug test at the Australian Open in January because of a substance, meldonium, she was taking for health issues.

"I think this is just a load of nonsense," Tarpishchev, president of the Russian Tennis Federation, said in an interview with the TASS news agency.

"The sportsmen take what they are given by the physiotherapists and by the doctors. I think Sharapova will play at the Olympics, however, we will need to see how this will develop."

TAG Heuer says will not renew Sharapova contract

(3/8/16) Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer said Tuesday it would not renew its marketing contract with Maria Sharapova after the Russian tennis star announced she had failed a doping test at the Australian Open.

"Maria Sharapova was under contract with TAG Heuer until December 31th, 2015. We had been in talks to extend our collaboration," a company statement said.

"In view of the current situation, the Swiss watch brand has suspended negotiations and has decided not to renew the contract with Ms Sharapova."

Evian owner Danone 'surprised' by Sharapova drug revelation

(3/8/16) Evian water's owner Danone , a longtime sponsor of Maria Sharapova, said on Tuesday it was "surprised" by the tennis star failing a drug test and would monitor developments.

Nike , TAG Heuer and Porsche have all suspended their relationships with Sharapova following the revelation on Monday.

"Evian has been a partner of Maria Sharapova for many years, and until now, we have maintained a trustworthy professional relationship," the company said in a statement.

"Evian attaches great importance to health, to integrity, and transparency, and we will follow closely the development of the investigation."

Sharapova business empire in doping turmoil

(3/8/16) Maria Sharapova's multi-million dollar business empire was in turmoil on Tuesday as sponsors distanced themselves from the Russian tennis star a day after she admitted failing a drug test.?

The world's richest sportswoman announced Monday that she had tested positive for Meldonium, a drug she said she had been taking since 2006 which was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned list this year.

US sportswear giant Nike, German luxury car maker Porsche and Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer all halted their relationship with the former world number one.

The 28-year-old, whose rags-to-riches story was the stuff of Hollywood dreams, now risks a ban of up to four years which could see her carefully constructed marketing empire collapse.

The holder of five Grand Slams and 35 WTA titles, the Russian who arrived penniless with her family in the United States, is as much a businesswoman as a sportswoman.

Despite winning just two WTA titles in 2015 she was the highest paid sportswoman that year, earning $30 million mostly from advertising, according to American magazine Forbes. Her fortune is estimated at $200 million.

Nike was the first sponsor to jump ship, saying Monday night it was "saddened and surprised" by the news.

"We have decided to suspend our relationship with Maria while the investigation continues," the US sportswear giant said.

Swiss watchmaker TAG Heuer then said they would break off negotiations to renew their contract with Sharapova.

"Maria Sharapova was under contract with TAG Heuer until December 31th, 2015. We had been in talks to extend our collaboration," a company statement said.

"In view of the current situation, the Swiss watch brand has suspended negotiations and has decided not to renew the contract with Ms Sharapova."

Porsche followed, stating "until more details are known and we can analyse the situation, we have decided to suspend planned activities (with Sharapova)".

Sharapova signed a three-year deal to be brand ambassador for Porsche in April 2013. The Russian also won the WTA indoor tournament in Stuttgart, which is sponsored by the car manufacturers, in 2012, 2013 and 2014, with the champion driving off in a brand-new sports car.

- 'Huge mistake' -

"I did fail the test and I take full responsibility for it," Sharapova said at a quickly convened press conference in Los Angeles on Monday.

"I made a huge mistake. I let my fans down. I let my sport down that I've been playing since the age of four that I love so deeply," she said.

"I know that with this, I face consequences and I don't want to end my career this way -- and I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game."

The ITF confirmed that Sharapova had tested positive on January 26 and had accepted the finding when she was notified on March 2.

"Ms Sharapova will be provisionally suspended with effect from 12 March, pending determination of the case," the ITF said.

Sharapova said she was prescribed the drug, a circulation-booster used to treat heart ailments, because of symptoms including an irregular EKG heart test and a family history of diabetes.

Her attorney, John Haggerty, said mitigating circumstances could result in a lesser penalty.

- Serena lauds Sharapova 'courage' -

Russian officials on Tuesday threw their backing behind Sharapova.

"I feel sorry for Masha. I hope that we will see her back on court and we are prepared to support her," sports minister Vitaly Mutko told state-run TASS news agency, using the Russian diminutive of Sharapova's first name.

"The people in her team should be looking out for her."

Sharapova's great rival Serena Williams applauded the Russian's candor in confirming the positive test.

"I think most people were surprised and shocked by Maria but at the same time most people were happy that she was just upfront and very honest and showed a lot of courage to admit to what she had done and what she had neglected to look at," Williams told reporters in New York, as she prepared for an exhibition event.

"She's always showed courage in everything that she's done. And this is no different," Williams said.

Porsche says suspends sponsorship of Maria Sharapova

(3/8/16) Luxury carmaker Porsche, a division of Volkswagen , said on Tuesday it would suspend tennis player Maria Sharapova as its brand ambassador in light of her admission that she failed a doping test.

The Russian tennis star on Monday admitted she had failed a drug test at the Australian Open due to a substance she was taking for health issues.

"We regret the current news about Maria Sharapova. Until further details emerge and we are able to analyze the situation, we have decided to suspend planned activities," Porsche said in a statement.

Drug Sharapova took used by 1980s Soviet troops

(3/8/16) The drug at the centre of Maria Sharapova’s doping case, regularly given to Soviet troops in the 1980s to boost their stamina while fighting in Afghanistan, is normally prescribed for medical use for periods of four to six weeks.

Sharapova faces possible sanctions after testing positive for meldonium, a drug the Russian tennis star said she had been using for 10 years for various medical issues.

The Latvian company that manufactures meldonium said the normal course of treatment is much shorter.

"Depending on the patient’s health condition, treatment course of meldonium preparations may vary from four to six weeks," Grindeks said in an emailed statement Tuesday to The Associated Press. "Treatment course can be repeated twice or thrice a year. Only physicians can follow and evaluate patient’s health condition and state whether the patient should use meldonium for a longer period of time."

Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion, said Monday she failed a doping test at the Australian Open in January for meldonium, which became a banned substance under the World Anti-Doping Agency code this year.

Meldonium is a heart medicine which improves blood flow and is little-known in the U.S., but it was once common in the Soviet military.

The drug’s inventor, Ivars Kalvins, told Latvian newspaper Diena in a 2009 interview that meldonium was given to soldiers during the 1980s, when Soviet forces were fighting in Afghanistan.

"High altitudes. Oxygen deprivation. If they have to run 20 kilometres with all the gear, at the end they would get ischemia (a blood circulation condition)," Kalvins was quoted as saying.

"They were all given meldonium. They themselves were not aware they were using it. No one was being asked (if they agree to it) back then."

Kalvins said meldonium was "not doping," adding that it "allows you to withstand more physical pressure, but the body still spends its spare reserves."

Sharapova said Monday she had taken meldonium for a decade following various health problems including regular sicknesses, early signs of diabetes and "irregular" results from echocardiography exams.

"I was first given the substance back in 2006. I had several health issues going on at the time," she said. Sharapova didn’t specify whether she had used it constantly since then.

Meldonium was banned because it aids oxygen uptake and endurance, and several athletes in various international sports have already been caught using it since it was banned on Jan. 1.

The wave of meldonium cases has echoes of a doping scandal involving another Soviet military drug, bromantan, which was banned after being found in Russian athletes’ samples at the 1996 Atlanta Olympics.

While Grindeks has previously stated that meldonium can provide an "improvement of work capacity of healthy people at physical and mental overloads and during rehabilitation period," the Latvian company said Tuesday that it believed the substance would not enhance athletes’ performance in competition and might even do the opposite.

"It would be reasonable to recommend them to use meldonium as a cell protector to avoid heart failure or muscle damage in case of unwanted overload," the company said.

Grindeks said that, in sports activity, the drug slows down how the body breaks down fatty acids to produce energy.

Grindeks did not comment when asked whether someone with the symptoms Sharapova described would be a suitable patient for meldonium. The company said it was designed for patients with chronic heart and circulation conditions, those recovering from illness or injury and people suffering with "reduced working capacity, physical and psycho-emotional overload."

Meldonium is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

While meldonium was put on banned list as of Jan. 1, the decision to ban it had been announced by WADA and sports organizations as early as September 2015. Sharapova said she received an email with information on the changes in December, but did not read the information at the time.

The AP was able to buy vials and tablets of meldonium over the counter in Moscow on Tuesday. Accompanying documentation stated that side effects could include blood pressure changes, irregular heartbeat and skin conditions.

German anti-doping expert Mario Thevis, who helped to develop the test for meldonium, told the AP that testing was reliable despite meldonium’s recent addition to the WADA banned list.

"There is a potential of the substance to enhance performance and it has been described as a means to facilitate recovery and to enhance physical as well as mental workload capabilities," Thevis, a professor at the anti-doping laboratory in Cologne, Germany, said in a telephone interview. "It can be tested as reliably as any other doping agent."

Serena: Maria Sharapova ‘showed a lot of courage’

(3/8/16) Serena Williams says Maria Sharapova "showed a lot of courage" in taking responsibility for her failed drug test.

The 21-time major champion said Tuesday she "hoped for the best" for Sharapova, a day after the Russian star revealed she failed a test the day she lost to Williams at the Australian Open in January.

Sharapova said she tested positive for the little-known drug meldonium, which became a banned substance under the World Anti-Doping Agency code this year. The five-time Grand Slam champ could face a long ban from the International Tennis Federation, possibly ending her season and preventing her from competing at the Olympics.

Williams plays good friend Caroline Wozniacki on Tuesday night in an exhibition at Madison Square Garden.

Nike, other sponsors cut ties with Sharapova

(3/8/16) Three of Maria Sharapova’s major sponsors are cutting ties with the Russian tennis star after she acknowledged failing a doping test at the Australian Open.

Sportswear giant Nike, Swiss watch brand Tag Heuer and German luxury car company Porsche moved quickly to distance themselves from the five-time Grand Slam winner after she announced the positive test at a news conference in Los Angeles on Monday.

"We are saddened and surprised by the news about Maria Sharapova," Nike said in a statement. "We have decided to suspend our relationship with Maria while the investigation continues. We will continue to monitor the situation."

TAG Heuer said its deal with Sharapova will not be renewed. The sponsorship expired at the end of 2015 and discussions had been taking place on how to extend it.

"In view of the current situation, the Swiss watch brand has suspended negotiations, and has decided not to renew the contract with Ms Sharapova," TAG Heuer said in a statement.

Porsche said in a statement Tuesday that it has "chosen to postpone planned activities" with Sharapova "until further details are released and we can analyze the situation."

Sharapova said she failed a doping test at the Australian Open in January for the little-known drug meldonium, which became a banned substance under the World Anti-Doping Agency code this year. The former world No. 1 took full responsibility for her mistake and could face a lengthy ban from the International Tennis Federation, possibly ending her season and preventing her from competing for Russia at the Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

"I know that with this, I face consequences," Sharapova said. "I don't want to end my career this way, and I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game."

The 28-year-old Sharapova said she has been taking meldonium, a blood flow-promoting drug, for 10 years for numerous health issues. Meldonium was banned because it aids oxygen uptake and endurance, and several athletes across international sports have already been caught using it.

Sharapova and all players were notified of the changes in the WADA banned substances list in December. Sharapova claimed she simply missed the change, neglecting to click on the link.

"I take great responsibility and professionalism in my job, and I made a huge mistake," Sharapova said. "I let my fans down. I let the sport down that I've been playing since the age of 4, that I love so deeply."

Sharapova is one of the top female players of her generation, with 35 career singles titles and over $36 million in career earnings. That earning potential is thought to be easily dwarfed by the earnings she generates from her commercial appeal.

Sharapova is thought to be the world's highest-paid female athlete due to endorsement deals and her extensive business ventures, including a high-profile candy line, Sugarpova. Forbes estimated her earnings at $29.5 million for 2015.

"She's a one-woman marketing machine," said Nigel Currie, an independent British-based sponsorship consultant. "There are lots of male stars in the world, but not many female stars."

Currie said it's "unbelievable" how such a mistake could have happened since Sharapova has such a big support network, adding that it's also "amazing" how quickly sponsors react.

"They are paranoid about their image, and the slightest risk to their image, they run to the hills," he said.

Tennis star Sharapova faces suspension after failing drug test

(3/7/16) Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova, the highest-paid woman in sports, said on Monday that she failed a drug test at the Australian Open due to a substance she has been taking for 10 years for health issues.

The 28-year-old Sharapova, a five-time grand slam champion, will be provisionally suspended starting March 12, the International Tennis Federation (ITF) said.

She is the seventh athlete in a month to test positive for meldonium, which is used to treat diabetes and low magnesium, and was only banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency as of Jan. 1.

"I made a huge mistake. I let my fans down and I let the sport down," said Sharapova, a teenage tennis prodigy who became the third-youngest Wimbledon champion. "I take full responsibility for it."

"I know that with this I face consequences and I don't want to end my career this way. I really hope that I will be given another chance to play this game," former world No.1 Sharapova told a news conference in a downtown Los Angeles hotel.

The ITF's anti-doping program calls for a four-year suspension for a positive test, but that ban can be reduced in various circumstances, such as for first-time offences or if the player shows no significant fault or negligence. If a player bears no fault or negligence, there is no suspension.

According to Forbes, she earned $29.5 million in 2015, mostly from endorsements.

Sharapova said her family doctor had been giving her mildronate, which is also called meldonium, for 10 years after she frequently became sick, had irregular EKG results, a magnesium deficiency and a family history of diabetes.

"It is very important for you to understand that for 10 years this medicine was not on WADA's banned list and I had been legally taking the medicine. But on January the first, the rules have changed and meldonium became a prohibited substance."

The World Anti-Doping Agency, or WADA, declined to comment until ITF issues a final decision.

Meldonium is used to treat chest pain and heart attacks among other conditions, but some researchers have linked it to increased athletic performance and endurance. It is listed by WADA among its prohibited metabolic modulators, along with insulin, and some researchers say it can also help recovery.

It is not approved in the United States but is available in Russia, Latvia and other countries in that region. Over the past month, Russian cyclist Eduard Vorganov, Russian figure skater Ekaterina Bobrova and Ethiopia-born athletes Endeshaw Negesse and Abeba Aregawi and Ukraine biathletes Olga Abramova and Artem Tyshchenko have all tested positive for meldonium.

Sharapova is the most prominent tennis player to test positive for a banned substance in recent years.

Croatia's Marin Cilic was banned for nine months in 2013 after testing positive for a prohibited stimulant, though the suspension was cut to four months on appeal.

Former No. 1 Swiss player Martina Hingis retired after receiving a two-year suspension for a positive cocaine test in 2007, though she denied taking the drug.

Last year, the sport banned U.S. player Wayne Odesnik for 15 years after his second doping violation, testing positive for steroids and other banned substances.

Sharapova is the biggest name in sport to test positive since New York Yankees baseball slugger Alex Rodriguez was banned for a year in 2013 after using performance-enhancing drugs and American cyclist Lance Armstrong was banned for life from racing in 2012 after a U.S. Anti-Doping investigation.

Sharapova, one of the most popular figures in global sports, has long been a favorite with her sponsors. Cosmetics maker Avon Products Inc declined to comment on its endorsements. Nike Inc , the world's largest footwear maker and another sponsor, did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Steve Simon, CEO of the Women's Tennis Association, said in a statement he was saddened to hear the news.

"Maria (Sharapova) is a leader and I have always known her to be a woman of great integrity," he said. "Nevertheless, as Maria acknowledged, it is every player’s responsibility to know what they put in their body and to know if it is permissible. The WTA will support the decisions reached through this process.”

The news came a day after Sharapova's management team said she was going to make a "major announcement," which had many speculating that she was going to announce her retirement from professional tennis.

Sharapova, who has struggled with a series of injuries in recent years, has not competed since she lost to Serena Williams in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open in January.

Renowned for her never-say-die approach, a gritty baseline game and high-decibel shrieking, Sharapova at 17 became the first Russian woman to win Wimbledon when she beat Serena Williams 6-1 6-4 in the 2004 final.

That victory also made her the third-youngest Wimbledon champion, behind only Lottie Dod and Martina Hingis, and the fourth-youngest grand slam winner in the open era after Hingis, Monica Seles and Tracy Austin.

Profile of Russia's Maria Sharapova

(3/7/16) Profile of Russia's Maria Sharapova who told a news conference on Monday she failed a drugs test at this year's Australian Open due to a substance she has taken for 10 years for health issues.

Born: April 19, 1987 in Nyagan, Russia

GRAND SLAM TITLES: Five: Wimbledon (2004); U.S. Open (2006); Australian Open (2008); French Open (2012, 2014)

MAKING HER NAME

* Born in Siberia, moves to Black Sea coastal resort of Sochi aged two.

* Moves to Florida in 1996 to train at Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy in Bradenton. Sharapova's father Yuri, armed with just $700, moves to U.S. with her. Her mother Yelena has to stay in Russia due to visa restrictions.

* Turns professional in 2001.

TENNIS CAREER

* Wins first tour title at Tokyo in 2003. Finishes inside top-50 for first time.

* Becomes first Russian woman to win Wimbledon in 2004 aged 17, beating holder Serena Williams 6-1 6-4 in the final.

* In August 2005 becomes first Russian woman to reach the top of the world rankings.

* Wins her second grand slam after defeating second seed Justine Henin 6-4 6-4 in the 2006 U.S. Open final.

* Beats Ana Ivanovic of Serbia 7-5 6-3 in 2008 to win her third grand slam title, and first Australian Open.

* Regains number one ranking by beating Petra Kvitova in the French Open semi-finals in 2012 before defeating Sara Errani 6-3 6-2 in the final to complete her collection of grand slam trophies.

* Wins a silver medal in her Olympic debut at the 2012 Games in London, losing the final against Serena Williams 6-0 6-1.

* Wins fifth grand slam title at 2014 French Open.

OTHER NOTES

* Has shoulder surgery in 2008 followed by a nine-month injury layoff.

* Misses second half of 2013 season with a shoulder injury.

* Is the richest woman in sport and with more than 15 million fans, she is the most followed female athlete on Facebook.

FAILED TEST

Sharapova tells a news conference in Los Angeles that she tested positive at this year's Australian Open for meldonium, which is used to treat diabetes and low magnesium and has been banned by the World Anti-Doping Agency since Jan. 1.

Reactions to Maria Sharapova's positive dope test

(3/7/16) Five-times grand slam champion Maria Sharapova's failed drug test at this year's Australian Open provoked a flurry of reaction on social media and beyond on Monday.

While most expressed shock and a degree of sympathy for the Russian former world number one, others were less charitable, including three-times grand slam champion Jennifer Capriati.

FORMER WORLD NO.1 JENNIFER CAPRIATI on TWITTER

"I'm extremely angry and disappointed. I had to lose my career and never opted to cheat no matter what. I had to throw in the towel and suffer.

"I didn't have the high priced team of drs that found a way for me to cheat and get around the system and wait for science to catch up. The responses are exactly what i am talking about. Everything based on illusion and lie driven by the media for over 20 yrs. Beyond unfair."

AMERICAN GREAT MARTINA NAVRATILOVA ON TWITTER

"Hold your horses everyone - about Maria - I don't have all the facts, I hope it's an honest mistake, stuff was legal as far as I know till 2015."

FORMER PLAYER JAMES BLAKE on TWITTER

"Wow. Classy of @MariaSharapova to hold a press conference for this and admit making a mistake. Definitely agree that have to be aware though."

CURRENT AMERICAN PLAYER RYAN HARRISON on TWITTER

"Maria handled that so well. In my opinion, honest mistake from a great champion"

FORMER TOP 10 PLAYER AND COACH BRAD GILBERT

"Still stunned that nobody on Shazza team checked new list from WADA, players are responsible but this is big time oversight on team as well."

AUSTRALIAN PLAYER MATT EBDEN

"Doesn't look that innocent for Sharapova or whoever else took it, this Meldonium stuff but who knows?"

BRITISH OLYMPIC HEPTATHLON BRONZE MEDALLIST KELLY SOTHERTON

"I'm pretty sure if this was a track and field athlete they'd be getting a much rawer deal than Sharapova. However it is what it is. #Sharapova"

After Sharapova shocker, what is meldonium?

(3/7/16) Russian tennis star Maria Sharapova says she failed a drug test for meldonium at the Australian Open. The drug was only banned in January and there has been a string of failed tests by athletes in several sports since.

Here are some things to know about meldonium:

WHO’S TESTED POSITIVE?

As well as Sharapova, one of the world’s top ice dancers also said Monday that she tested positive.

Ekaterina Bobrova is a former European champion who was part of the Olympic gold medal-winning Russian team at the 2014 Winter Olympics. She told Russian media the positive test was "a big shock." Another Russian case last month saw cyclist Eduard Vorganov test positive.

Besides notable Russians, Swedish media reported in February that former world champion 1,500-meter runner Abeba Aregawi had tested positive for meldonium. Two other cases involved Ukrainians competing in the winter sport of biathlon.

WHAT DOES IT DO?

Also marketed as mildronate, the website of the drug's Latvian manufacturer Grindeks says meldonium gives sufferers of heart and circulatory conditions more "physical capacity and mental function" -- and a similar boost to healthy people. Meldonium was banned because it aids oxygen uptake and endurance.

WHO TAKES IT?

Meldonium is most commonly used in Eastern European and ex-Soviet countries as a drug for people with heart conditions, but it's also offered for sale online. There are also signs that a sizable minority of athletes were using before it was banned.

In October, the U.S.-based Partnership for Clean Competition, an anti-doping group, said meldonium was found in 182 of 8,300 urine samples from athletes as part of a study part-funded by the PCC.

HOW WAS IT BANNED?

The World Anti-Doping Agency monitored the effects and use of meldonium before announcing in September that it would be declared a banned substance from Jan. 1, 2016.

WADA declared the decision on its website more than three months before the ban, and it was also announced by the Russian anti-doping agency.

Sharapova said she received an email from WADA linking to information that meldonium would be banned ahead of the 2016 season but did not read the information at the time. Sharapova says she has been taking the drug for 10 years for numerous health issues.

Maria Sharapova failed drug test at Australian Open

(3/7/16) Maria Sharapova’s tennis career and Olympic hopes are in jeopardy, and she claims it’s all because she failed to click on a link in an email that would have told her to stop taking meldonium.

The five-time major champion says she failed a doping test at the Australian Open in January for the little-known drug, which became a banned substance under the WADA code this year. The former world No. 1 took full responsibility for her mistake when she made the announcement at a news conference Monday in Los Angeles.

Sharapova could face a lengthy ban from the International Tennis Federation, possibly ending her season and preventing her from competing for Russia at the Rio Olympics.

"I know that with this, I face consequences," Sharapova said. "I don’t want to end my career this way, and I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game."

The 28-year-old Sharapova received notice last week that she tested positive for meldonium, a blood flow-promoting drug she has been taking for 10 years for numerous health issues. Meldonium was banned because it aids oxygen uptake and endurance, and several athletes across international sports have already been caught using it.

Sharapova and all players were notified of the changes in the WADA banned substances list in December. Sharapova claimed she simply missed the change, neglecting to click on the link.

"I take great responsibility and professionalism in my job, and I made a huge mistake," Sharapova said. "I let my fans down. I let the sport down that I’ve been playing since the age of 4, that I love so deeply."

Meldonium, also known as mildronate, is a Latvian-manufactured drug popular for fighting heart disease in former Soviet Union countries. Meldonium treats ischemia, or lack of blood flow, but can be taken in large doses as a performance-enhancer.

Sharapova said she began taking meldonium for "several health issues I had back in 2006," including a magnesium deficiency, regular influenza, "irregular" heart test results and early indications of diabetes, of which she has a family history.

Sharapova’s penalties could range from a multiyear ban to a minimal sanction with no suspension if officials believe she made an honest mistake. WADA President Craig Reedie told The Associated Press that any athlete found guilty of using meldonium would normally face a one-year suspension.

The ITF’s anti-doping program announced in a statement that Sharapova will be provisionally suspended starting this weekend while her case is examined. WADA spokesman Ben Nichols said the organization won’t comment until the ITF makes a decision.

Sharapova and her attorney, John J. Haggerty, declined to say where Sharapova was put on the drug or where she gets it now, citing the ongoing process with the ITF. Meldonium is not approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

"I understand the drug is sold particularly in Eastern Europe," Reedie told the AP in a telephone interview. "You can almost get it over the counter. For stronger versions, you might need a prescription. There has been a whole rash of these cases since the 1st of January when it appeared on the banned list. This might not be happening if athletes would be taking more care of the things that are on the list."

Reedie said meldonium can be "very strong medicine."

Although she has lived in the U.S. since childhood, Sharapova won a silver medal and served as Russia’s flag-bearer at the London Olympics four years ago.

"I think it’s all nonsense," Shamil Tarpshchev, the president of the Russian Tennis Federation, told the state Tass agency. "Athletes take what they’re given by physiotherapists and doctors. I think that Sharapova will play at the Olympics anyway. But we have to see how events develop."

Two Ukrainian biathletes and Russian cyclist Eduard Vorganov have tested positive for meldonium since it was banned. Earlier Monday, Russia’s Ekaterina Bobrova, a European champion ice dancer, told local media she had tested positive for meldonium.

Sharapova said she took the test shortly before she lost to Serena Williams in the Australian Open quarterfinals on Jan. 26. Sharapova hasn’t played since then while recovering from a forearm injury, and she had already dropped out of the BNP Paribas Open in Indian Wells, which begins this week.

"She is very organized and she takes her career very seriously," Haggerty told the AP. "When she first started to take this back in 2006, she made sure it was approved, that it wasn’t on the banned list, and checked in future years. Because she had taken it for so many years, and it was OK year after year, it just got off the radar.

"When she got the letter, she was shocked, completely stunned. She takes great pride in her integrity and how she approaches the game, and she immediately wanted to come forward and take responsibility."

Sharapova is one of the greatest players of her generation, with 35 career singles titles and over $36 million in career earnings. She is currently No. 7 in the WTA rankings after playing just three tournaments and the Fed Cup final in the last eight months since Wimbledon due to injuries.

Sharapova is thought to be the world’s highest-paid female athlete due to endorsement deals and her extensive business ventures, including a high-profile candy line, Sugarpova. Forbes estimated her earnings at $29.5 million for 2015.

"I am very saddened to hear this news about Maria," WTA CEO Steve Simon said in a statement. "Maria is a leader and I have always known her to be a woman of great integrity. Nevertheless, as Maria acknowledged, it is every player’s responsibility to know what they put in their body and to know if it is permissible."

Sharapova became a 17-year-old Wimbledon champion in 2004. She ascended to No. 1 in 2005, won the U.S. Open in 2006 and added the Australian Open in 2008 before completing the career Grand Slam with French Open titles in 2012 and 2014.

But Sharapova has struggled with injuries throughout her career, repeatedly forcing her to take extended breaks from competition. She had surgery to repair a torn rotator cuff, forcing her to change her serving motion, and has struggled with hamstring injuries.

Sharapova was born in Russia before moving to Florida. She lives primarily in Los Angeles now.

The star had a moment of levity when she acknowledged the incorrect assumptions about the reason she had called a news conference.

"If I was going to announce my retirement, it wouldn’t be in a downtown Los Angeles hotel with this fairly ugly carpet," she said.

Sharapova says failed drug test at Australian Open

(3/7/16) Former tennis world number one Maria Sharapova said on Monday that she recently received a letter saying she had failed a drug test at the Australian Open.

The 28-year-old Russian, a five-times grand slam champion, has not competed since she lost to Serena Williams in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open in January and has struggled with a series of injuries in recent years.

Sharapova said she tested positive for meldonium and that she did not look at a list of banned substances for 2016 that the World Anti-Doping Agency had sent last December.

"I was first given the substance back in 2006. I had several health issues going on at the time," Sharapova told a news conference in Los Angeles.

"I was getting sick very often … and I had a deficiency in magnesium and a family history of diabetes, and there were signs of diabetes. That is one of the medications, along with others, that I received."

Maria Sharapova announces failed drug test at Australian Open

(3/7/16) Former world number one Maria Sharapova announced Monday she failed a doping test at the Australian Open, saying a change in the World-Anti-Doping Agency banned list for 2016 led to the violation.

Sharapova said she tested positive for Meldonium, a substance she had been taking since 2006 but one that was added to the banned list this year. She said she did not look at the updated ban list before taking the drug.

"I did fail the test, and I take full responsibility for it," a sombre Sharapova said at a press conference at a downtown Los Angeles hotel.

"I made a huge mistake," she said. "I let my fans down. I let my sport down that I've been playing since the age of four that I love so deeply," added Sharapova, her voice wavering.

"I know that with this I face consequences and I don't want to end my career this way -- and I really hope I will be given another chance to play this game."

The 28-year-old Russian, winner of five Grand Slam titles, said she did not yet know just what all the consequences would be, but said she was cooperating with the International Tennis Federation.

Sharapova says she failed drug test; penalty unknown

(3/7/16) Tennis star Maria Sharapova says she has failed a drug test at the Australian Open.

A five-time major champion made the announcement at a news conference Monday in Los Angeles.

Sharapova said she tested positive for meldonium, which she has been taking for 10 years for health issues. Meldonium became a banned substance this year.

The WTA has not announced a penalty.

Sharapova, currently sidelined with a forearm injury, hasn't competed since losing to Serena Williams in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in January.

Maria Sharapova failed drug test at Australian Open

(3/7/16) (Press Conference Video - Maria starts around 43min mark) Maria Sharapova tested positive for a banned substance at the Australian Open the Russian tennis star said in a news conference on Monday.

Sharapova calls Monday news conference amid retirement rumours

(3/6/16) Speculation over Maria Sharapova's future has surfaced following confirmation that the five-time grand slam champion is to make an announcement at a news conference on Monday.

Injuries have restricted the former world number one to sporadic outings in recent months and she withdrew from the upcoming BNP Paribas Open earlier this week due to a troublesome left forearm problem.

In doing so, Sharapova expressed a willingness to return to the Indian Wells event in 2017.

However, retirement rumours were duly sparked by a brief message on the Russian's official website, which confirmed a news conference with Sharapova will be streamed live from 8pm GMT on Monday.

Sharapova has been one of the leading players on the WTA Tour for more than a decade, having burst onto the scene by winning Wimbledon as a 17-year-old in 2004.

Victory at the 2012 French Open saw Sharapova complete a career Grand Slam and her most recent major title also came at Roland Garros in 2014.

Now 28, she is ranked seventh in the WTA rankings and reached the quarter-finals of the Australian Open in her only tournament appearance so far this year.

Sharapova calls news conference to make 'major announcement'

(3/6/16) Maria Sharapova has called a news conference to make what her agent calls a ''major announcement.''

The news conference is scheduled for noon on Monday in Los Angeles. Her agent, Max Eisenbud, declined to say what the subject of the announcement is.

The news conference comes days after Sharapova announced she was pulling out of the BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells because of a left forearm injury.

She has suffered a string of injuries in recent years, including a right leg injury that caused her to withdrawal from the U.S. Open.

The five-time major champion hasn't competed since losing to Serena Williams in the Australian Open quarterfinals in January.

Sharapova, who is involved in numerous business ventures off the court, is currently No. 7 in the WTA rankings.

Injured Sharapova out of Indian Wells

(3/3/16) World number seven Maria Sharapova has withdrawn from next week's BNP Paribas Open at Indian Wells after failing to recover from a troublesome forearm injury, it was confirmed Thursday.

The Russian star said in a statement issued by tournament chiefs she had pulled out in an effort to return to full fitness.

"I am extremely disappointed that I am unable to compete in this year's BNP Paribas Open," said Sharapova.

"I have been focused on healing my left forearm injury and tried to get my body to be 100% ready to play this event, as it is one of my favorite events on the WTA and so close to my home in LA.

"I know the tournament will be a great success this year and I will be anxious to return next year and hopefully many years after."

Sharapova has not played since exiting the Australian Open in the quarter-finals in January.

Her withdrawal from Indian Wells is the third time this year she has withdrawn from a tournament because of her forearm injury, having also missed tournaments in Brisbane and Doha.

Mariana Duque-Marino moves into the main draw for Indian Wells following Sharapova's absence.

This year's tournament takes place from March 7-20.

Injury rules Sharapova out of Qatar Open

(2/10/16) Maria Sharapova will miss the Qatar Open as she continues to recover from the forearm injury she sustained at the Australian Open.

The five-time grand slam winner has not played since her quarter-final defeat to Serena Williams in Melbourne, although she was included in Russia's squad for the Fed Cup last weekend.

She was not used as the 2015 runners-up were dumped out by Netherlands, and her season is not set to resume until the end of the month.

It will be another blow for Sharapova after her 2015 season was hampered by a leg injury, the 28-year-old missing three months towards the end of the year before returning at the WTA Finals.

"Unfortunately, I will not be able to play the Qatar Open because of my left forearm injury," she is quoted as saying by the tournament website.

"I would like to wish the tournament and all the great fans in Doha a great week of tennis and I hope to see them next year."

Sharapova has won the Qatar Open on two occasions – 2005 and 2008 – and was a semi-finalist in her last appearance in 2013.

Netherlands pulls off upset of Russia at Fed Cup

(2/7/16) Last year’s finalist Russia suffered a surprise first-round defeat in the Fed Cup on Sunday as the Netherlands built an unassailable 3-0 lead when Kiki Bertens beat Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-1, 6-4 in the first reverse singles match.

Russian No. 1 Maria Sharapova had been scheduled to play only the final doubles match because of a shoulder injury. But with tie already lost, she was replaced by Ekaterina Makarova, who teamed with Darya Kasatkina to quickly beat Dutch pair Cindy Burger and Arantxa Rus 6-0, 6-2 to give Russia its only point. The second reverse singles was cancelled.

Sharapova had made herself available for Russia in order to be eligible for the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

Kuznetsova had come into her encounter with Bertens tired from a four-hour marathon loss to Richel Hogenkamp on Saturday, the longest rubber in Fed Cup history. Bertens had dominated Makarova 6-3, 6-4 in the opening rubber.

The Dutch, without a player ranked in the top 100, had been considered major underdogs against a Russian team whose lowest-ranked player, the 18-year-old Kasatkina, is No. 61.

Kuznetsova said she believes Russia sacrificed the Fed Cup so that the players could compete in the Summer Olympics. "It all comes down to the Olympics and these stupid rules," she told journalists.

Sharapova named in Russian Fed Cup team, stays on road to Rio

(2/5/16) Maria Sharapova remained on course for the Rio Olympics as the five-time Grand Slam champion was on Friday named in Russia's doubles team for their Fed Cup first-round tie against the Netherlands in Moscow this weekend.

World number 31 Ekaterina Makarova will take on 106th-ranked Kiki Bertens in the opening singles of the World Group clash on the hardcourt of Moscow's Olympic indoor arena from 1100 GMT on Saturday.

Russia's two-time Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, 17th in the world, will then face 141st-ranked Richel Hogenkamp.

In Sunday's reverse singles, Kuznetsova will face off against Bertens and Makarova will then take on Hogenkamp.

Russian team skipper Anastasia Myskina then announced the country's top-ranked player Sharapova, the world number six, will play in the tie's concluding doubles rubber alongside 18-year-old Darya Kasatkina.

They will face Dutch pair Arantxa Rus and Cindy Burger.

Myskina, the 2004 French Open champion, said that she expected a tough match against the Dutch.

"We've prepared well for this match but I expect a very tough opposition this weekend," Myskina told reporters following the draw.

"Netherlands were victorious in their last Fed Cup matches. They're in good form and brave mood. It's unlikely to be easy. But I hope we will do enough."

Sharapova, who is struggling with a forearm injury suffered at last month's Australian Open, said she wasn't about to call time on her Fed Cup career.

"Our team is strong and any of our girls are capable of winning their rubbers," she said.

"I don't know how long I will be able to play tennis but I will definitely continue to play for my country."

The world's richest sportswoman will remain on course for this summer's Olympic Games even if she doesn't step out on court against the Netherlands.

Under qualification rules, a player must be nominated three times in an Olympic cycle in order to be eligible for the Games in Rio in August.

So far, the 28-year-old star has featured in just two ties since 2012, the year when she won the silver medal at the London Olympics.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF), which oversees the Fed Cup, said that Sharapova did not necessarily need to play the tie in order to fulfil her Olympic criteria.

"The Olympic tennis event qualification regulations require a player to be in the nominated Fed Cup team at the time of the draw on three occasions," a spokesman told AFP on the eve of the draw for the tie.

"A player does not need to play a match."

Sharapova won all four Fed Cup rubbers she played in 2015 including the two singles matches in the final which Russia lost 3-2 to the Czech Republic.

Sharapova plays Russian roulette with Olympic dream

(2/4/16) Maria Sharapova attempts to remain on course for the Rio Olympics when Russia take on the Netherlands in the Fed Cup this weekend even if she courts controversy by not actually playing.

The world's richest sportswoman has been named in the four-woman Russian squad for the World Group clash in Moscow despite insisting that she is unable to play due to a forearm injury suffered in her Australian Open quarter-final loss to Serena Williams.

Under qualification rules, a player must be nominated three times in an Olympic cycle in order to be eligible for the Games in Rio in August.

So far, the 28-year-old star has featured in just two ties since 2012, the year when she won the silver medal at the London Olympics.

Sharapova was warned last week by Russian tennis chief Shamil Tarpishchev that she risked missing out on Rio if she failed to turn out for the Fed Cup tie.

But she was adamant she was unlikely to compete in Moscow to rest her injured arm.

"I'm going to go to Moscow, to be part of the team but I don't think I'll be playing," she said.

Sharapova was as good as her word as she was pictured on social media on Thursday at the Fed Cup dinner in Moscow along with teammates Svetlana Kuznetsova, Ekaterina Makarova, teenager Darya Kasatkina and team captain Anastasia Myskina.

The International Tennis Federation (ITF), which oversees the Fed Cup, said that Sharapova did not necessarily need to play the tie in order to fulfil her Olympic criteria.

"The Olympic tennis event qualification regulations require a player to be in the nominated Fed Cup team at the time of the draw on three occasions," a spokesman told AFP on the eve of the draw for the tie.

"A player does not need to play a match."

Sharapova won all four Fed Cup rubbers she played in 2015 including the two singles matches in the final which Russia lost 3-2 to the Czech Republic.

Russia have defeated the Dutch on all three occasions they have met.

The visitors' task will not get any easier on Saturday and Sunday as their top-ranked player is Kiki Bertens at a lowly 106 in the world.

The Czechs, who have won four of the last five Fed Cups, start their defence against Romania in Cluj with former double Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova (world number nine) and Karolina Pliskova (13) leading their assault.

Romania's top singles player Simona Halep, the world number three, has postponed a nose operation to play in the tie.

Italy, the champions in 2006, 2009, 2010 and 2013, go to Marseille to face five-time winners France.

Newly-crowned Australian Open champion Angelique Kerber, at a high of two in the world, leads Germany's challenge at home to Switzerland in Leipzig.

Teenager Belinda Bencic, the world number 11, is Switzerland's top player while veteran Martina Hingis will feature in the doubles.

Hingis, 35, returned to the Fed Cup last year for the first time since 1998 in order to qualify for the Olympics.

Sharapova named to Russia’s Fed Cup team

(1/27/16) Maria Sharapova was named Wednesday in Russia’s team for its Fed Cup match against the Netherlands despite a dispute with the national federation over her Olympic eligibility.

Sharapova requires one more Fed Cup appearance for Russia in order to be eligible to represent her country at the Olympics in August.

The head of the Russian Tennis Federation, Shamil Tarpishchev, suggested Sharapova was unwilling to play for Russia next week and told Russia’s R-Sport agency that "if we lose and she doesn’t play, that means she won’t play at the Olympics."

Alongside Sharapova, Russia’s team for the Feb. 6-7 match in Moscow includes Svetlana Kuznetsova, Ekaterina Makarova and Darya Kasatkina.

The Dutch will field Kiki Bertens, their only top-100 player, alongside Richel Hogenkamp, Cindy Burger and Arantxa Rus.

Forearm worry puts Sharapova in doubt for Fed Cup opener

(1/26/16) Maria Sharapova said Tuesday she is unlikely to play for Russia in their Fed Cup opening round match against the Netherlands next month, but will be cheering on the team in Moscow. Earlier this month, team captain Anastasia Myskina said the world number five had confirmed she would play, alongside Svetlana Kuznetsova, Ekaterina Makarova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova. But after her quarter-final exit at the Australian Open on Tuesday the 28-year-old suggested that would no longer happen, because she has a niggling forearm injury that needs attention. "I'm going to go and take care of my forearm first. I think that's really important," she said after top seed Serena Williams sent her packing from the season-opening Grand Slam.

Sharapova must play Fed Cup or miss Olympics - federation

(1/26/16) Russia's tennis federation chief warned Maria Sharapova she must play for the Fed Cup team or risk missing out on the Rio Olympics in August. Sharapova said that she is unlikely to play for Russia in the Fed Cup opening round against Netherlands on February 6-7, after crashing out of the Australian Open. "If Sharapova wants to compete at the Olympics she has to play for Russia in the Fed Cup," the R-Sport agency quoted tennis boss Shamil Tarpishchev as saying. "That's the rule and she needs either to play against Netherlands or in Russia's next Fed Cup match if we manage to go through."

Back to the drawing board for inspired, frustrated Sharapova

(1/26/16) Maria Sharapova said she was inspired as well as frustrated after losing to Serena Williams in the Australian Open quarter-finals on Tuesday, a defeat which extended her losing streak against the American to 12 years and 18 matches.

The 28-year-old Russian, who last beat Williams at the season-ending tour championships in 2004, kept pace with her 34-year-old opponent for all but the last game of the first set, before crumbling in the second.

"It's obviously always frustrating," she said after her 6-4 6-1 loss. "I mean, it's motivating. It's tough to sit here 30 minutes after the match and talk about the match, but that's part of my job.

"It's motivating because she's at a different level. She makes you go back to the drawing board, not just for me, but for many other players. She makes you work. That's inspiring."

Sharapova's work coming into the tournament had clearly been focused on her serve, which was much improved on the years when she was plagued by shoulder issues and which earned her 21 aces in her fourth round match on Sunday.

When she needed it most, however, facing four set points in the crucial 10th game of the match, her serve failed her and she ceded the opening stanza 6-4.

"I feel like if it was five-all, the momentum would have been a little bit different than going into where she played a really great beginning of the second set," Sharapova said.

"You know, I think at five-all maybe the mentality of her confidence would have changed a little bit."

Two of Sharapova's 18 defeats by Williams have come in the final of the Australian Open. One came in the French Open final and another at the final of the London Olympics.

Instead of hoping to avoid her, however, Sharapova said the only way to break the hex was to keep reaching the latter stages of tournaments, where she would likely face the 21-times grand slam champion.

"Keep setting up opportunities," she said. "Keep getting to the point where I have an opportunity to play against her.

"Keep finding a way to turn that around. If I don't have that chance then I don't have the opportunity to try something different."

Sharapova came into the tournament light on match practice after injuring her left forearm and said getting that treated would be her main priority on her return home.

"I think that's really important," the world number five said. "I think this will be a time to just get myself ready for a long year. I don't see myself playing anything before Indian Wells (in March)."

Williams beats Sharapova to reach Aussie Open semis

(1/26/16) Serena Williams attacked Maria Sharapova’s strength and it helped extend her complete domination of their rivalry, earning the six-time Australian Open champion a place in the semifinals.

Top-ranked Williams beat Sharapova 6-4, 6-1 in the quarterfinals on Tuesday, her 18th consecutive victory and 19th in their 21 career meetings back to 2004.

"It was super intense," Williams said of the replay of last year’s final. "She’s an incredibly intense, focused player who was No. 1 and has won so many Grand Slams for a reason. You have to come out with a lot of fire and intensity."

Each of the six previous times Williams has won a quarterfinal at Melbourne Park, she has won the title at the season-opening Grand Slam tournament.

Up next for her is fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska, who beat No. 10 Carla Suarez Navarro 6-1, 6-3 to reach a Grand Slam semifinal for the fifth time.

Sharapova has won five majors, including the 2008 Australian title, and has been in three other finals at Melbourne Park.

In her fourth-round win against No. 12 Belinda Bencic she had a career-high 21 aces. Against Williams, she had three, and seven double-faults. Williams had 13 aces, three double-faults, hit 31 winners to 11, and broke Sharapova's serve four times.

"She played quite explosive," Sharapova said. "She was really explosive off the return. Yeah."

Sharapova broke to open the match and held for a 2-0 lead. But Williams held in the third game and broke to quickly level at 2-2.

Early in the set, points were short. As it progressed, the rallies got longer, the shrieks and grunts got louder and the emotions were fully on display.

Both players struggled with their ball toss at one end, repeatedly practicing their toss to work out the best position to serve into the sun.

Williams also had to concentrate hard to hold in the ninth game, when a baby screamed loudly in the stands as she faced breakpoints.

She was able to protect her own serve, and go on the attack against Sharapova's. It cost her in the eighth game when she had three break-point chances, taking the high-risk rather than the high-percentage option with her return.

But that approach is what has helped win her 21 major titles, and Williams' aggressive returns finally helped her convert on her fourth set point, following a heavy ground stroke to the net and putting away a volley.

She went on a five-game roll until Sharapova held in the second set, and then finished it off in the seventh game after saving break points.

Williams had medical treatment between sets, and again in the second during a changeover, but it wasn't clear what the problem was. She didn't comment on it in her on-court interview.

Sharapova noted Williams started the opening set with four big serves, so she didn't think it hampered the 34-year-old American's game.

She hasn't beaten Williams since back-to-back victories in 2004, when she led their rivalry 2-1. Despite more than 11 years in between, Sharapova isn't giving up hope of breaking that drought.

"It's motivating because she's at a different level," Sharapova said. "She makes you go back to the drawing board, not just for me, but for many other players. She makes you work. That's inspiring."

In men's doubles action, Canadian Vasek Pospisil and American partner Jack Sock fell in three sets to Spain's Marcel Granollers and Uruguay's Pablo Cuevas in quarter-final action.

Sharapova faces nemesis Williams as stakes rise at Open

(1/25/16) The business end of the Australian Open begins in earnest on Tuesday when top seed Serena Williams faces old rival Maria Sharapova for a place in the semi-finals in a repeat of last year's title match.

In the men's draw defending champion Novak Djokovic, taken to five sets in the fourth round, will have to improve as he faces Japanese seventh seed Kei Nishikori while Roger Federer aims to continue his smooth progress against Tomas Berdych.

Sharapova will be desperate to avenge last year's final loss to Williams, although the omens are not good for the Russian.

She has lost her last 17 matches against the 34-year-old Williams and the American 21-times grand slam champion has been in dominant form so far in Melbourne after some pre-tournament injury concerns.

Williams remains wary though, saying such a one-sided statistic can work both ways.

"I think the person who's winning could definitely feel the pressure because there is a lot of expectations," she said. "The person who is losing X amount in a row could think 'I don't have anything to lose.'"

Djokovic's bid for a sixth Australian Open title was nearly sabotaged by Gilles Simon in round four and the in-form Nishikori will pose a serious threat as he attempts to prevent Djokovic reaching a 29th grand slam semi-final.

Nishikori beat Djokovic the last time they met in a grand slam, at the 2014 U.S. Open semi-final, and will need to reproduce that form on Tuesday.

"I think the biggest thing is he doesn't miss," he said. "He doesn't give you easy points, any free points."

Federer takes on a familiar foe in Berdych, with the pair facing each other for the 22nd time.

The Swiss is on a four-match winning streak against the powerful Czech, but has lost their last two grand slam meetings.

Berdych will look to pull off another major upset, as he did at the same stage last year when he ended a 17-match losing streak against Rafael Nadal.

Fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska opens the action on Rod Laver Arena when she battles it out with 10th seeded Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro.

The 26-year-old scrapped through to the quarter-finals after being pushed to her limits by Germany's Anna-Lena Friedsam in the previous round.

Serena-Sharapova rivalry comes again to Australian Open

(1/24/16) Serena Williams says she doesn't remember much about the first time she played Maria Sharapova at the Australian Open.

It was 11 years ago, after all, way back in 2005. But she does remember the outcome.

''I was down a match point. I remember hitting it as hard as I could,'' recalled Williams, who ultimately saved three match points in that semifinal. ''I remember, obviously, winning and that was really great.''

Sharapova remembers it, too. Mainly because her 17-match losing streak against Williams started that day.

Both players advanced Sunday to the Australian Open quarterfinals where they will meet in a high-profile rematch of last year's final and the latest installment in their long running rivalry.

''I look forward to playing the best in the world, and that's what she's proven in the last year - the last many years,'' Sharapova said about Williams after beating Belinda Bencic 7-5, 7-5 in the fourth-round Sunday.

Williams' dominance of the women's game has created a gulf that is enormous between her spot at No. 1 and everyone else.

She has won 21 Grand Slam titles, including last year's Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon. She's won the Australian title a record six times in the Open era.

She came agonizingly close to winning all four majors last year, which would have made her the first person to complete a calendar-year Grand Slam in 27 years.

But losing, Williams said Sunday, just makes her want to win more.

''For my whole career, I have been motivated by losses,'' Williams said after beating Margarita Gasparyan 6-2, 6-1, in just 55 minutes. ''That's just been my thing. When I lose, I just get better.''

Williams has powered through the first week at the Australian Open without dropping a set. Asked if her record against Sharapova gives her extra confidence, she said it doesn't matter to her who she plays.

''I just feel like I'm really confident in my game right now, not against her or against any other opponent'' in particular, William said. ''I'm just really looking at me right now, and I feel like if I can just continue to play well, then it could be good.''

Put another way, when Williams is at the top of her game it is incredibly hard to beat her.

At 34, she is the oldest woman to hold the No. 1 ranking - but age does not appear to matter. Every tournament she plays in, it seems, holds another chance for Williams to make history.

With another championship in Melbourne, Williams would equal Steffi Graf's 22 major singles titles.

Margaret Court, the Australian great who won 24 Grand Slam singles titles and has a stadium named in her honor at Melbourne Park, was in the crowd watching Williams - and waved to her after the match.

''Obviously 24 is close, but, yet it's so far away,'' Williams said, adding that it was an honor to play in front of Court and she wasn't consciously trying to overtake her. ''Honestly, I just focus on each game at a time. I never play thinking I want to be with the great Margaret Court. I just play just want to win a Grand Slam and that's it.''

Before her match, Williams was keeping an eye on Sharapova's match and noted that she ''had a really good win today.''

Sharapova hit a career-high 21 aces and hit 58 winners, converting her second match point when she challenged a line call after her forehand was initially called long.

The five-time Grand Slam winner last won the Australian Open in 2008 and has been a finalist four times.

When her rivalry with Williams started out, she had the lead. Sharapova won consecutive matches against Williams in 2004, at Wimbledon and the season-ending championships, but hasn't won since.

It's a statistic she tries to block from her mind, particularly right before they play.

''It's not like I think about, 'What can I do worse?''' Sharapova said. ''I got myself into the quarterfinal of a Grand Slam. There is no reason I shouldn't be looking to improve and to getting my game in a better position than any previous round. It's only going to be tougher, especially against Serena.''

Sharapova takes down Bencic at Australian Open

(1/24/16) Maria Sharapova held her end of the bargain, beating Belinda Bencic 7-5, 7-5 on Sunday to reach the Australian Open quarterfinals and a possible rematch of last year’s final with Serena Williams.

The fifth-seeded Sharapova fired 21 aces and hit 58 winners but needed 2 hours, 5 minutes to beat Bencic on her second match point, converting it with a successful challenge after her forehand was initially called long but getting it overturned when the ball tracker showed it hitting the baseline.

Sharapova screamed in delight after the successful challenge, and Bencic stood for a while and had to ask the chair umpire if the match was over.

"This must be the first match I won on a challenge but it felt like a clean ball — I felt like it was on the line, I was really positive about it but I thought worst-case scenario we’re back to deuce."

Six-time champion Williams was playing No. 58-ranked Margarita Gasparyan in the next match on Rod Laver Arena. Unlike Sharapova, who had to play under the roof because play started while it was lightly raining, Williams was playing with the roof open on the main arena at Melbourne Park.

Sharapova, who won the title in 2008 and lost three finals at Melbourne Park, predicted a rematch with Williams in the next round.

"I expect to play her — I look forward to playing the best in the world and that’s what she’s proven in the last year," she said.

The 18-year-old Bencic, playing in the fourth round of a major for only the third time, again found herself on the wrong end of an opponent’s aces count. Sharapova had 21, including four on her second serve. Last year, Bencic was on the receiving end of a WTA-record 27 aces from Sabine Lisicki.

Kei Nishikori was the first male player through to the quarterfinals, beating No. 9-seeded Jo-Wilfried Tsonga 6-4, 6-2, 6-4 in front of a partisan crowd filled with flag-waving Japanese fans.

The seventh-seeded Nishikori, the 2014 U.S. Open finalist, also reached the quarterfinals at the Australian Open last year and in 2012.

Nishikori has had trouble with Tsonga’s power game in the past, losing most recently to the Frenchman in the quarterfinals of the French Open last year.

But Tsonga lost his serve five times in the match and only managed to break Nishikori once.

No kids, but millions in the bank - Sharapova has no regrets

(1/22/16) A younger Maria Sharapova was convinced she would be retired from tennis and have children by now, but it hasn't quite turned out that way.

Instead, she has five Grand Slam titles and millions in the bank, and is listed by Forbes as the top-earning sportswoman in the world.

All in all, the 28-year-old Russian said she had no regrets about how her life has gone.

"I never thought that I'd be playing at this age, honestly," she said in Melbourne, after moving into the Australian Open fourth round.

"When I was born, my mother was very young. I thought I would, I mean, not have kids at 20, but I would have children at this point.

"When you're younger, that's what I envisioned because that's what my family had. You always look to family traditions."

Her personal life remains out of bounds, although she most recently had a relationship with fellow player Grigor Dimitrov.

Sharapova said she had managed to find a good balance between tennis, her personal life and her flourishing business career as she gets older.

As well as being one of the world's most recognisable athletes, she has become a major force in the business world with a series of successful ventures.

They include Sugapova, a candy line, and a Nike apparel collection. Forbes calculated she earned US$29.7 million in the year to last June, naming her as the highest-paid female athlete for the 11th year in a row.

Despite the luxurious life her money can bring her, she said she still likes nothing more than hitting balls on a tennis court.

"I mean, I really love what I do. Although I'd love to sit on the beach and read a book and drink margaritas, after a few days I get bored," she said.

"I know, especially when I miss a couple of weeks... I get back on the court, it's funny, those first few moments where you feel a bit rusty, but the feeling of hitting the ball, even though you're not playing points, when that comes back to me, I'm like, This is what I love to do.

"There's no better feeling."

A reflective Sharapova credited her parents Yuri and Yelena for much of what she has achieved, calling them her "rock" in a life that has seen countless people come and go.

"I've had many different people in my life. Ultimately my parents are kind of the two, you know, rocks that have really guided me in so many incredible directions," she said.

"My father paved this career for me that I just keep following. He just really opened the door to my dream. I'm just kind of living it.

"My mother opened up the world to me culturally, educationally. So I got very different things from both of them."

Fifth-Seeded Sharapova Reaches 3rd Round at Australian Open

(1/21/16) Maria Sharapova played two nearly flawless sets on either side of the one where she struggled against Lauren Davis in a slight hiccup at the Australian Open.

Sharapova, who won the title here in 2008 and has lost three finals — including last year’s decider to Serena Williams — advanced to the fourth round with a 6-1, 6-7 (5), 6-1 on Friday, her 600th tour-level match win.

"Wow. I’ve won 600 matches?" Sharapova asked, responding to a question in an on-court interview. "Is this like a friendly reminder that I’m getting old? Might be."

The 28-year-old, five-time major winner is playing her 13th Australian Open since 2003 so she knew what to expect when she lost concentration in the second set despite being up and break and 30-love.

"You know you're in a Grand Slam environment, third round and against an opponent you haven't played ... that's fired up and is not going to just give you the match and that's exactly what happened," she said. "I am quite happy that I was able to step up in the third set. That was very important."

The first set was over in 26 minutes, with Sharapova getting two service breaks and not facing a break point herself. She was broken twice in the second, when Davis came back hard and eventually won in the tiebreaker, despite conceding a key point after a 27-shot rally when she volleyed into the net, and covered her face with her hand.

Sharapova took a bathroom break before the third set and returned with more composure, making just five unforced errors and breaking Davis three times.

The fifth-seeded Sharapova will next play No. 12 Belinda Bencic, who won the opening match on Rod Laver Arena 4-6, 6-2, 6-4 against Kateryna Bondarenko.

Kei Nishikori had some trouble with his wrist, taking a medical timeout and losing the next set before recovering to reach the fourth round at the Australian Open with a 7-5, 2-6, 6-3, 6-4 win Friday over No. 26-seeded Guillermo Garcia-Lopez.

Nishikori reached the 2014 U.S. Open final and the quarterfinals at the Australian and French Opens in 2015 before withdrawing from his second-round match at Wimbledon with an injured left leg.

Returning to the fourth round at Melbourne Park for the fourth straight year was a confidence booster, and he said the right wrist "actually, it was OK."

"In the first set I was sore but after treatment I felt better," he said. "I tried to stay tough, concentrated again -- I played better in last set."

There was a full house on Margaret Court Arena for the match, including a big section of Japanese supporters waving flags, while matches on uncovered outside courts were delayed because of rain. Seven doubles matches were later postponed.

No. 15 David Goffin beat No. 19 Dominic Thiem 6-1, 3-6, 7-6 (2), 7-5 -- his first win against a top-20 player at a Grand Slam -- to reach the fourth round in Melbourne for the first time.

He faces a tougher proposition next, against either Roger Federer or Grigor Dimitrov. Federer, who has won four titles in Australia among his 17 majors, enters the third-round contest with 299 wins in Grand Slam singles matches, aiming to be the first man to reach 300.

Defending champions and top-ranked Serena Williams and Novak Djokovic had matches scheduled for the same time later Friday. Williams was on Rod Laver Arena, the main court, against No. 69-ranked Daria Kasatkina, and Djokovic -- who has won 34 of his last 35 matches at Melbourne Park, was on Margaret Court Arena against No. 28 Andreas Seppi.

Fifth-Seeded Sharapova Reaches 3rd Round at Australian Open

(1/19/16) Maria Sharapova advanced to the third round of the Australian Open with a 6-2, 6-1 win over Aliaksandra Sasnovich, staying on course for a potential quarterfinal meeting with Serena Williams.

Sharapova was finished in 71 minutes Wednesday on Rod Laver Arena, the first match completed on day three after light rain caused delays on outside courts.

The fifth-seeded Sharapova won the 2008 Australian title and has lost three finals at Melbourne Park, including last year's decider against Williams.

Sharapova dropped two service games in the first set, including once when serving at 5-1, but was otherwise consistent except for some over-hit ground strokes.

"It's great to be back on this court after a great run last year. It was an incredible moment to be in the final of this event again," said Sharapova, who played her first-round match on Margaret Court Arena, one of three e two other covered stadiums at Melbourne Park. "To come back here and play my first match on Rod Laver is always very special as you always get those first little jitters out of the way."

Six-time champion Serena Williams was playing Hsieh Su-wei in the following match on Rod Laver Arena. Her older sister, seven-time major winner Venus Williams, was fined $5,000 on Wednesday for skipping a mandatory news conference following her first-round exit the previous day.

Kateryna Bondarenko earned one of her biggest wins since returning from retirement after having a baby in 2013, beating two-time major winner and No. 23-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova 6-1, 7-5.

The 92nd-ranked Bondarenko is playing only her second Grand Slam tournament since returning to the tour in 2014.

No. 7-seeded Kei Nishikori, the 2014 U.S. Open finalist, advanced to the third round in the men's draw with a 6-3, 7-6 (5), 6-3 win over Austin Krajicek of the United States.

The Heart Of Maria Sharapova on woman with drive

(1/19/16) The Heart Of Maria Sharapova on woman with drive: (Video.

Russia's next generation will take time says Sharapova

(1/18/16) Russia's search for its next generation of grand slam champions will take time and the country should not expect the success it enjoyed in the first decade of the 2000s overnight, according to Maria Sharapova.

Playing her first match of 2016 after a sore forearm forced her out of the Brisbane International this month, the Russian hammered Japan's Nao Hibino 6-1 6-3 to make the second round of the Australian Open.

Sharapova, who won her first grand slam title at Wimbledon in 2004 aged 17, was in the vanguard of a successful run of the country's women from the mid-2000s that has dried up in recent years.

Now 28, Sharapova has been the only Russian woman to win a grand slam singles since Svetlana Kuznetsova in 2009.

"Just because you're successful for a certain period of time from a country, doesn't mean there's a younger generation coming up right behind them that's expected and mandatory to do well," she told reporters.

Russian women swept the three Olympic singles medals in Beijing in 2008 and Russia also won four Fed Cup titles in five years from 2004-08 but Sharapova said past success did not point to a conveyor belt of future champions although "ultimately somebody will take your place".

"That's just not the way things work. It takes time, takes experience, takes financial help," she said.

"It takes a lot of the right directions, coaches, infrastructure, everything."

Scintillating Sharapova storms past Hibino

(1/18/16) Maria Sharapova showed few signs of rustiness as she romped to a 6-1 6-3 win over Nao Hibino in the Australian Open first round on Monday.

The fifth seed had not played a competitive match in the build-up to the first grand slam of 2016, having withdrawn from the Brisbane International due to an arm injury.

It was also Sharapova's first slam appearance since the semi-finals of Wimbledon after a leg strain kept her out of last year's US Open, but the Russian's typically powerful ground strokes and baseline dominance punished Hibino and the match was sewn up in just 73 minutes.

Hibino made a poor start as she went long with a forehand to gift Sharapova the first break. The Japanese was under the cosh again in game six and, although she saved four break points, a vicious backhand drew a double-break lead for Sharapova.

The 2008 Australian Open champion broke again at the start of the second set and it was quickly a double-break lead when Hibino put a forehand long, a simple Sharapova hold then making it 4-0.

Hibino drew a big cheer from the Margaret Court Arena crowd when she fought back from 15-40 to finally get on the scoreboard in the second set, and Sharapova uncharacteristically wasted three match points at 5-2 up to give the world number 56 a glimmer of hope.

But that was soon stifled as Sharapova broke straight back, ending the match with a cross-court forehand.

STATISTICAL BREAKDOWN

Sharapova [5] bt Hibino 6-1 6-3

ACES

Sharapova - 11

Hibino - 1

WINNERS/UNFORCED ERRORS

Sharapova - 28/21

Hibino - 11/18

BREAK POINTS WON

Sharapova - 5/15

Hibino - 1/1

FIRST SERVE PERCENTAGE

Sharapova - 61

Hibino - 72

PERCENTAGE OF POINTS WON ON FIRST/SECOND SERVE

Sharapova - 86/44

Hibino - 42/53

TOTAL POINTS

Sharapova - 65

Hibino - 41

Sharapova set to play in Fed Cup

(1/18/16) Team captain Anastasia Myskina said that world number five Maria Sharapova had confirmed she would play for Russia in the Fed Cup opening round match with Netherlands in Moscow on February 6-7. "We're happy that Russia's top player will be in our squad again," Russia's tennis federation official site quoted Myskina as saying. "It was her own decision. She said it's very important for her to play in front of her home crowd." Myskina added that two-time former Grand Slam champion Svetlana Kuznetsova, doubles specialist Ekaterina Makarova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova would also be in the Russian team.

Walk the Mile with Maria Sharapova

(1/16/16) Walk the Mile with Maria Sharapova: Video.

AUSTRALIAN OPEN 2016: Capsules on top women's players

(1/16/16) MARIA SHARAPOVA

Seeded: 5

Age: 28

Country: Russia

2015 Match Record: 39-9

2015 Singles Titles: 2

Career Singles Titles: 35

Major Titles: 5 — Australian Open ('08), French Open ('12, '14), Wimbledon ('04), U.S. Open ('06)

Last 5 Australian Opens: '15-F, '14-4th, '13-SF, '12-F, 11-4th

Topspin: Enters the Australian Open with injury concerns after withdrawing as defending champion from the season-opening Brisbane International because of soreness in her left forearm, but says she is 100 percent recovered from injuries which forced her to miss three months late last year, including the U.S. Open. ... Lost final here in straight sets to Serena Williams, and the pair could meet in the quarterfinals this year. ... Hasn't beaten Serena since 2004, losing in their last 17 meetings. ... Is looking forward to competing at the Rio Olympics. She won silver for Russia at the London Olympics in 2012, and despite losing badly to Serena Williams in the final, 6-0, 6-1, she has fond memories. "I had an incredible experience in London," Sharapova says. "It was very special to be an Olympian for the very first time."

Upbeat Sharapova airs laundry mix-ups in public

(1/16/16) Maria Sharapova says her Australian Open preparations have gone smoothly despite her lack of recent on-court action, all barring a mix-up at the Melbourne Park laundry over a pair of leopard print underwear.

Sharapova, Australian Open champion in 2008, pulled out of her title defense at the Brisbane International two weeks ago because of a left forearm problem, one of a string of injuries to have dogged the 28-year-old since the middle of last year.

Nevertheless, the fifth seed said she was good to go in her bid improve on her runner-up finish to Serena Williams in her fourth Melbourne final last year.

"I feel really good. Got to Melbourne earlier than I wanted to. But it gave me a chance to practise here this week. Had great days on a lot of the courts," the Russian told reporters on Saturday.

"I've always been someone that's been able to treat their practice as something meaningful, there's something on the line, you're not just going through the motions.

"That's one of the reasons I believe in myself knowing, okay, I may not have played five matches in Brisbane, but if I commit myself, train well, get some practice sets in, I know with that mindset I'll be able to (compete).

"Yes, I might be rusty, make a few more unforced errors than I would like, but I'm ready to go."

Sharapova, who starts her campaign against Japan's Nao Hibino, said not even playing a warm-up event could prepare a player fully for the challenges of a tournament opener.

"First matches at a grand slam ... it's always tricky, especially going into a match against somebody I've never faced before," she said.

"There's a lot of new things. You have to have a little bit of a different perspective and figure things out quickly as soon as you can."

One thing Sharapova perhaps had not expected on Saturday was a question about laundry mishaps but happily she had an anecdote immediately to hand after the quirky inquiry was made.

"I actually just returned a pair of underwear that wasn't mine, like 45 minutes ago. Funny you ask that," she laughed.

"It was a female pair of underwear, not male. It was leopard. I'm like, 'that's not mine'.

"Any more laundry situations I need to clear up before we get on with our day?"

Practice makes perfect for upbeat Sharapova

(1/16/16) Maria Sharapova Saturday said she is in good shape and not worried about a lack of match practice going into the Australian Open after an injury-hit start to the year.

The fifth seed, attempting to win her first title at Melbourne Park since 2008, pulled out of the season-opening Brisbane International with a left forearm problem, but the upbeat 28-year-old said she's raring to go.

"I feel really good, I got to Melbourne earlier than I wanted to. But it gave me a chance to practice here this week. Had great days on a lot of the courts," she said.

Sharapova has been plagued by injury since July, after she lost in the Wimbledon semi-finals to Serena Williams, but insisted she has shrugged off any lingering effects.

Despite not playing a match this year, she said she was experienced enough to make the best use of her time on the practice courts to compensate.

"You can't replicate what you do out on the court when you're playing a match in front of thousands of people, there's nothing like it, you can never compare it," she said.

"But I've always been someone that's been able to treat their practice as something meaningful, there's something on the line, you're not just going through the motions.

"That's one of the reasons I believe in myself knowing, okay, I may not have played five matches in Brisbane, but if I commit myself, train well, get some practice sets in, I know with that mindset I'll be able to take it.

"Yes, I might be rusty, make a few more unforced errors than I would like, but I'm ready to go."

The latter half of Sharapova's 2015 season was wrecked by injuries, first to her right leg which forced her to miss the US Open.

She retired from her comeback match at the Wuhan Open in China in September with a left forearm injury, only returning for the WTA Tour finals in Singapore at the end of October.

Despite this she managed two tournament wins (Brisbane and Rome) last year, with a 39-9 win-loss record and an extra US$3.9 million dollars in prize money in the bank.

Sharapova gets her Australian Open underway against Japan's Nao Hibino with a potential quarter-final against her nemesis Williams, who beat her in the final last year and has won every match they have played since 2004.

But the Russian said she was not looking beyond her first round clash.

"I can't look too far ahead of myself. I haven't played for a few weeks," she said.

"I have to keep my expectations quite low and just work my way, work my game, work my mindset through this draw."

Sharapova not worried about Australian Open preparation

(1/16/16) Maria Sharapova is not concerned by the lack of competitive tennis in the build up to next week's Australian Open.

World number five Sharapova pulled out of the Brisbane International with an arm injury last week.

As a result, Sharapova has not played a single competitive match in the lead up to Australian Open, which gets underway on Monday.

But Sharapova said: "I feel really good. I got to Melbourne earlier than I wanted to, but it gave me a chance to practice here this week.

"I've had great days on a lot of the courts."

Sharapova said past experience meant it was easy for her to make such calls as she did to withdraw from Brisbane.

"[Withdrawing] always is a really tough decision. When you come to a tournament like Brisbane, where you're defending champion," Sharapova said.

"You find yourself in a tricky situation of, 'can I go out there, should I go out there? I have a pretty big event in 10 or 14 days'.

"I think experience helps in those moments. It's always very difficult because I'm someone that always sticks to the schedule that I make.

"But I think I've been fortunate in my career to have won grand slams and to kind of have a bigger picture of my goals.

"Sometimes I try not to focus on so many tournaments, not focus on rankings, and focus on being healthy, which is really, really important at a high professional sport."

Sharapova takes on Japan's Nao Hibino in the first round.

20 Questions With Maria Sharapova

(1/15/16) 20 Questions With Maria Sharapova: .

Williams, Sharapova in same quarter at Aussie Open

(1/14/16) Defending champion Serena Williams and No. 5-ranked Maria Sharapova were drawn into the same section for the Australian Open on Friday, meaning last year's finalists could meet in the quarterfinals.

Six-time champion Williams has a tough draw starting in the opening round against Camila Giorgi of Italy, who finished 2015 at No. 34 and was the highest-ranked player who was not seeded for the season's first major.

Williams could also meet former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki in the fourth round.

Sharapova fully fit for Australian Open challenge

(1/14/16) Multiple grand slam champion Maria Sharapova has declared herself fully fit and ready for next week's Australian Open after having her preparations hampered by a forearm injury.

The Russian world number five was forced to withdraw from the Brisbane International last week with the ailment, sparking fears she might miss the first grand slam of the year which begins on Monday.

The 2008 Australian Open champion and last year's runner-up opted to arrive in Melbourne early to practice rather than seek matches at one of the other warm-up tournaments taking place across the country this week.

"The injury was a bit of a roadblock but the great thing is that I've been healthy the three days and everyone's been away playing so I've had a lot of court time which has been really beneficial," Sharapova was quoted as saying by Australian Associated Press on Wednesday.

The 28-year-old, who missed the U.S Open last year because of a leg injury, was among a quartet of top players who were a doubt for Melbourne because of nagging ailments.

World number one Serena Williams (knee), Simona Halep (Achilles) and Garbine Muguruza (foot) all pulled out of matches last week but Sharapova said it was understandable for players to be wary ahead of a major.

"I think everyone sees the bigger picture and that's one of the things that I thought about -- you want to do what you can to be healthy and be a part of the grand slam so sometimes that's a decision you have to make."

Australian Open Seeds

(1/14/16) 1. Serena Williams, United States
2. Simona Halep, Romania
3. Garbine Muguruza, Spain
4. Agnieszka Radwanska, Poland
5. Maria Sharapova, Russia
6. Petra Kvitova, Czech Republic
7. Angelique Kerber, Germany
8. Venus Williams, United States
9. Karolina Pliskova, Czech Republic
10. Carla Suarez Navarro, Spain
11. Timea Bacsinszky, Switzerland
12. Belinda Bencic, Switzerland
13. Roberta Vinci, Italy
14. Victoria Azarenka, Belarus
15. Madison Keys, United States
16. Caroline Wozniacki, Denmark
17. Sara Errani, Italy
18. Elina Svitolina, Ukraine
19. Jelena Jankovic, Serbia
20. Ana Ivanovic, Serbia
21. Ekaterina Makarova, Russia
22. Andrea Petkovic, Germany
23. Svetlana Kuznetsova, Russia
24. Sloane Stephens, United States
25. Samantha Stosur, Australia
26. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Russia
27. Anna Karolina Schmiedlova, Slovakia
28. Kristina Mladenovic, France
29. Irina-Camelia Begu, Romania
30. Sabine Lisicki, Germany
31. Lesia Tsurenko, Ukraine
32. Caroline Garcia, France.

Sharapova withdraws from Brisbane International with injury

(1/4/16) Maria Sharapova withdrew from her season-opening event at the Brisbane International rather than risk further damage to a sore left forearm ahead of the Australian Open.

Sharapova, the defending champion, was scheduled to play fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova on Tuesday but withdrew hours before the first-round match.

The five-time major winner said she'd hurt her forearm in practice a couple of days earlier and pulled out the Brisbane tournament as a precaution ahead of the first Grand Slam tournament of the season, which starts Jan. 18 at Melbourne Park.

Sharapova won the Brisbane and Rome titles in 2015 and lost the final of the Australian Open to Serena Williams, who added the French Open and Wimbledon titles and was two match victories from a season Grand Slam when she lost to Roberta Vinci in the U.S. Open semifinals.

Williams withdrew from her season-opening match at the Hopman Cup in Perth on Monday because of inflammation in her knee, but was hoping to be fit to play for the U.S. team against Australia Gold on Tuesday.

Vinci, meanwhile, moved into the Brisbane International quarterfinals with a 6-1, 6-1 victory over 2014 Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova. She'll meet either top-seeded Simona Halep or 2009 champion Victoria Azarenka in the last eight.

At the ASB Classic in Auckland, New Zealand, former French Open champion Francesca Schiavone lost 7-6 (3), 4-6, 6-3 to Austrian qualifier Tamira Paszek in a first-round match that lasted almost three hours.

Former No.1-ranked players Caroline Wozniacki, Venus Williams and Ana Ivanovic were due on court later Tuesday.

Sharapova only focused on major events

(1/3/16) Maria Sharapova is hoping a more relaxed approach to the new season could yield rewards in the grand slam events.

The world number four took three months off as she struggled with injuries after suffering a semi-final elimination at Wimbledon in 2015.

However, upon her return she charged to the final four of the WTA finals and impressed during the Fed Cup.

Sharapova is keen to tackle this campaign in a measured manner, with her sights largely set on the top competitions – including the 2016 Olympic Games in Rio de Janeiro.

"I think it will be one of those years where I'll just have to go with the flow and even though you have to commit to a certain schedule and work around a few things, I think I'm really just dedicating myself to the really important events," the Russian said.

"I look at my schedule and do that every single year, but just with the Olympics, it's in a very tricky spot just after two grand slams back to back.

"After the Fed Cup I said that I'll take a little bit of time off after the Australian summer, but you never know how things are going to pan out, so I'll see how it goes.

"I took a lot of positives out of the end of last year, especially the Fed Cup weekend, and it was just great to mentally feel like I was back on the court, withstanding such physical matches and getting through them and feeling really confident and healthy."

Sharapova begins the year with the defence of her Brisbane International title and is hopeful of achieving glory once again.

"I'm not good at comparing, but every year you feel like you're in a different position and in different ground," she added.

"I came here [last year] not as defending champion and now I have a title to defend which is a really special feeling and I played some really high quality tennis. As you return to that place and that centre court you always want to relive those memories."

Sharapova to face Makarova in Brisbane first round

(1/1/16) Maria Sharapova will open her Australian campaign with a match against Ekaterina Makarova following Friday's draw for the Brisbane International.

Defending champion and third seed Sharapova will play world number 23 Makarova in a rematch from last year's Australian Open semi-final.

"This was a grand slam semi-final last year in Australia," five-time grand slam champion Sharapova told reporters.

"For a first match, it's a pretty high-quality match against a pretty tough opponent."

World number four Sharapova, 28, who beat Ana Ivanovic in last year's Brisbane final, leads Makarova 6-0 in their past meetings.

World number two and top seed Simona Halep has drawn a bye for her opening round but could face two-time Australian Open winner Victoria Azarenka in the second round.

Spain's Garbine Muguruza is the second seed. After a first-round bye she will face either American Varvara Lepchenko or Slovakian Anna Karolina Schmiedlova.

The women's field boasts nine of the world's top 20 as well as former world number ones Azarenka and Jelena Jankovic.

In the men's draw, Australian wildcard Ben Mitchell or a qualifier are in line to become Roger Federer's first opponent in 2016.

The 17-time grand slam champion Federer will receive a first-up bye.

Australia's seventh seed Bernard Tomic will take on Frenchman Nicolas Mahut in the first round.

The tournament begins on Sunday.

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The new Porsche 911. TV Commercial – “Compete”

(12/9/15) (Video) Greatness comes from within. From pitting you against you. Onto the greatest version of you. Through the magic of film, we get to see what would happen if Muhammad Ali stepped in the ring against himself. If Maria Sharapova faced off against herself. And if Magnus Carlsen sat across a board from himself. All to help tell the story of a new 911 being born.

Ivanovic beats Sharapova as Royals thrash Warriors

(12/3/15) UAE Royals thrashed Japan Warriors 30-15 on day two of the International Premier Tennis League in Kobe, while Singapore Slammers narrowly overcame Philippine Mavericks.

The Warriors failed to win any of their five one-set matches, with Maria Sharapova, who took part in their 6-0 mixed doubles defeat, defeated 6-4 by Ana Ivanovic, while Goran Ivanisevic and Tomas Berdych were both victorious for the Royals.

Victory sent them to the top of the standings with a second straight win, but the Warriors have now experienced successive defeats.

In the day's other contest, the Slammers secured a narrow 26-24 triumph over the Mavericks despite losing the men's doubles and men's legends singles.

Serena Williams lost 6-4 to Karolina Pliskova, but the score was level at 20 apiece before Milos Raonic and Nick Kyrgios met in the final set.

The Australian's 6-4 win ensured it was the Slammers who emerged victorious for the first time in the competition.

Raonic admitted it will take time for him to adapt to the format in his debut campaign.

He said: "It's a good format, fans enjoy it. For me, I'm somebody who usually likes to take his time in between points, so it will take a little getting used to, but I'm sure it'll get better by tomorrow."

Djokovic pulls out of IPTL, Aces and Royals win

(12/12/15) Indian Aces and UAE Royals made winning starts in the International Premier Tennis League on the day world number one Novak Djokovic opted to withdraw from the event.

The second season of the IPTL got underway in Kobe on Wednesday, with the Aces recording a narrow 25-24 victory over Japan Warriors despite being beaten in three of their five one-set matches.

Fabrice Santoro's 6-2 win over Marat Safin in a legends' singles contest ultimately proved crucial for the Aces, who prevailed despite Maria Sharapova recording victories for the Warriors in singles and doubles.

In the other opening-day contest, the Royals won four out of five rubbers to claim a comfortable 26-20 triumph over Singapore Slammers, for whom Nick Kyrgios' 6-2 win against Tomas Berdych proved in vain.

It was announced on Wednesday that the Slammers will be bolstered by the addition of Andy Murray and Stan Wawrinka, two of the top four players in the ATP rankings.

However, Djokovic will no longer represent the Singapore franchise as he opts to rest after a gruelling season.

"I had a great experience in the inaugural edition of the IPTL and was eagerly looking forward to playing in the second season, especially in front of the home crowd in Singapore," said the Serbian.

"It's been a long year for me and my body needs some extra time to recover. I wish the team the very best and will join them next year."

'Unique' patriotic chore for team player Sharapova

(11/16/15) Maria Sharapova failed to lift the Fed Cup as Russia lost to defending champions the Czech Republic in Prague, but she did her patriotic duty and said she enjoyed it.

In only her fifth Fed Cup appearance, world number four Sharapova won both singles matches, beating 11th-ranked Karolina Pliskova in straight sets on Saturday and sixth-ranked Petra Kvitova in a three-set thriller on Sunday.

"Personally it's an incredible achievement for me because I've never been in a Fed Cup final and I won two of my matches," Sharapova said.

After winning five Grand Slam titles, Sharapova is still seeking two other global trophies -- the Fed Cup and Olympic gold.

Next year, she will be in contention for the Olympic title, after winning bronze in London 2012 -- representing Russia despite having lived in Florida since age seven.

"There's no better feeling than being out on the court having so many people fly here from Russia to support you," Sharapova beamed on Sunday as the Fed Cup final was under way.

"In an event like this you're just not playing for yourself, you're playing for your teammates, for your country.

"It's a very unique feeling and it's so special."

Yet questions over her team spirit continue to follow her.

She has played only five Fed Cup ties since earning professional status in April 2001, two of which were this year.

A decade ago, she was involved in a rift with her teammate and now Russia captain Anastasia Myskina, who threatened to boycott the Fed Cup if Sharapova was selected for the Russian team, complaining about her father's behaviour in the stands.

Myskina, the 2004 French Open champion, also slammed Sharapova for being "more American than Russian," accusing her of speaking Russian "with a coarse accent."

Former fellow Russian player Elena Dementieva once said that Sharapova "grew up in America and trains there, so we don't have anything in common."

This week, Myskina waved the spat aside, saying she was happy to have Sharapova on the team.

"Definitely it's very important to have Maria on the team and I want to say thank you," Myskina said.

But after the Fed Cup final, she declined to comment on Sharapova's presence on the team.

"We lost. That's the end of the story," she said.

Adding fuel to the fire, Czech media said Sharapova had shunned the rest of the team and stayed in a different Prague hotel to the others.

"Is that a serious question? Next question," Sharapova snarled at a local reporter when asked to comment.

On court, she was all smiles, and not only because she won twice.

"The team supported me so well today," she said.

"I really felt like I would look over to them and every time they are standing up and that's the meaning of this event."

On Sunday, her previous problems appeared to be behind her with the star joining her teammates for a post-final dinner.

"Love my team," tweeted teammate Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova who posted a photo of all the squad, name-checking the rest of the Russian squad for good measure.

"Girlzzzz," tweeted Sharapova in reply.

Czech Republic tops Russia to retain Fed Cup title

(11/15/15) Defending champion Czech Republic clinched its fourth Fed Cup title in five years after Karolina Pliskova and Barbora Strycova won the decisive doubles Sunday against the Russian pair of Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Elena Vesnina.

The Czechs rallied to a 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 victory to take the best-of-five series 3-2 on an indoor hard court at Prague’s O2 Arena, where security was stepped up following the attacks in Paris.

Earlier Sunday, Maria Sharapova came from a set down to beat Petra Kvitova 3-6, 6-4, 6-2 in the first reverse singles to give Russia a 2-1 lead.

Pliskova kept the Czechs in the final by defeating Pavlyuchenkova 6-3, 6-4 in the second reverse singles to level the match at 2-2.

The Czechs broke the Russians in the opening game of the final set and again for 5-2 before Strycova served the match out. After Pavlyuchenkova hit the net with a backhand volley on the first match point, Strycova dropped to her knees, screaming in joy and prompting a noisy celebration.

The team danced on the court in celebration, while the fans roared in the stands.

"Unbelievable," Strycova said. "I'm speechless, it's a fantastic feeling. It was always my dream. We decided the tie, it can't be better."

Following the 1993 split of Czechoslovakia, the Czechs won their first title as an independent nation in 2011 by beating Russia in Moscow, and retained the trophy in Prague the following year.

They claimed their third Fed Cup title in four years last November by beating Germany in the final in Prague. Czechoslovakia won five times, including three straight from 1983-85.

"We tried, we did our best," Russian captain Anastasia Myskina said. "I'm proud of my girls, they played good. We lost, that's the end of the story."

A rare presence by Sharapova was a boost for the Russians and the five-time Grand Slam champion made her presence felt by winning both singles matches.

"I came here to play two singles matches and I did my job," Sharapova said.

She played only four Fed Cup ties previously, all in the first round, and all won.

This year, keen to qualify for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, she contributed two wins in the first-round defeat of Poland, and missed the semifinal win over Germany because of a leg injury.

"It's so special, really," Sharapova said about playing the Fed Cup. "In an event like this you're not just playing for yourself, you're playing for your teammates, for your country. It's a very unique feeling, it's so special."

Pliskova got the decisive break in the ninth game of the second set against Pavlyuchenkova and closed out with a service winner to delight 13,000 cheering fans.

"It's definitely one of my biggest wins of my career," said the 23-year-old rising star of Czech tennis. "I really enjoyed the match and I'm really happy that I won."

Pliskova converted her only break point in the first set for a 5-3 lead before serving it out with a forehand winner. She improved her Fed Cup singles record to 3-1.

In an earlier matchup of two top 10 players, the fourth-ranked Sharapova went 5-2 up in the final set against Kvitova before closing out with a forehand winner.

"Personally, it's an incredible achievement for me because I've never been in the Fed Cup final," Sharapova said. "And I won two of my matches."

In Saturday's singles, Kvitova put the host team ahead by beating Pavlyuchenkova 2-6, 6-1, 6-1 before Sharapova levelled the series by defeating Pliskova 6-3, 6-4.

Sharapova improved her head-to-head record against Kvitova to 7-4.

"I felt that once I got the second set I got the energy back," the Russian said.

Kvitova attacked with her big forehand early, putting Sharapova under pressure.

"It hurts," Kvitova said. "But I know I did all I could. It was just not enough."

The Czech player broke Sharapova in the opening game and again in the final game of the first set when the Russian hit the net with a forehand volley.

"Petra played unbelievable in the first set. She was so aggressive, hitting really deep all the strokes. I didn't have the momentum in the first set," Sharapova said.

Kvitova, Pavlyuchenkova to open Fed Cup final

(11/13/15) Petra Kvitova and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will open the Fed Cup final tie between holders the Czech Republic and Russia in Prague on Saturday, following Friday's draw.

Kvitova, the world number six and the Czech number one, will take on 28th-ranked Pavlyuchenkova on the hardcourt of Prague's O2 Arena from 1300 GMT.

Czech number two Karolina Pliskova, ranked 11th, will then face fourth-ranked Russian number one Maria Sharapova in the hosts' quest for the fourth trophy in five years.

In Sunday's reverse singles, Kvitova will first play against Sharapova and Pliskova will then take on Pavlyuchenkova.

Lucie Safarova and Barbora Strycova were drawn against Elena Vesnina and Ekaterina Makarova for Sunday's doubles.

"We have already won twice at home (in 2012 and 2014) and we are glad to have strong opponents -- the happier we will be when we win," said Kvitova.

Czech captain Petr Pala chose Pliskova over a higher-ranking Safarova for singles, while his Russian counterpart Anastasia Myskina picked Pavlyuchenkova over a better-placed Makarova.

But Makarova and teammate Elena Vesnina are in the top ten for doubles which would decide the tie if it gets down to 2-2 on Sunday.

"I made the decision after the morning training today," said Pala.

"Lucie told me she didn't feel a hundred percent fit so my decision was clear."

Pliskova, who has played six WTA tournament finals this year and won one, said she was looking forward to facing Sharapova in their first-ever encounter.

"It will definitely be my greatest game ever," said the 23-year-old.

"I will know it's Sharapova, but there's no room for respect on the court."

Sharapova, who has played only four Fed Cup ties in her career, said she was "excited" to face Pliskova.

"It is a bit of a surprise that I haven't played against her since I've been on the tour quite long."

"She's up and coming, she's had really good results this year and of course when you don't know what to expect in a completely new match and in the atmosphere I think it will be about competing ... and doing the best that you can."

After being sidelined with leg and arm problems in July, Sharapova returned to action at the WTA Tour Finals last month, where she lost to Kvitova in the semi-finals.

The two nations have met five times in the Fed Cup before but three of those meetings were between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union.

The Czech team lead their head-to-head record with Russia 3-2, including a victory in the most recent encounter in the 2011 final in Moscow.

The Czechs have won the trophy eight times, including five victories as Czechoslovakia which went on to split into the Czech Republic and Slovakia in 1993.

Four-time champions Russia will be playing in their 11th Fed Cup final.

Sharapova boosts Russia's chances to win Fed Cup

(11/11/15) Seven years after she helped Russia win its last Fed Cup title, Maria Sharapova finally gets to play in a final this weekend.

Her rare presence in the team is a boost for Russia's hopes of taking the cup from the defending champion Czech Republic on an indoor hard-court at Prague's O2 Arena.

"It's definitely a very new experience," Sharapova said on Wednesday. "I've been part of the team on different occasions but never in the final.

"Having me as part of the team is really exciting, and I hope we can have a good weekend."

All four of her previous Fed Cup ties were in the first round, and all wins.

In 2008, she missed the triumphant final in Spain because of a right shoulder injury.

In 2011, she wasn't available for the home final loss to the Czechs because of a left ankle injury.

In 2012, Russia didn't pick her for the semifinals loss to Serbia because she was too busy.

This year, keen to qualify for the Rio de Janeiro Olympics, she contributed two wins in the first-round defeat of Poland, and missed the semifinal win over Germany because of a leg injury.

Injury almost kept her out of this week's final.

The fourth-ranked Sharapova was sidelined with a leg injury after losing in the Wimbledon semifinals. At her first tournament back, the Wuhan Open in China last month, she retired in her first match with a left wrist injury. At the WTA Finals in Singapore, she reached the semifinals.

"It was just really great for me to be playing competitive matches again," Sharapova said of the WTA Finals. "I didn't know how my body would hold up, and it was a really great week to have three victories there and have another chance to maybe play two more matches here.

"Everything I have played after the injuries has been a bonus for my tennis, to see where my health is."

To help captain Anastasia Myskina become the fourth woman to win the Fed Cup as a player and captain - she played in the 2004 and '05 triumphs - Sharapova will have to overcome opponents who have become as dominant in the Fed Cup as Russia once was.

The Czechs claimed their third Fed Cup title in four years last November by beating Germany in the final in Prague, and have all their major stars available, led by top-10 players Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova.

With Kvitova and Safarova, the Czechs won their first title as an independent nation, following the 1993 split of Czechoslovakia, in 2011 by beating Russia in Moscow, and retained the trophy in Prague the following year.

Sharapova has positive win-loss records against both; 6-4 vs. the sixth-ranked Kvitova, and 4-2 vs. the ninth-ranked Safarova. However, she has lost to both Czechs this year.

"I know how difficult opponents they are, it will be a great challenge for me," Sharapova said. "Both meetings, I have lost in quite tough matches."

She was beaten by eventual finalist Safarova 7-6 (3), 6-4 in the round of 16 at the French Open, while Kvitova defeated her 6-3, 7-6 (3) in the WTA Finals.

"It's always tough to play her," Safarova said. "You need to be aggressive to succeed."

The Czechs also have on board Karolina Pliskova and Barbora Strycova, while Russia is counting on Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, Ekaterina Makarova, and doubles specialist Elena Vesnina.

Sharapova beats Pennetta to reach WTA semis

(10/29/15) Maria Sharapova reached the semifinals of the WTA Finals and sent U.S. Open champion Flavia Pennetta into retirement by beating the Italian 7-5, 6-1 on Thursday.

The 33-year-old Pennetta, who was eliminated with the loss, was playing in her last career tournament after announcing at the U.S. Open she would retire at the end of the season.

"Right now I feel like it’s not my last match," Pennetta said. "I feel normal completely. I don’t know why. Maybe in few days I will feel more the difference."

Agnieszka Radwanska also reached the semifinals by beating top-seeded Simona Halep 7-6 (5), 6-1.

Sharapova completed the round-robin stage 3-0, while Radwanska, Pennetta and Halep all finished at 1-2. Radwanska advanced because of more sets won, with Pennetta having to win at least one set against Sharapova to reach the semifinals.

Pennetta led 3-1 in the first set but Sharapova broke back in the eighth game and took control.

"I think to have the last match against Maria was amazing to play such a good champion," Pennetta said. "Was a good way also to say goodbye, because when you lose against such a good player there is not too many things to say."

Sharapova came into the tournament after being sidelined with a leg injury since the Wimbledon semifinals. At the Wuhan Open in China this month, she retired in her first match back with a left wrist injury.

"I wanted to try to play a high-quality three matches," said Sharapova, who won the WTA Finals in her debut appearance in 2004. "I'm actually a little bit surprised that I've been able to win three matches as physical as some of those matches were."

Halep reached the final in her first WTA appearance last year but became the first player to be eliminated.

"I go home," Halep said. "I go to the holiday. It's OK. I think I had a good year this year."

Radwanska trailed 3-1 in the first set and then 5-1 in the tiebreaker before turning the match around. In the second set, Halep saved a break point to hold serve in the first game but won only one point in three more service games.

"I was done," Halep said of the first set. "No energy anymore. I was tired. I felt that I lost the chance to win the first set and probably I lost the chance to win the match in that moment."

Sharapova improves to 2-0 at WTA Finals

(10/28/15) Maria Sharapova won her second straight match since her return from injury, beating top-seeded Simona Halep 6-4, 6-4 Tuesday at the WTA Tour finals.

The Russian’s two wins this week are her only victories since a leg injury sidelined her after losing to Serena Williams in the Wimbledon semifinals.

She retired with a left wrist injury in her first match back at the Wuhan Open in China last month.

"I think I’m quite pleased to be able to beat the No. 2 player in the world," Sharapova said. "I think it was, again, a very physical match. I found myself on the defence many times and was able to win a lot of the long points."

Sharapova led 5-1 in the second set but Halep won three straight games to get back into it. The fourth-seeded Sharapova then broke in the 10th game to win and leave Halep with a 1-1 record.

"I did everything I could. I was fighting until the end," Halep said. "Again, same story: I was close but I couldn’t win. But I will work. Now I’m more motivated that I have to learn things to beat her."

Sharapova’s victory kept Agnieszka Radwanska in the tournament despite her 7-6 (5) 6-4 loss to U.S. Open champion Flavia Pennetta earlier Tuesday.

Radwanska is 0-2 while Pennetta, who will retire after this event, is 1-1.

Sharapova will face Pennetta on Thursday. They have played five times with the Italian winning the last three, most recently in Indian Wells, California, in March.

"I’ve been in very different scenarios in the many times that I’ve played in the championships," Sharapova said. "I just think at this time, since I’m really not focused on further down the line, if I can get through those three matches healthy, strong, competing, that’s the best I can ask from myself."

Halep will take on Radwanska in the other match.

Sharapova extends winning run at WTA Finals

(10/25/15) Maria Sharapova won her first match since the Wimbledon quarterfinal in a 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 victory against Agnieszka Radwanska at the WTA Finals on Sunday.

Sharapova was sidelined after the Wimbledon semifinals until the Wuhan tournament in China four weeks ago with a prolonged foot injury.

She retired in the third set of her first match at Wuhan with a left wrist injury.

Sharapova, looking rusty from the lack of match play, needed 2 hours, 47 minutes to finally nail down the win against Radwanska.

She served for the match at 5-2 and dropped her serve. At 5-4, she double-faulted on her first match point, but won the match two points later when Radwanska netted a forehand.

This marked Sharapova's 13th career win in 15 matches played against Radwanska.

Sharapova finally healthy in time for WTA finals

(10/24/15) Maria Sharapova hasn’t played a whole match since Wimbledon but the Russian believes she’s healthy enough to compete Sunday at the season-ending WTA Finals.

"It’s a big step for me to be here and feel that I am healthy," Sharapova said. "It will be a bigger step that I’ll be able to compete in those three (group) matches and finish them off healthy. That’s my goal."

The third-seeded Sharapova was recovering from a leg injury after Wimbledon, where she journeyed to the semifinals. She didn’t play again until Wuhan, China, earlier this month when she was forced to retire in the third set of her first match back with a left arm injury.

"It was definitely quite disappointing to give myself a bit of false hope in Wuhan because I felt like I was feeling quite healthy coming into the tournament," Sharapova said. "The best I can do going into this event is taking care of that injury and working through it and practicing as much as I’ve been able to."

Sharapova’s appearance in Singapore was cemented by her consistent performance during the first half of the season. She’s won two titles, at Brisbane and Rome, and lost in the Australian Open final to Serena Williams.

Sharapova is scheduled to play fifth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska in Sunday’s night match after top-seeded Simona Halep takes on seventh-seeded Flavia Pennetta in the day match.

This is Sharapova’s eighth career season-ending championships appearance. "(It) makes me feel old," she joked.

Sharapova won the WTA Finals trophy on her tournament debut in 2004, and was a finalist two more times.

Pennetta, the reigning U.S. Open champion, is the only player in the entire field to hold a winning edge — 3-2 — over Sharapova.

Sharapova has an impressive record against the two other players in her round-robin group, leading Halep 5-0 and Radwanska 12-2.

"I never beat her, but maybe I will have the chance here," Halep said. "We are the best eight players in the world so every match is like a final."

Sharapova, Halep in same group at WTA finals

(10/23/15) Maria Sharapova was drawn with top-seeded Simona Halep on Friday in the tougher group for the season-ending WTA finals.

With top-ranked Serena Williams skipping the event, the red group features the two highest-ranked women in Singapore in Halep and Sharapova. U.S. Open champion Flavia Pennetta and and Angieszka Radwanska of Poland are also in that group.

The white group features Garbine Muguruza, Petra Kvitova, Angelique Kerber and Lucie Safarova.

The tournament features a round-robin stage, with the top two players in each group advancing to the semifinals.

Safarova, Pennetta and Kerber only qualified for the event this week. Play starts Sunday.

Maria Sharapova: Don’t be a fashion sheep

(10/6/15) (Pic) Plenty of famous faces were decked out in Chanel’s iconic double C’s at the brand’s Paris fashion show — but none stood out more than Amazonian tennis champ Maria Sharapova, who had extra motivation to impress in her body-hugging knit dress.

“It was my first Chanel show, so it’s obviously very exciting for me,” Sharapova enthused to The Post following the over-the-top spectacle. “It was incredible to see something come together like that.”

After taking in two of Paris Fashion Week’s top shows (Sharapova sat front-row at Stella McCartney on Monday), the well-heeled athlete was ready to dole out a little fashion wisdom.

“I think great style is about individuality and what works for you,” Sharapova said. “I don’t think there’s a right or wrong in fashion — that’s what makes it so appealing.”

Sharapova withdraws from China Open

(9/30/15) Maria Sharapova Wednesday announced her withdrawal from next week's China Open in Beijing, citing a left forearm injury that forced her to retire from the Wuhan Open two days earlier.

The world number three has been plagued by injury since July, after she lost the Wimbledon semi-final to Serena Williams.

"I am very disappointed to have to pull out of the China Open this year and not have the chance to defend my title," Sharapova said in a statement Wednesday.

The Russian had been hoping to launch a comeback at the Wuhan Open after missing three events, including the US Open, with a leg injury.

But she lasted less than three sets against against unseeded Barbora Strycova, retiring with a new left forearm injury.

Sharapova's withdrawal from the China Open leaves a question mark over whether she will be fit to play the year-ending WTA Finals in Singapore at the end of next month.

Sharapova retires from comeback match with arm injury

(9/29/15) Playing her first match in nearly three months, Maria Sharapova retired with an arm injury Monday in the third set of her opening match at the Wuhan Open.

The third-ranked Sharapova called for a trainer to look at her left forearm after the first game of the final set. She played two more games before telling the chair umpire she could not continue.

Sharapova was leading Barbora Strycova 7-6 (1), 6-7 (4), 2-1 when she decided to stop.

Sharapova missed the entire hard-court season, including the U.S. Open, with a leg injury.

''I've had my share of serious injuries, and I know this is far from it, something I just have to take care of,'' she said.

Sharapova said she hopes to be fit to play in the Oct. 25-Nov. 1 season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore and Russia's Fed Cup final against the Czech Republic on Nov. 14-15.

Earlier, in her first match since losing in the U.S. Open final, Roberta Vinci rallied to beat qualifier Danka Kovinic of Montenegro 5-7, 6-1, 6-3 in the first round. The 15th-seeded Italian was broken three times in the opening set, but picked up her game to advance to the second round.

At the U.S. Open, Vinci stopped Serena Williams' bid for a calendar-year Grand Slam by upsetting the American in the semifinals.

Eugenie Bouchard withdrew from the tournament on Monday because of the concussion she sustained during the U.S. Open. The Canadian said she's ''frustrated and disappointed'' that she won't be able to compete.

Also in the first round, ninth-seeded Ana Ivanovic of Serbia defeated Alexandra Dulgheru of Romania 6-1, 6-3; Sloane Stephens of the United States beat Alison Riske 7-6 (4), 6-3; and 14th-seeded Madison Keys beat Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia 6-2, 4-6, 7-6 (4).

Eighth-seeded Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic, who had a bye in the first round, defeated Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia 7-6 (4), 5-7, 7-6 (5) in the second round.

Sharapova returns to court at Wuhan Open

(9/27/15) World number three Maria Sharapova returns from injury at next week's Wuhan Open as she starts her build-up to the WTA Finals season finale.

Sharapova last played at Wimbledon, where she lost in the semi-finals to Serena Williams for the 17th time in succession. The Russian subsequently pulled out of a WTA event in Toronto and the Cincinnati Masters hoping to be ready for the US Open, but a persistent leg injury kept her out of that one too.

The five-time Grand Slam champion only accepted a wild card entry into the Wuhan Open last week, and told reporters Saturday in Wuhan it is a "consolation prize for not playing the US Open".

"Obviously I took a large amount of time to get back to a level where I can come to a tournament, which is very important. I wouldn't be here if I wasn't healthy and ready to compete," she added.

Sharapova is among a star-studded line-up for the $2.4 million hard court event, which was only established last year on the back of the success of China's two-time Grand Slam winner Li Na, who was born and raised in Wuhan.

Twenty-eight-year-old Sharapova has already booked her place in next month's WTA Championships in Singapore -- which sees the top eight players on tour fight for the final prize of the year.

But the field remains open for all but the world's top three, and competition at the Wuhan Open is certain to be intense with 18 of the top 20 players attending. Points are close amongst many of the players, and a strong performance from down the ranks could shake up the line up for Singapore.

"You can never underestimate an opponent, whether seeded or not. We all know that anyone who is in the draw has been doing really well to be part of this field. There is not an easy match," Sharapova said of the line up at Wuhan, where she is hoping to improve on her performance last year, which saw her crash out in the third round against Swiss qualifier Timea Bacsinszky.

Sharapova to spearhead Russia in Fed Cup final

(9/25/15) World number three Maria Sharapova will spearhead Russia in the Fed Cup final against the Czech Republic in Prague on November 14-15, Russian team skipper Anastasia Myskina announced Friday.

The former Roland Garros champion Myskina said that, in addition to five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova, Ekaterina Makarova, who is 20th in the WTA rankings, and 33rd-ranked Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova will also play along with world number 117 Elena Vesnina.

"It's great that all the girls agreed immediately to play," Myskina said.

The two nations have met five times in the Fed Cup before but three of those meetings were between Czechoslovakia and the Soviet Union.

The Czech team, defending Fed Cup champions, lead their head-to-head record with Russia 3-2, including a victory in the most recent encounter in the 2011 final in Moscow.

Four-time champions Russia, who are trying to bounce back from a disappointing 2014 season, when they lost 4-0 to Australia in their opening round clash, will be playing in their 11th Fed Cup final overall.

Maria Sharapova to Front Supergoop Campaign

(9/15/15) It’s become clear how important tennis star Maria Sharapova has been to sun protection products company Supergoop a little over a year after she came on as an investor.

Sharapova is heading up a new campaign called Project Black Dot that aims to educate consumers on skin cancer and the benefits of wearing sunscreen daily.

The Texas-based company makes sunscreens, eye creams and other products. Sharapova invested an undisclosed amount in Supergoop last year and has since helped educate people on the havoc the sun can have on unprotected skin.

The first iteration of the campaign, called Project Permission, calls on parents to sign permission slips that would allow their children to bring sunscreen to school. It’s currently considered an over-the-counter drug and prohibited on school campuses in most states.

“If we can get the awareness that your kid cannot bring sunscreen to school, it’s a pretty big statement,” Sharapova told WWD. “I think not many parents actually realize that and if you think about that it’s quite a shocking fact and we really hope to change that.”

Wearing sunscreen daily has been a habit for the athlete since she was young, training in the sun sometimes six hours a day in Florida.

“A few years ago, before I even met [Supergoop chief executive officer] Holly [Thaggard], I was a fan of Supergoop. I found it at a Sephora store,” Sharapova said. “I’ve tried so many different sunscreens and this was one that didn’t burn my eyes.”

Sharapova’s involvement in the company has been a boon for the brand.

“We weren’t looking at the time for a spokesperson for our brand and when Maria reached out, what we saw was it gave us the opportunity to put a big megaphone to this message and reach millions more people and, of course, influence our youth as well,” Thaggard said.

Sharapova’s input as a heavy user of sunscreen has also been helpful in the development process, Thaggard added.

Supergoop is sold in Sephora, Saks Fifth Avenue, Dillard’s and Nordstrom, among other retailers.

Sharapova qualifies for WTA year-ender

(9/11/15) World number three Maria Sharapova will compete in her eighth WTA Finals next month in Singapore after officially qualifying this week, the women's tennis governing body said on Thursday.

The 28-year-old Russian, who missed the U.S. Open because of injury, won the event on her debut in 2004 and has since reached the final twice in 2007 and 2012.

Grand-slam chasing Serena Williams, winner of the last three WTA end-of-year tournaments, and Romania's Simona Halep have also booked their tickets for the Oct 23-Nov 1 event.

Five more places are still available.

One of these things is not like the other

(9/2/15) (Pic) Maria Sharapova learned the true meaning of grin and bear it Wednesday night.

Dressed in a lacy black top with wide-legged trousers and T-strap pumps, the tennis ace, 28, pouted her pale pink lips as comedian Kevin James flashed his pearly whites alongside her on the blue carpet at the American Express Rally on the River event in Hudson River Park.

The “Paul Blart” star, 50, managed to throw on a black tee with basketball shorts and Nike sneaks before striking a pose next to the statuesque Sharapova.

James’ shining moment with Sharapova may be the best part of his summer considering his latest flick, “Pixels,” not only tanked at the box office, but will likely score a few Razzie nominations.

As for the 6-foot-2 beauty, she’s hoping to take home the top prize at the US Open next week.

No US Open but plenty of promos for Maria Sharapova

(9/1/15) Maria Sharapova backed out of the US Open this week, but was well enough to participate in all the live marketing opportunities leading up to the tournament.

On Aug. 24, she was at Nike’s Street Tennis event, where she had a friendly rally and posed atop a taxi with Serena Williams, Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and others in front of a crowd including Anna Wintour.

The tennis beauty also kicked off a pop-up shop for her Sugarpova candy line Aug. 25 at Bloomingdale’s, then on Wednesday took part in American Express’ “Rally on the River” before pulling out of the Open Sunday, a day before the start of the event.

AmEx recently announced a new, multiyear partnership with Sharapova and will have a virtual “You vs. Sharapova” game on-site at the Open. “Sharapova will be the face of American Express at the US Open this year,” the company announced.

But virtual Sharapova will be the only one in Flushing after the real thing dropped out due to a lingering leg injury. “I have done everything possible to be ready, but it was just not enough time,” she said via Facebook on Sunday.

This year’s unprecedented promo blitz before the Open has also seen Nadal playing in his underwear for Tommy Hilfiger, and Williams singing karaoke for Delta.

Sharapova’s rep didn’t get back to us.

In 2013, before she also pulled out of the Open, Sharapova’s team said she would legally change her name to Sugarpova to promote her candy line, forcing announcers to call her by the brand name.

A tennis source at the time told us it was all a p.r. stunt and never serious, despite her agent’s denials.

Sharapova pulls out of U.S. Open with leg injury

(8/31/15) Maria Sharapova pulled out of the U.S. Open for the second time in three years Sunday, withdrawing on the eve of the tournament because of a lingering right leg injury.

The U.S. Tennis Association announced the withdrawal via a press release at about the same time that Sharapova, who won the title in New York in 2006, posted the news on her Facebook page.

"Unfortunately I will not be able to compete in this (year’s U.S.) Open. I have done everything possible to be ready but it was just not enough time," Sharapova’s message said. "To all my amazing fans, I will be back in the Asian swing in a few weeks and look forward to finishing the year healthy and strong."

In 2013, Sharapova skipped the U.S. Open because of a right shoulder injury. She also missed the Grand Slam tournament played on hard courts in Flushing Meadows in 2008, when she was off the tour for about 10 months because of surgery on her right shoulder.

Sharapova has not played a match on tour since losing to No. 1-ranked Serena Williams in the Wimbledon semifinals in July. The 28-year-old Russian withdrew from hard-court tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati in August, citing a right leg strain.

"From a player's perspective you always have to believe in the ability to go through the little things that you might have. Physically, that's part of sports, unfortunately," Sharapova said in an interview this month. "There's no athlete who's ever 100 per cent healthy."

Sharapova is a five-time major champion who was going to be seeded No. 3 for the U.S. Open, where play begins Monday. She was drawn to possibly face Williams -- who is bidding for tennis' first calendar-year Grand Slam since 1988 -- in the semifinals.

The USTA said that Daria Kasatkina, an 18-year-old Russian who is ranked 133rd, is the lucky loser who will replace Sharapova in the main draw.

Play begins Monday.

Sharapova says Serena rivals must step up efforts

(8/30/15) Maria Sharapova says the domination of Serena Williams should not diminish the efforts of other women's players, but adds they must step up and answer the challenge.

Sharapova, who has not played since losing to Williams in a Wimbledon semi-final due to a right knee injury, could meet the world number one in the semi-finals of the US Open, which begins on Monday.

Three-time defending champion Williams, who has won the past four Grand Slam titles, is trying to complete the first calendar-year Grand Slam sweep since Steffi Graf in 1988 and capture her 22nd career major singles title, matching Graf's Open Era record.

"She has been playing on an incredible level," Sharapova said Saturday. "That doesn't take anything away from other players. We have to step up, me and other players. We have to perform better."

Sharapova has completed a career Grand Slam of her own and added a second French Open crown last year. This year, she lost to Williams in the Australian Open final but has won titles at Brisbane and Rome.

But in head-to-head matches against Williams, Sharapova is 2-18 with 17 losses in a row since last beating the 33-year-old American in the 2004 WTA Tour Championship final.

"If we didn't feel we could (beat her), I wouldn't personally be able to go on the court and play," Sharapova said. "Everyone takes any match they are facing very seriously in a Grand Slam environment."

Asked if she thought Williams had a good chance at winning the US Open to complete the calendar Slam, Sharapova said, "I think that's safe to say."

"It's just a huge bonus for her to be in this position this way. Being back here where she has made so many great memories will make it a great story."

Romanian second seed Simona Halep also addressed Williams' domination and her own comment that she wanted to see Serena complete the Slam.

"If I'm not in the final, then I want her to win. If I'm in the final with her, then I want to win," Halep said.

"There are two different things. I respect her already for what she has done and what she is doing. But I also have a desire to beat her.

"I believe she has a big chance to do it. I can't say the tournament is Open. I'll say now Serena has the chance."

- Sharapova dims expectations -

Sharapova says she will try to limit her expectations for the Flushing Meadows fortnight given her lack of match toughness.

"You have to be realistic and limit your expectations but it's never quite easy because when you step on the court you want to play your best," she said. "Sometimes it's your competitiveness that helps you adjust and get through."

The 28-year-old Russian is 1-1 against first-round Monday foe Daria Gavrilova, a 37th-ranked compatriot who beat Sharapova in the second round at Miami this year but lost to her in a Rome semi-final rematch.

"She's a great player to face in the first round. Our matches have gone back and forth. It's always tough in a Grand Slam, especially when you haven't been playing for a while. You feel the nerves. I have managed it quite well."

That's in part because she loves the raucous atmosphere New York fans bring to matches.

"I love the energy," she said. "I love how you feel real sports enthusiasts are watching. You feed off their passion. Their energy is priceless."

US OPEN 2015: Capsules on top women's players

(8/30/15) MARIA SHARAPOVA

Seeded: 3

Age: 28

Country: Russia

2015 Match Record: 34-7

2015 Singles Titles: 2

Career Singles Titles: 35

Major Titles: 5 — U.S. Open ('06), Wimbledon ('04), French Open ('12, '14), Australian Open ('08)

Last 5 U.S. Opens: '14-4th, '13-DNP, '12-SF, '11-3rd, '10-4th

Topspin: Hasn't competed on tour since losing to Williams in the semifinals at Wimbledon to fall to 2-18 against the American. They could meet at the same stage in New York. ... Pulled out of two hard-court tournaments in August, citing a right leg muscle strain. ... Since winning the 2006 title, has been past the fourth round only once at Flushing Meadows. Still, considers herself a contender, saying: "I would have to expect that from myself, having been the champion there, and I always go into the tournament believing that."

US Open women's draw

(8/29/15) Women's draw for the US Open, the year's final Grand Slam tournament that begins Monday on the Flushing Meadows hardcourts (x denotes seed):

Serena Williams (USA x1) v Vitalia Diatchenko (RUS)

Kiki Bertens (NED) v Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (CRO)

Kateryna Kozlova (UKR) v Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA)

CoCo Vandeweghe (USA) v Sloane Stephens (USA x29)

Madison Keys (USA x19) v Klara Koukalova (CZE)

Tereza Smitkova (CZE) v Andreea Mitu (ROM)

Magda Linette (POL) v Urszula Radwanska (POL)

Katerina Siniakova (CZE) v Agnieszka Radwanska (POL x15)

Belinda Bencic (SUI x12) v Sesil Karatantcheva (BUL)

Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) v Misaki Doi (JPN)

Irina Falconi (USA) v Samantha Crawford (USA)

Monica Puig (PUR) v Venus Williams (USA x23)

Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS x31) v Magdalena Rybarikova (SVK)

Anett Kontaveit (EST) v Casey Dellacqua (AUS)

Zheng Saisai (CHN) v Madison Brengle (USA)

Ana Tatishvili (USA) v Karolina Pliskova (CZE x8)

Maria Sharapova (RUS x3) v Daria Gavrilova (AUS)

Ana Konjuh (CRO) v Tatjana Maria (GER)

Lara Amuabarrena (ESP) v Bojana Jovanovski (SRB)

Kristina Mladenovic (FRA) v Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS x30)

Elina Svitolina (UKR x17) v Elizaveta Kulichkova (RUS)

Ana-Lena Friedsam (GER) v Kaia Kanepi (EST)

Lauren Davis (USA) v Heather Watson (GBR)

Teliana Pereira (BRA) v Ekaterina Makarova (RUS x13)

Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP x10) v Denisa Allertova (CZE)

Vania King (USA) v Roberta Vinci (ITA)

Sofia Kenin (USA) v Mariana Duque-Marino (COL)

Oceane Dodin (FRA) v Jelena Jankovic (SRB x21)

Eugenie Bouchard (CAN x25) v Alison Riske (USA)

Polona Hercog (SLO) v Zarina Diyas (KAZ)

Jessica Pegula (USA) v Alison Van Uytvanck (BEL)

Dominika Cibulkova (SVK) v Ana Ivanovic (SRB x7)

Petra Kvitova (CZE x5) v Laura Siegemund (GER)

Lourdes Dominguez Lino (ESP) v Nicole Gibbs (USA)

Aleksandra Krunic (SRB) v Danka Kovinic (MNE)

Julia Goerges (GER) v Anna Karolina Schmiedlova (SVK)

Andrea Petkovic (GER x18) v Caroline Garcia (FRA)

Laura Robson (GBR) v Elena Vesnina (RUS)

Louisa Chirico (USA) v Johanna Konta (GBR)

Carina Witthoeft (GER) v Garbine Muguruza (ESP x9)

Sara Errani (ITA x16) v Mayo Hibi (JPN)

Jelena Ostapenko (LAT) v Annika Beck (GER)

Evgeniya Rodina (RUS) v Tereza Mrdeza (CRO)

Timea Babos (HUN) v Samantha Stosur (AUS x22)

Flavia Pennetta (ITA x26) v Jarmila Gajdosova (AUS)

Alexandra Panova (RUS) v Monica Niculescu (ROM)

Christina McHale (USA) v Petra Cetkovska (CZE)

Jamie Loeb (USA) v Carolina Wozniacki (DEN x4)

Lucie Safarova (CZE x6) v Lesia Tsurenko (UKR)

Varvara Lepchenko (USA) v Kirsten Flipkens (BEL)

Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL) v Mona Barthel (GER)

Olga Govortsova (BLR) v Irina-Camelia Begu (ROM x28)

Victoria Azarenka (BLR x20) v Lucie Hradecka (CZE)

Francesca Schiavone (ITA) v Yanina Wickmayer (BEL)

Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS) v Karin Knapp (ITA)

Alexandra Dulgheru (ROM) v Angelique Kerber (GER x11)

Timea Bacsinszky (SUI x14) v Barbora Strycova (CZE)

Maria Sakkari (GRE) v Wang Qiang (CHN)

Camila Giorgi (ITA) v Johanna Larsson (SWE)

Aliaksandra Sasnovich (BLR) v Sabine Lisicki (GER x24)

Alize Cornet (FRA x27) v Kurumi Nara (JPN)

Shelby Rogers (USA) v Sachia Vickery (USA)

Yulia Putintseva (KAZ) v Kateryna Bondarenko (UKR)

Marina Erakovic (NZL) v Simona Halep (ROM x2)

Federer, Sharapova to defend Brisbane titles

(8/28/15) Seventeen-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer and five-time major-winner Maria Sharapova will defend their Brisbane International titles in the lead-up to the Australian Open in January, organisers said Thursday.

Federer won his 1,000th match in a tight three-set final against Milos Raonic in 2015 and said he was looking forward to being back in Australia.

"I'm excited, especially after this year with the win and the 1,000th match win, it was like a picture perfect moment," said the Swiss world number two.

"I'm coming back maybe with a little bit more pressure next year having to defend (the title), but I've played there two years now and it's gone so well."

Federer became just the third man in history to win at least 1,000 matches, joining Ivan Lendl and Jimmy Connors.

Japan's world number four Kei Nishikori also confirmed he will play, as did Sharapova, who beat Ana Ivanovic in the 2015 decider.

"Everything around (the tournament) is great," said the Russian.

"The courts are great, the tournament director does an incredible job of making all the players feel like they're home and it's just a nice and special way to start off the year."

The tournament gets underway on January 3.

Serena Williams could face Sharapova in US Open semifinal

(8/27/15) Serena Williams could face Maria Sharapova for her second straight major semifinal as she seeks to complete the Grand Slam at the U.S. Open.

Thursday's draw filled the top-ranked Williams' quarter of the bracket with Americans, nine in all.

In the third round, Williams could face 29th-seeded Sloane Stephens, who beat her in the 2013 Australian Open and is coming off her first WTA title in Washington this month. Another up-and-coming U.S. player, 19th-seeded Madison Keys, could await in the fourth round.

And in the quarterfinals, one potential opponent is her sister, 23rd-seeded Venus Williams. Another possible quarterfinal foe is 12th-seeded Swiss teen Belinda Bencic, who recently upset Williams in Toronto en route to a breakthrough title.

Williams is seeking to complete the first Grand Slam since Steffi Graf in 1988. She beat Sharapova in the semifinals of Wimbledon for her 17th straight victory over the Russian on the way to her second ''Serena Slam'' - four major championships in a row, but just not in the same year.

Second-seeded Simona Halep and fourth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki, who lost to Williams in last year's U.S. Open final, are in the other half of the draw.

On the men's side, second-seeded Roger Federer and No. 3 Andy Murray could meet in one semifinal, with No. 1 Novak Djokovic and No. 4 Kei Nishikori, last year's runner-up, in the other.

Djokovic could face Rafael Nadal, who's seeded just eighth, in the quarterfinals. Nadal has a tough first-round match against fast-rising 18-year-old Borna Coric of Croatia, who just missed out on a seed with a ranking of 35th in the world and last year won their only head-to-head meeting.

Murray has an intriguing opening match with another young player who just missed out on a seed, 37th-ranked Nick Kyrgios.

The 20-year-old Australian comes into the U.S. Open with controversy swirling around him, facing a provisional suspension from the ATP for comments made to Stan Wawrinka in Montreal. During their match Aug. 12, a courtside microphone picked up Kyrgios saying that fellow Australian Thanasi Kokkinakis had slept with a player who reportedly is now Wawrinka's girlfriend.

Kyrgios has given Murray little trouble on the court, losing in straight sets in this year's Australian and French Opens.

Nishikori could face defending champ Marin Cilic, who's seeded ninth, in the quarters in a rematch of last year's final.

Sharapova is bringing tennis back to Los Angeles

(8/25/15) Maria Sharapova is bringing top-level tennis back to the Los Angeles area.

The five-time Grand Slam title winner will host a sports-and-entertainment event in December at the UCLA Tennis Center, with participants such as 2003 U.S. Open champion Andy Roddick, 2014 U.S. Open runner-up Kei Nishikori of Japan, Americans Jack Sock and Madison Keys, and Britain’s Laura Robson.

The two-day tournament’s tentative schedule features Sharapova against Keys, and Nishikori against Sock. Roddick is not the only retired player who’ll swing a racket; 1989 French Open champion Michael Chang, who now works as Nishikori’s coach, is slated to be there, too.

And make no mistake: Exhibition or not, Sharapova intends to play as if something significant is at stake — and she hopes others do the same.

"I wanted to create a format in which all the players are getting ready for a big tournament -- the Australian Open -- and they're ready to go out and compete. And I wanted to make this ... (have) a serious style," said Sharapova, who pulled out of hard-court tournaments the past two weeks with a right leg injury, hardly ideal preparation for the U.S. Open, which starts next Monday.

"Sometimes when we come in to play exhibitions, it's a lot of 'hit and giggle,' which is great to get to know the personality of athletes. But this is also the time of year where we're getting ready to compete," she added in a telephone interview, "and I think it's important that we go out and compete at the level the fans expect us to, which is what I wanted to incorporate into the event."

Not everything will be "serious style," though: There will be a comedy show during the event, and comedian Chelsea Handler will be among the celebrities playing tennis.

There used to be a WTA tournament near Los Angeles, in Carson, California, but that was last held in 2009. The WTA's season-ending championships were in L.A. most recently from 2002-05.

"Los Angeles is just a great sporting community, but not with a lot of tennis going on," Sharapova said.

She aims to make this a regular off-season happening, a month or so before the Grand Slam season starts at the Australian Open.

"This is a great opportunity to see how it goes; the first year, you're always working on a few things," Sharapova said. "It's been in the making for a long time, and we want to make it a high-quality event. That's what people expect to see."

Federer wins opener in Cincy, Venus Williams & Sharapova out

(8/19/15) Roger Federer took a first step toward a seventh Cincinnati title on Tuesday night, beating Roberto Bautista Agut 6-4, 6-4 in his opening match.

The Swiss star won the Western & Southern Open last year for his unprecedented sixth title at the longtime ATP Tour stop. He got a good start by easily handling the Spaniard, whom he has beaten in straight sets in all four of their matches.

On the women's side, Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams dropped out of the tournament. Sharapova is still bothered by an injured right leg, and Williams came down with a virus.

Federer worked out at his home in Switzerland instead of playing in the Rogers Cup last week. He was a little rusty at the outset on Tuesday, but got into a rhythm as the match went along. He didn't face a break point during the 1-hour, 9-minute match, and lost only three points off his serve in the second set.

''It's been a while since I've had a match,'' Federer said. ''So that's what gets you in a different mood, different thinking. You know, I can switch it on very quickly. I only need literally like 10 minutes to really get ready for the match.''

John Isner's summer surge ended with an opening-round loss to friend and doubles partner Sam Querrey, leaving the top-ranked American with some things to work out before the U.S. Open. Querrey was steady throughout a 6-3, 7-6 (3) win over the 11th-seeded Isner, the first upset on the men's side.

Isner had won 11 of 13 matches on hard courts this summer, winning the title in Atlanta, reaching the final in Washington and advancing to the quarterfinals in Montreal. He'll rest heading into the Open.

Isner was worn down from the stretch of matches in those three tournaments.

''I have definitely felt better,'' Isner said. ''That's the thing: You put some good weeks together, it can put you in a bit of a deficit the following week. But regardless, it's disappointing to lose.''

Querrey improved to 4-1 against Isner. He also beat him in straight sets in the quarterfinals at Memphis this year.

The Americans have teamed up in doubles for at least two tournaments each year since 2008. They had never played each other in the first round of a Masters event.

'It's not that fun, but you know it happens all the time,'' Querrey said. ''It's just part of the game. After in the locker room we talked like nothing happened, so everything is all fine.''

Sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych and seventh-seeded Marin Cilic advanced with straight-set wins.

The women's bracket lost two players who were hoping for rejuvenating weeks in Cincinnati.

Sharapova withdrew from the Rogers Cup last week because of a strain in her upper right leg. She had hoped to get some matches in Cincinnati to get ready for the U.S. Open, but the leg was still bothering her.

''I have been practicing here the last few days and I'm just looking at the U.S. Open in, you know, 11 or 12 days,'' Sharapova said. ''It's a tough decision to make, but I think a wise one, in order to give myself the right amount of time to be as healthy as I can be for the Open.''

Venus Williams withdrew from her evening match against sixth-seeded Ana Ivanovic because of illness. Since losing to sister Serena at Wimbledon, she has made first-round exits at Istanbul and Toronto and had to withdraw from Cincinnati after one match.

''After warmups, I get a feel for how the match might go or how much you can give or you can't give,'' she said. ''I definitely would have liked to have more matches, but I have to use my experience now.''

Sloane Stephens got started toward a second championship, beating 10th-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro 6-1, 6-2. She won her first pro title at the Citi Open on Aug. 9 in Washington.

''(You're) always like searching and trying to find that next great moment, and like that was like one Sunday where I had a great moment,'' said the 22-year-old Stephens, a first-round loser at Toronto last week. ''Now, I'm like, 'I need another Sunday. Come on.'''

Sharapova ready to return to court at Cincinnati

(8/17/15) Maria Sharapova says she’s still working through a minor leg injury.

The second-ranked Sharapova hasn’t played since Wimbledon, where she lost to Serena Williams in the semifinals July 9. She was supposed to return last week in Toronto but withdrew after getting hurt in training.

“I’m feeling better, but I’m still working through it,” she said Monday.

She plans to come back at the Western & Southern Open outside Cincinnati this week.

"I always enjoy my little break after Wimbledon," she said. "I love the summer."

Sharapova is 34-7 and has won two titles this season, which leaves her far from satisfied.

"Even when I've been healthy, little things here and there have limited me," she said.

She feels fortunate to be second in the rankings behind Williams, who will go into the U.S. Open trying to win the first Grand Slam since Steffi Graf in 1988.

"Consistency is very underrated, but it goes a long way," Sharapova said. "She has an incredible power to do that. The competitive thing is very unique. She has that extra gear that everybody wants to get."

Federer, Sharapova return to court in Cincinnati

(8/15/15) Roger Federer and Maria Sharapova return to competitive tennis after long post-Wimbledon pauses to add extra world-class star power into the mix at next week's ATP and WTA Cincinnati Masters.

World number two Federer, the defending champion, arrived early in the Midwest flatlands to get his eye in after not playing since losing the Wimbledon final five weeks ago to Novak Djokovic.

The Swiss took a break that included touring charity projects for African children funded by his personal foundation, then decided to skip this week's Montreal Masters to better prepare for the US Open starting in just over a fortnight.

Now, the champion who claimed the first of his six titles here in 2005, is bearing down in training to be ready for the final Grand Slam of the season in New York, with the week in Cincinnati his only competitive tune-up.

The top eight seeds in both fields get first-round byes. Absent from the scene is 2014 finalist David Ferrer of Spain due to a long running shoulder injury.

Federer, who turned 34 last weekend, will start with either Pablo Cuevas or Roberto Bautista Agut in the second round.

Federer will aim for a strong start after losing to world number one Djokovic, with the Serb leading the field in Cincinnati as he arrives with major titles from the Australian Open and the All England Club in his pocket.

"He's clearly making a big name for himself, having won as many times now as he has in these different Slams," said Federer, holder of the all-time best of 17 Grand Slam singles crowns. "He's for a streak going of winning a lot of titles time and time again.

"Clearly he's going to be one of the top guys. I'm sure he still has many more great years ahead of him."

Cincinnati remains the rare Masters 1000 event where Djokovic has not claimed a trophy, losing finals in 2008, 2009, 2011 and 2012.

World number two Sharapova last played in a Wimbledon semi-final, when she lost to Serena Williams for the 17th time in succession. The Russian was to have returned for the WTA event in Toronto but made a late injury pullout just to be on the safe side.

The 28-year-old with five Grand Slam trophies will again be on a mission to deny Williams a second title at the event where she finally broke through a year ago by beating Ana Ivanovic in the final.

Williams will face the winner from a qualifier or Tzvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria in her opener.

Romanian Simona Halep takes the third seeding ahead of Petra Kvitova, the double Wimbledon winner diagnosed with glandular fever but still given the medical OK to compete.

Caroline Wozniacki is seeded fifth with Ivanovic sixth ahead of French Open finalist Lucie Safarova and eighth seed Karolina Pliskova.

Behind Federer is Britain's Andy Murray on the third seeding with the two-time champion Scot looking for his first title in the Midwest since 2011.

Japan's Kei Nishikori, last year's US Open runner-up, stands as fourth seed, trailed by French Open winner Stan Wawrinka, Czech Tomas Berdych on sixth, reigning US Open champion Marin Cilic seventh and Rafael Nadal eighth as the Spaniard tries to make up ranking ground after a recent injury slump.

Seeds:

Men: Novak Djokovic (SRB x1) Roger Federer (SUI x2) Andy Murray (GBR x3) Kei Nishikori (JPN x4) Stan Wawrinka (SUI x5) Tomas Berdych (CZE x6) Marin Cilic (CRO x7) Rafael Nadal (ESP x8) Milos Raonic (CAN x9) Gilles Simon (FRA 10) John Isner (USA x11) Richard Gasquet (FRA x12) David Goffin (BEL x13) Gael Monfils (FRA x14) Kevin Anderson (RSA x 15) Grigor Dimitrov (BUL x16)

Women: Serena Williams (USA x1) Maria Sharapova (RUS x2) Simona Halep (ROM x3) Petra Kvitova (CZE x4) Caroline Wozniacki (DEN x5) Ana Ivanovic (SRB x6) Lucie Safarova (CZE x7) Karolina Pliskova (CZE x8) Garbine Muguruza (ESP x9) Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP x10) Angelique Kerber (GER x11) Timea Bascinszky (SUI x12) Agnieszka Radwanska (POL x14) Elina Svitolina (UKR x15) Andrea Petkovic (GER x16) Sara Errani (ITA x16)

Sharapova is top female athlete earner eleventh straight year

(8/12/15) Tennis star Maria Sharapova again tops the list of highest earning female athletes over the past year, according to Forbes.

For the 11th consecutive year, the Russian heads a list dominated by tennis players, who occupy seven of the top 10 spots.

The 28-year-old Sharapova, who won the French Open last year, collected $6.7 million in prize money, but her total estimated earnings were $29.7 million, according to Forbes.

The Forbes list also includes earnings from appearances, licensing and endorsements, personal business interests and, in some cases, salary.

World number one tennis player Serena Williams is second at $24.6 million, while motor racing driver Danica Patrick is the top non-tennis player, in fourth place with $13.9 million.

The only other non-tennis players in the top 10 are number eight Ronda Rousey (mixed martial arts) and number nine Stacy Lewis (golf).

Tennis is one of the few big-money sports where the earnings of women are somewhat comparable to men, though Sharapova’s income nonetheless was significantly less than the $67 million earned by Roger Federer, the top tennis player on the latest Forbes men’s list.

Boxers Floyd Mayweather ($300 million) and Manny Pacquiao ($160 million) head the latest men’s list, followed by Portugal and Real Madrid soccer player Cristiano Ronaldo ($79.6 million).

The female earnings were calculated from June 1 of last year until the same date in 2015.

The complete women’s list can be read on Forbes online.

HEAD #Gameraiser Profile - Maria Sharapova

(8/10/15) HEAD #Gameraiser Profile - Maria Sharapova: Video.

Sharapova pulls out of Rogers Cup with leg injury

(8/7/15) Maria Sharapova has pulled out of next week's Rogers Cup with an injured right leg.

The WTA announced her withdrawal from the U.S. Open hard-court tuneup tournament on Friday.

Sharapova, a five-time major champion, has not competed since losing to Serena Williams in the semifinals at Wimbledon last month.

WTA: Where The Top 20 Are Playing This Summer

(7/30/15) 1. Serena Williams: Stanford, Toronto, Cincinnati, US Open
2. Maria Sharapova: Toronto, Cincinnati, US Open
3. Simona Halep: Toronto, Cincinnati, New Haven, US Open
4. Petra Kvitova: Toronto, Cincinnati, New Haven, US Open
5. Caroline Wozniacki: Stanford, Toronto, Cincinnati, US Open
6. Ana Ivanovic: Toronto, Cincinnati, US Open
7. Agnieszka Radwanska: Stanford, Toronto, Cincinnati, US Open
8. Lucie Safarova: Toronto, Cincinnati, US Open
9. Garbiñe Muguruza: Toronto, Cincinnati, US Open
10. Carla Suárez Navarro: Stanford, Toronto, Cincinnati, US Open
11. Ekaterina Makarova: Washington DC, Toronto, Cincinnati, New Haven, US Open
12. Karolina Pliskova: Stanford, Toronto, Cincinnati, New Haven, US Open
13. Angelique Kerber: Stanford, Toronto, Cincinnati, US Open
14. Timea Bacsinszky: Toronto, Cincinnati, New Haven, US Open
15. Venus Williams: Toronto, Cincinnati, US Open
16. Andrea Petkovic: Stanford, Toronto, Cincinnati, US Open
17. Sara Errani: Toronto, Cincinnati, New Haven, US Open
18. Madison Keys: Stanford, Toronto, Cincinnati, New Haven, US Open
19. Victoria Azarenka: Washington DC, Toronto, Cincinnati, US Open
20. Elina Svitolina: Stanford, Toronto, Cincinnati, New Haven, US Open

Sharapova and Dimitrov reach break point

(7/24/15) Russian five-times grand slam champion Maria Sharapova has split with Bulgarian boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov after a nearly three-year relationship.

"Our paths split," 24-year-old Dimitrov, currently number 16 in the ATP rankings, told Bulgarian media on Friday. "We experienced wonderful moments together. I wish her much happiness and success in life and in tennis.

"Now I'm concentrated entirely on the game and I'm sure the results will soon be seen... This is the summer of the new beginning for me."

Dimitrov, who climbed to number eight in the world last year after reaching the Wimbledon semi-finals, has had a lean year and is still to reach a final.

Sharapova, 28, announced that her and Dimitrov were a couple in May 2013.

Is Maria Sharapova back on the market?

(7/23/15) And another one bites the dust.

Following a string of ever-circulating split rumors, ESPN’s Darren Rovell confirmed via Twitter on Thursday that tennis aces Maria Sharapova and Grigor Dimitrov have called it quits.

@darrenrovell : Rumors of Maria Sharapova and Grigor Dimitrov splitting up have been confirmed

Dating since 2012, the became something of a staple on the tennis circuit — even trouncing claims of an engagement last fall, when Sharapova was spotted rocking a gigantic rock on her ring finger while in London with Dimitrov.

While reps for the pair have yet to comment on the breakup, this news comes off the disappointing run both experienced during Wimbledon earlier this month. Not only did champ Serena Williams trump the blonde beauty for the 17th time, but Dimitrov is nursing another split as well — with coach Roger Rasheed.

Though the Bulgarian-born Dimitrov is channeling his breakup blues on the court (and through Instagram), Sharapova is taking to Twitter, but flaunting her flawless skin instead.

Vandeweghe accuses Sharapova of unsporting behavior

(7/7/15) American Coco Vandeweghe accused Russia's Maria Sharapova of unsporting behavior on Tuesday after going out to the Russian in the Wimbledon quarter-finals.

The only unseeded player in the last eight, Vandeweghe complained to the chair umpire about Sharapova's movements during the American's second serve in the Centre Court clash.

"What I experienced, what I felt from her moving around in between my serving motion was not, I don't think, sportsmanlike, in my opinion," she told reporters. "I try to play as fair as I can.

"When I felt like it wasn't being reciprocated, that's when I spoke with the umpire for her to deal with," she said, adding that the official had disagreed and taken no action.

"Towards the latter end of the second set, I said if she has a problem speaking to Maria, if she's too scared to do it, I had no problem speaking to her," said Vandeweghe.

Asked if she felt the umpire was "too scared" to talk to the fourth seed, who won the match 6-3 6-7(3) 6-2, she replied: "Well, I didn't hear anything said."

Asked also whether she believed some umpires struggled to speak to the "big name players" like Sharapova, she said: "You'd have to ask them. I can't speak on their behalf."

Sharapova, the 2004 Wimbledon champion as a 17-year-old, brushed off the accusations, saying did not hear any complaints and did not feel she had done anything different to usual.

"I mean, it is what it is. What she said, I'm not going to argue against her words," declared the Russian.

Sharapova to meet Serena in semifinals

(7/7/15) Even as Serena Williams piled up aces and groundstroke winners from all angles, even as she stormed through seven games in a row and 10 of the last 13 in yet another comeback, her Wimbledon quarter-final against Victoria Azarenka never felt like a runaway.

That's because Azarenka, a two-time major champion and former No. 1 in her own right, was playing spectacular tennis, too, nearly the equal of Williams in every facet.

Nearly.

For when Williams finds her best game, she becomes unbeatable. And for her past 26 Grand Slam matches she is, indeed, unbeaten. Erasing an early deficit at Centre Court, Williams got past Azarenka 3-6, 6-2, 6-3 Tuesday with the help of 17 aces and a remarkable ratio of 46 winners to 12 unforced errors.

"It's been up and down, up and down, but somehow I'm still alive. I don't know how," said Williams, who twice was two points from losing to Britain's Heather Watson in the third round and is now 14-0 in three-setters and 37-1 overall in 2015. "So we'll see what happens, but I'm just happy to still be here."

She is closing in on a fourth consecutive major title for a self-styled Serena Slam, which she already accomplished in 2002-03. Pull that off, and Williams also will have the third leg of a calendar-year Grand Slam and go to the U.S. Open with a chance to become the first player since Steffi Graf in 1988 to win all four major trophies in one season.

"I haven't seen her play like this, honestly," said Azarenka, who has lost 17 of 20 matches against Williams and all 10 meetings at majors, including after leading by a set and a break at the French Open in May.

In Thursday's semifinals, No. 1 Williams faces No. 4 Maria Sharapova, who beat unseeded American CoCo Vandeweghe 6-3, 6-7 (3), 6-2.

Williams is 17-2 against Sharapova, including 16 straight victories. But one of Sharapova's wins came at Wimbledon, in the 2004 final, when at age 17 she stunned Williams for the first of her five Grand Slam titles.

"Definitely no secrets between each other's games," Sharapova said.

Williams, whose major trophy count is at 20, said of the matchup: "I look forward to it."

Here was the scouting report from Williams' coach, Patrick Mouratoglou: "If she plays like today, I don't think anyone can compete."

Pick an adjective for Williams-Azarenka. Intense. Riveting. Entertaining. Sublime. For 2 hours, 4 minutes on a windy, cloudy day, that's what this was. Both hit the ball hard. Both covered the court from corner to corner.

"We put on a great show," Azarenka said.

The other semifinal is No. 13 Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland against No. 20 Garbine Muguruza of Spain.

Radwanska, the 2012 runner-up, eliminated No. 21 Madison Keys of the United States 7-6 (3), 3-6, 6-3. Muguruza reached her first major semifinal by defeating No. 15 Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland 7-5, 6-3.

Radwanska compiled 13 winners, 35 fewer than the big-hitting Keys. But on the flip side was this statistic: Radwanska made seven unforced errors, Keys 40.

Just as Keys pushed Radwanska, the 47th-ranked Vandeweghe gave Sharapova all she could handle, especially in the second set, building a 19-5 edge in winners. Soaking it all in during her first Grand Slam quarter-final — it was Sharapova's 23rd — Vandeweghe repeatedly waved her arms after significant points, motioning to spectators to make more noise and be less, well, genteel.

"I relished it pretty well. I enjoyed my experience. I enjoyed the crowd out there," said Vandeweghe, whose grandfather and uncle were NBA players and grandmother was a Miss America. "I didn't enjoy the result too much."

That's because Sharapova, so passive in the second set, turned it on at the end, claiming the final three games.

Similarly, Williams was too good in the late going. From 2-all in the second set, Williams went about 45 minutes without dropping a game, taking that set and going ahead 3-0 in the third. Azarenka wouldn't concede, and even had a break point in the final game.

Williams erased that with an ace, one of a half-dozen in her final two service games.

"I mean," the 33-year-old American said, "that's my game on grass — just aces."

Oh, but it's so much more.

Sharapova into last eight after downing battling Diyas

(7/6/15) Maria Sharapova came through a spirited test from Zarina Diyas to reach the quarter-finals at Wimbledon on Monday, eventually subduing the tenacious scrambler from Kazakhstan 6-4 6-4 after a brief scare in the second set.

The Russian, who had not been past the fourth round since 2011 at the tournament she won for the only time as a teenager 11 years ago, will now face American Coco Vandeweghe in the last eight.

Her victory over Diyas was far from comprehensive, but further evidence nonetheless that things are looking good for the fourth seed as she maintained her unblemished record of not dropping a set up so far.

She found her range early under hazy skies on Court One, peppering the baseline with her usual array of missiles and breaking for a 3-1 lead with a rasping crosscourt winner.

Diyas, who surged 129 places up the rankings in 2014 to 34th, showed she was no soft touch by breaking back in the ninth game, having saved two set points, but Sharapova's extra power told and she clinched the first set on her opponent's serve.

There was a clear shift in momentum, however, at the start of the second as Sharapova's concentration slipped and the Kazakh broke and held for a 3-1 lead.

Ultimately, however, Diyas lacked the weapons to maintain that advantage and the five-times grand slam champion broke back for 3-3 and then closed out the match on the Diyas serve when the Kazakh sent a backhand long.

Williams sisters clash, Sharapova, Wozniacki sitting pretty

(7/4/15) Tennis titans Serena and Venus Williams clash in the Wimbledon last 16 on Monday, while Maria Sharapova and Caroline Wozniacki will fancy their title chances as two of the four top 10 players still standing.

The 26th clash between the Williams sisters, who have won the Wimbledon title five times each over the last 15 years, will be the first at the All England Club since the 2009 final.

And with either world number one Serena or 16th-seeded Venus certain to fall, the second week at Wimbledon is looking appetising for the other silverware contenders in southwest London.

Serena, Sharapova, Wozniacki and Lucie Safarova are the only top 10 seeds remaining in the draw after defending champion Petra Kvitova, Simona Halep, Ana Ivanovic, Ekaterina Makarova, Carla Suarez Navarro and Angelique Kerber all failed to get past the first week.

While one of the Williams sisters could face Sharapova or Safarova in the semi-finals -- both face unseeded opposition on Monday -- Wozniacki cannot meet any of them before the final and only has lower-ranked players in her way.

Venus said she and her 33-year-old sister knew each other's game inside out.

"There's no easy points against Serena," the 35-year-old said.

"Competing with each other has nothing to do with whether we're close or not.

"Just knowing what the other one goes through. If I see her in a match in a tight spot, I know exactly what that feels like. I think that's a unique relationship, that is pretty rare in sport, that she and I share."

- Serena backing Venus -

Serena holds the US, Australian and French Open titles but reckons Venus is in better form.

"It will be a really good match. I'm practicing next to her every day and I'm in awe of how she's doing," she said.

Fourth seed Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion, faces Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan for a spot in the quarter-finals.

The Russian won Wimbledon in 2004 but since has only made it past the fourth round once since 2006.

"I'll definitely go out there and try to change that result around," the world's highest-earning sportswoman said.

Danish fifth seed Wozniacki is the biggest name remaining in her half of the draw and the former world number one faces Spanish 20th seed Garbine Muguruza in the fourth round.

With the men's and women's last 16 all taking place Monday, Wozniacki, chasing a maiden Grand Slam title, is looking forward to a bumper day of tennis.

"It's unique because you get the top players playing tough matches," she said.

"For sure, some of them are going to be on outside courts. Also people who come here and watch it live will have a field day. It's going to be great."

- Azarenka, Safarova sneaking up -

The dearth of remaining top 10 players means sixth seed Lucie Safarova, who ghosted through the first week, is now also looking like a serious contender.

Last month's French Open runner-up, the Czech reached the Wimbledon semi-finals last year and faces Coco Vandeweghe, the US world number 47.

Another former world number one, Jelena Jankovic, is hungry for more after knocking out Kvitova.

"I want to get to where I think I belong," the Serbian 28th seed said.

She faces Agnieszka Radwanska, the 2012 beaten Wimbledon finalist.

"Right now, tennis is very on a high level. Every match is really tight," said the Polish 13th seed.

Victoria Azarenka, the 2012 and 2013 Australian Open champion, has made the Wimbledon semi-finals twice but the Belarusian 24th seed could face a rough ride against in-form Belinda Bencic.

Bencic, the 2013 girls' champion, reckons she is "still so long away" from winning a Grand Slam, but the Swiss is on a career-high ranking of 22 after winning the Wimbledon warm-up tournament at Eastbourne.

Fellow Swiss Timea Bacsinszky reached her first Grand Slam semi-final at the French Open last month and the 15th seed is favourite to beat world number 48 Monica Niculescu of Romania.

Olga Govortsova is the only qualifier to reach the last 16. The Belarusian faces US 21st seed Madison Keys.

Sharapova eases into Wimbledon last 16

(7/3/15) Maria Sharapova saw off a late comeback to reach the Wimbledon fourth round with a 6-4, 6-3 win over Romania's Irina-Camelia Begu on Friday.

The fourth seed and 2004 champion won the key points in the first set and saw off some last-ditch resistance in the second to book her place in last 16.

The Russian former world number one will face either Germany's 14th seed Andrea Petkovic or unseeded Zarina Diyas of Kazakhstan for a spot in the quarter-finals.

"What everyone at this stage of the tournament expects is to go further and expect more, better things from yourself. As the matches get tougher, you have to raise your level," said five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova.

"That's why there's only one champion, that's why it makes it so special: it's the one that really raises their game.

"You have to have the belief and I absolutely do. You don't work all those hours to go on court and not believe in yourself.

"I want to be the winner and I do my best to do that."

Since 2006, Sharapova, 28, has only made it past the fourth round once, when she made the 2011 final, losing to Petra Kvitova.

Facing 24-year-old 29th seed Begu on the 11,000-seater Court One, Sharapova chose to serve but was immediately broken before breaking straight back. Begu then matched Sharapova but the Siberian won the crucial points at the end of the set.

In the second set, Sharapova broke twice for a 4-0 lead, the second time helped by an improvised scooped lob when she miscalculated and over-ran beyond the path of the ball.

Begu stopped the rot, breaking Sharapova when facing the exit at 5-1 down and prolonging the contest.

Sharapova even switched to play a left-handed forehand when stretching for a double-handed backhand that was beyond her.

"At 4-4 I played a really good game to go up 5-4. It was nice to have that tough game -- but break her," Sharapova said.

"Having the first set gives you a little bit of confidence. I felt good in the second and obviously she's not going to go away at the end and she played extremely well, so I was quite happy that I was able to finish off on good form."

Tips are tops for golden couple Sharapova, Dimitrov

(7/1/15) Maria Sharapova and Grigor Dimitrov, the golden couple of tennis, share tips in private but try to keep things professional as they travel the world on tour, they said Wednesday.

In a curious feat of scheduling, Sharapova played immediately after Dimitrov on Wimbledon's Court Two on Wednesday, giving 4,000 tennis fans the chance to compare directly the styles of the world's highest-earning sportswoman and her up-and-coming boyfriend.

Both cruised through to the third round in straight sets, after which Dimitrov, 24, revealed how good it was having the more experienced Sharapova around.

"It's always good when you have a Grand Slam champion on your side. Obviously it helps out. You never know. One tip can change everything for you, one sentence," the Bulgarian world number 11 said.

"It's always good to have that on your side. Of course it's a plus, appreciating advice and anything that comes out from her."

But when pressed on the 28-year-old's words of wisdom, he said: "I'd rather keep that private."

Sharapova said: "We're quite professional in what we do."

"We try to separate our match times and go about our business as we would in any other careers, respect each other very much. When we're out here, we're doing our job and trying to do the best we can."

Dimitrov beat Steve Johnson of the United States 7-6 (10/8), 6-2, 7-6 (7/2) to set up a third round clash with French number 21 seed Richard Gasquet.

Sharapova then outclassed Dutch qualifier Richel Hogenkamp, the 2004 Wimbledon winner breezing into the last 32 with a 6-3, 6-1 win over the world number 123.

The five-time Grand Slam champion faces Romanian 29th seed Irina-Camelia Begu in the round of 32.

Dimitrov said he would have enjoyed watching his girlfriend's match, but the timing was all wrong.

"I would love to, but I've got to take care of my body," said last year's semi-finalist.

"There is a lot of things I need to do before that. And she finished quite fast."

Sharapova did manage to watch some of her boyfriend's match, though.

I actually watch a little bit of all the matches, especially the matches beforehand, before my match," the Russian said.

"Since he was playing on my court, I like to see what the conditions are, how the court is playing. I don't shy away from that."

Djokovic, Sharapova breeze as Wimbledon endures record heat

(7/1/15) Novak Djokovic and Maria Sharapova breezed through at a sweltering Wimbledon on Wednesday where temperatures soared to a record 35.7 degrees while injury-plagued Japanese star Kei Nishikori was forced to withdraw.

Defending champion and top seed Djokovic reached the third round with a 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 victory over Jarkko Nieminen which brought down the curtain on the Finn's All England Club career.

Djokovic will take on Australian 27th seed Bernard Tomic for a place in the last 16 as the Serb continues his bid to win a third Wimbledon and ninth Grand Slam crown.

It was Djokovic's sixth career win in seven meetings against the 33-year-old Nieminen and the two men exchanged a warm embrace at the net once their 92-minute Centre Court duel had ended.

"It was his last Wimbledon so I congratulated him on a great career," said Djokovic after firing 36 winners.

"He's been around for many years and he's one of the nicest guys off the court and a great fighter on it. It was a pleasure to play him."

Tomic made the third round by defeating Pierre-Hugues Herbert of France, 7-6 (7/3), 6-4, 7-6 (7/5)

Fourth seeded Sharapova, the 2004 champion, outclassed Dutch qualifier Richel Hogenkamp 6-3, 6-1 in just over an hour and next faces Romanian 29th seed Irina-Camelia Begu.

Sharapova, 28, hit 23 winners as she booked her place in the third round.

With temperatures at Wimbledon at a record high of 35.7 Celsius -- beating the previous mark of 34.6C in 1976 -- the tournament heat rule was being used in women's matches.

That allows a 10-minute break between the second and third sets although the rule does not apply to men.

However, Djokovic, who has played in 40 degrees at the Australian Open, said: "It wasn't as bad as I thought. People were talking about it and predicting really difficult conditions. But I didn't find it as difficult as I thought it might be."

Fifth-seeded Nishikori had been scheduled to face Colombian world number 60 Santiago Giraldo on Centre Court for a place in the last 32.

But the 25-year-old admitted that the left calf injury he suffered last month in Halle, which had forced him to retire in the semi-finals, was still a factor during his five-set win over Simone Bolelli in the first round at Wimbledon on Monday.

"It got worse in the fifth set of that match, it hurt so much," said Nishikori. "It hurt to walk and run today so I decided not to play."

As Giraldo goes on to face either German teenager Alexander Zverev or American wildcard Denis Kudla for a third round spot, Nishikori was left contemplating another injury setback in his career.

Healthy Sharapova back firing on all cylinders

(6/28/15) When Maria Sharapova miserably exited the French Open four weeks ago it was to a soundtrack of her coughing but the trademark scream was back at full volume on Monday when she blew past Briton Johanna Konta in the first round at Wimbledon.

Having returned to the United States to rest and recover from a virus that contributed to her fourth-round defeat by Czech Lucie Safarova, Sharapova looked revitalised as she triumphed 6-2 6-2 in the sunshine of Centre Court.

Konta, who switched allegiance from Australia three years ago, came into the match on a high after taking a couple of seeded scalps in Eastbourne last week but never looked close to derailing the fourth seed.

Sharapova has spent the last few weeks not overdoing things to ensure she fully recovered and getting back in the grass groove without the pressure of entering any of the warm-up tournaments.

Although her serve was a little shaky, she eased through the first set, giving the home fans little to bite on.

Konta eventually loosened up, started unloading and briefly rallied with a break in the opening game of the second set. But Sharapova, one of the most competitive players on the circuit, immediately pumped up her own power -- and the grunt decibels -- and broke straight back.

From then on Konta, ranked 126 and facing a top five player for the first time in her career, struggled to deal with the strength and depth of Sharapova's ground strokes and started sending her own short and wide as the matched moved inexorably towards its expected straight-sets conclusion.

It is 11 years since the 17-year-old Sharapova pulled off one of the great Wimbledon shocks when she blew away defending champion Serena Williams in the final and though she has been at or around the top of the game ever since, she has reached one subsequent Wimbledon final, losing to Petra Kvitova in 2011.

"The first match of Wimbledon is never the easiest and especially against an opponent who has had a good few weeks and is a crowd favourite," Sharapova said.

"But I wanted to focus on myself as I haven't played for a couple of weeks.

"I returned really well today -- she served pretty hard, and I was able to get a bit of an advantage there."

Sharapova on the mend in time for Wimbledon

(6/27/15) Maria Sharapova claims she is back to full fitness just in time for Wimbledon after suffering a health scare in the build-up to the Grand Slam.

Sharapova flew home to California for tests on the 'flu that proved impossible to shake off during the French Open and ruined her defence of the Roland Garros crown.

The 28-year-old Russian crashed out in the fourth round in Paris as she battled an illness that left her struggling to catch her breath between coughing fits.

On numerous occasions during her 7-6, 6-4 defeat against Lucie Safarova, Sharapova was seen blowing her nose on court and, when the heavy cold still hadn't cleared after her exit, she decided to get checked out before being given the all-clear by doctors.

"I was hoping I could play a warm-up tournament leading up to Wimbledon. But due to the circumstances, the way I was feeling, actually I had to go back home and do some tests, run through all that," the five-time Grand Slam champion told reporters at the All England Club on Saturday.

"I think you guys saw how I was (in Paris). I was going through it and I was trying to kind of battle every symptom that I had for a week or so during the French Open, and a few days before.

"I'm much better now, thankfully. It was great to be able to be on the court and not have to cough or blow my nose a hundred times and all those things.

"That's kind of annoying when you're just trying to become a great tennis player."

Although her faltering health stopped the world number four from playing in a Wimbledon warm-up event, Sharapova is still confident of making a run at her first All England Club title since winning there as a teenager in 2004.

"It took a little while for me to really refresh and recover and give myself just a chance to feel good again and get back to work," added Sharapova, who last made the Wimbledon final in 2011 and opens her latest challenge against British wildcard Johanna Konta.

"I planned on going to Florida. But then I needed to do a few things back in California for my health.

"Then I just came here as soon as I got the green light to start the training. It's been a really good 10 days. To finally have that energy, I think that's quite important as an athlete.

"But despite not playing an event, I've played a few practice matches, played a practice match in Eastbourne. It's been going well so far."

WIMBLEDON 2015: Capsules on top women's players

(6/27/15) MARIA SHARAPOVA

Seeded: 4

Age: 28

Country: Russia

2015 Match Record: 29-6

2015 Singles Titles: 2

Career Singles Titles: 35

Major Titles: 5 - Wimbledon ('04), U.S. Open ('06), Australian Open ('08), French Open ('12, `14)

Last 5 Wimbledons: `14-4th, `13-2nd, `12-4th, `11-F, `10-4th, `09-2nd

Topspin: Won her first Grand Slam title as a 17-year-old at the All England Club more than a decade ago, surprising Serena Williams in the final. Since then, though, Sharapova has returned to the championship match at the All England Club only once in 10 appearances. ... In seven of the past eight years, she's failed to even reach the quarterfinals at Wimbledon.

Serena, Venus Williams could meet in fourth round at Wimbledon

(6/26/15) For the Williams sisters, it's an earlier-than-wanted potential meeting at the All England Club this year.

Serena, the top seed, and Venus, seeded 16th, could meet in the fourth round at Wimbledon after the draw was made here Friday morning in a ceremony performed by tournament officials.

It's the earliest meeting that the sisters could have drawn – and they did. Both Venus, 35, and Serena, 33, are seeking a sixth Wimbledon title.

Maria Sharapova, the No. 4 seed, is also on the top half of the draw with the American stars, while No. 2 seed and defending champion Petra Kvitova anchors the bottom half of the women's draw.

Genie Bouchard, the Canadian who was a surprise finalist here a year ago, could face American Madison Keys in the third round. Bouchard, the No. 12 seed, has struggled of late, losing 10 of her last 12 matches since March. They're placed on the bottom half of the draw.

The Williams sisters and Sharapova will all play on Monday, as the top half of both the women's and men's draw is slated to start play at the grass-court major.

Victoria Azarenka, the former world No. 1 and a two-time major winner, also looms on the top half. Seeded No. 23, Azarenka could get No. 7 seed Ana Ivanovic in the fourth round, the winner potentially meeting Serena.

Kvitova, who pulled out of a grass lead-up event earlier this week in Eastbourne due to illness, has No. 3 seed Simona Halep on her half of the draw, along with Bouchard, Keys and the No. 5 seed Caroline Wozniacki.

Serena Williams is seeking a first-ever calendar Grand Slam in 2015, having won majors in Australia and France so far this year. No woman has completed the Grand Slam since Steffi Graf did it in 1988. Williams could match her "Serena Slam," however, by winning here: She currently holds titles from the U.S., Australian and French Opens, respectively.

The American has 20 major titles to her name, two shy of Graf's Open-Era record of 22 and four south of Margaret Court's all-time record of 24.

Venus looms in the fourth round, which would be the sisters' 26th career meeting (Serena leads 14-11). Venus won the most recent, a three-set match on hard courts in Canada last year.

It would be the sisters' earliest meeting at Wimbledon, having met four times in the final and once in the semifinals, back in 2000. Serena holds a 3-2 edge on Centre Court, including most recently, in 2009.

Here's breakdown of the draw by quarters.

Serena Williams' quarter

The world No. 1 opens against little-known qualifier Margarita Gasparyan, a Russian ranked No. 113 in the world and playing in just her second Grand Slam main draw. Williams then would meet Timea Babos or Petra Cetkovska.

Her third-round opponent is up in the air, as No. 32 seed Caroline Garcia starts against home hope Heather Watson, the winner of that match facing Dominika Cibulkova, the 2014 Australian Open finalist, or Daniela Hantuchova, the former world No. 5. One of those four would meet Serena should she make it that far.

It's the fourth round that the sisters could then meet.

Ana Ivanovic, the No. 7 seed, is Serena's potential quarterfinal opponent, but so is Azarenka, the No. 23 seed who continues to come back from an injury. The former world No. 1 nearly upset Williams in the third round of the French Open a few weeks ago.

Belinda Bencic and Carla Suarez Navarro are other notable seeds in that section of the draw.

Maria Sharapova's quarter

Sharapova, 28, is going for her first Wimbledon title since she shocked the tennis world by winning here at age 17 in 2004, beating Serena in the final. The world No. 4 is 7-3 at Wimbledon in her last three outings, losing in the fourth round twice and the second round in 2013. She was last a finalist in 2011, losing to Kvitova.

Andrea Petkovic, the German, is a potential fourth round opponent for Sharapova, while Lucie Safarova, the No. 6 seed, could await in the quarterfinals. Safarova shocked Sharapova at the French Open this year, making her way to the final. The Czech 28-year-old was a semifinalist here a year ago, as well.

Simona Halep's quarter

On the bottom half of the draw is Halep, who could get Wozniacki, the No. 5 seed in the quarterfinals. Wozniacki would likely face Angelique Kerber, a former semifinalist here, and/or Sabine Lisicki, a finalist in 2013, before the final eight.

Petra Kvitova's quarter

Kvitova, winner here both last year and in 2011, is seeded to meet No. 8 Ekaterina Makarova in the quarterfinals. Makarova, the Russian, is due to play No. 12 seed Bouchard in the fourth round should the Canadian make it that far.

But first Bouchard would have to deal with Keys, the hard-hitting American who was a semifinalist in Australia in January. The rising stars have never met on the main tour, though Keys won at a Challenger event in 2012 on hard courts.

Bouchard won just her second match in more than two months this week, beating American Alison Riske in Eastbourne. She retired from her next match with an abdominal injury, a 10th loss in 12 matches. Keys, defending champion in Eastbourne, lost in her opener, her lone match on grass this year.

Kvitova could meet Jelena Jankovic in the third round, the former world No. 1. 2012 Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska, the No. 13 seed, is a potential fourth round opponent.

2015 ESPY Awards Nominees

(6/24/15) Best Female Tennis Player:

Simona Halep
Petra Kvitova
Maria Sharapova
Serena Williams

List of women's seeds at Wimbledon

(6/24/15) List of women's seeds for the Wimbledon tennis championships which begin on Monday:

1 Serena Williams (U.S.)

2 Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic)

3 Simona Halep (Romania)

4 Maria Sharapova (Russia)

5 Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark)

6 Lucie Safarova (Czech Republic)

7 Ana Ivanovic (Serbia)

8 Ekaterina Makarova (Russia)

9 Carla Suarez Navarro (Spain)

10 Angelique Kerber (Germany)

11 Karolina Pliskova (Czech Republic)

12 Eugenie Bouchard (Canada)

13 Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland)

14 Andrea Petkovic (Germany)

15 Timea Bacsinzky (Switzerland)

16 Venus Williams (U.S.)

17 Elina Svitolina (Ukraine)

18 Sabine Lisicki (Germany)

19 Sara Errani (Italy)

20 Garbine Muguruza (Spain)

21 Madison Keys (U.S)

22 Samantha Stosur (Australia)

23 Victoria Azarenka (Belarus)

24 Flavia Pennetta (Italy)

25 Alize Cornet (France)

26 Svetlana Kuznetsova (Russia)

27 Barbora Strycova (Czech Republic)

28 Jelena Jankovic (Serbia)

29 Irina-Camelia Begu (Romania)

30 Belinda Bencic (Switzerland)

31 Camila Giorgi (Italy)

32 Caroline Garcia (France)

How Maria Sharapova Became the World's Wealthiest Female Athlete

(6/18/15) (bloomberg.com) Maria Sharapova is in a pretty good mood for someone who might be about to lose a tournament. It’s mid-March and she’s just made the two-hour drive from her beachfront home in Los Angeles to the desert town of Indian Wells, Calif., the site of the BNP Paribas Open. The tournament is owned by Larry Ellison, the software mogul and seventh-richest person in the world. In the past five years, through $100 million of upgrades and the help of sponsors such as Rolex and Emirates Airline, he’s turned it into one of the premier stops on the men’s and women’s tour.

“It’s a bit more personal for me to come here,” Sharapova, 28, says of Indian Wells. “I have a lot of friends and family who come to watch.” The exception is her Pomeranian, Dolce, who stays at home because of the dry conditions. “It’s not good for his hair.”

At the prematch press conference, Sharapova, in black-and-white exercise pants and a billowy gray tank top, handles questions gracefully. She’s held steady this year in the No.?2 spot in the women’s rankings. Number Two. Few people in the history of the game have struck the ball as cleanly as she does from both sides of the court, and at 6 foot 2, she has the reach and athleticism to thrive on both hard and grass courts. And yet she’s spent her career in the shadow of Serena Williams, the No.?1 player in the world—perhaps of all time. Williams, 33, has boycotted the Indian Wells tournament since 2001, after being booed relentlessly during the final, an incident that she and her family considered racially motivated. Now she’s made her return, and the tournament’s organizers, the media, and the spectators are falling all over themselves to make amends. Sharapova is playing Williams’s understudy, again. As usual, she insists that it doesn’t bother her. “You want to play against the best, and she is the best,” Sharapova says of Williams.

Like Williams, who grew up playing tennis in Compton, Calif., Sharapova had a hard upbringing. Her parents fled to Nyagan in Siberia four months after the Chernobyl explosion, as radiation began to wash over their hometown of Gomel. During the next few years, Sharapova bounced around Russia. When she was just 6 years old, Martina Navratilova spotted her on a tennis court in the resort city of Sochi and recommended that the youngster gather her things and head off to the Nick Bollettieri academy in Florida. “The only thing I remember is packing up my books,” Sharapova said in an ESPN documentary about her childhood. “I told my mom I wanted to make sure I have a piece of my country with me.”

Her mother couldn’t get a visa, so Sharapova and her father, Yuri, started their new life alone. During Sharapova’s adolescence, her father worked several jobs at a time—doing construction, sweeping the floors in grocery stores—to try to pay the academy tuition. Because of his schedule, they rarely saw each other during the day, with Yuri leaving meals out for his daughter to warm up. “I spent a lot of time on my own,” she told ESPN.

But their plan worked, and by the early 2000s, Sharapova was a sensation. She had the looks of Russian compatriot and onetime phenom Anna Kournikova, and an even better game. She also had a determination that Kournikova could never seem to muster. Sharapova crushed powerful line drives from the back of the court, emphasizing the authority of her shots with an exuberant grunt. At just 17, she beat Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final. A U.S. Open title followed soon thereafter. She’s since won the Australian Open once and the French Open twice, bringing her total Grand Slam wins to five.

It seemed almost certain that Sharapova and Williams would end up archenemies, trading major opens in the style of John McEnroe and Björn Borg or Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova. But Sharapova beat Williams in their next faceoff and then never again. Their head-to-head record is 17-2 in Williams’s favor, with Sharapova losing their last 16 meetings. The lopsided run is partly a result of a series of major shoulder injuries Sharapova had in the mid-2000s that weakened her once spectacular serve. This left her without the weapon she needed to gain an early edge in matches, to maintain momentum in the middle, and to rescue her when she was down. “Yes, I haven’t won against her many times, but if I’m getting to the stage of competing against someone like Serena, I’m doing something well,” she said after losing to Williams in this year’s Australian Open final. “I’m setting up a chance to try to beat her, and it hasn’t happened. I’m not going to go home without giving it another chance. That’s just not who I am and not what I was raised to be. I’m a competitor.”

Although Williams is older, Sharapova is racing not necessarily against her competitor, but against her own body. In April she injured her leg, causing her to pull out of Russia’s Fed Cup team, and many are wondering when she might retire. Williams, by contrast, continues to break records. With 19 career Grand Slam titles, she’s tied for the third most of all time. She’s recently had the second-longest winning streak of her career, with 27 in a row. If she keeps it up, Williams could snag every major title this season.

Second place has its consolations, though, especially if you are tall and blond. Sharapova is the highest-paid female athlete in the world, according to Forbes data, and she’s topped the list for the past decade. She made $22 million from endorsements in 2014, including an eight-year, $70 million deal with Nike, a five-year contract with Evian, and deals with Cole Haan, Tag Heuer, and other brands. Williams, who also has a deal with Nike, as well as one with Gatorade, lags behind by more than $10 million each year.

While a tennis player may grow up in Compton or in the shadow of a nuclear meltdown, somehow the game maintains an aura of pearls and polo horses, and luxury brands love it. The sport’s audience is not as big as that of soccer or basketball, but it’s just as global—and vastly richer. At the BNP Paribas Open, almost 90 percent of attendees are college graduates, and 70 percent of them have household incomes in excess of $100,000. At the US Open, the average household income of fans is $156,000. “Tennis, like horse riding, golf, or sailing, is associated by the wider public with glamour, wealth, and savoir-faire,” says Luca Solca, an analyst with Exane BNP Paribas who specializes in the luxury sector.

Not long after Indian Wells—she was upset in the fourth round by Italian player Flavia Pennetta—Sharapova’s in Florida for the Miami Open, at a cocktail party sponsored by Volkswagen’s Porsche. The occasion is her second year as the company’s global brand ambassador, and she arrives in a black Panamera, a kind of sports sedan, driven by her agent, Max Eisenbud of IMG, who’s represented her since she was 12. Getting out, Sharapova towers over Eisenbud, a 41-year-old from New Jersey.

Sharapova touches the car affectionately for the photographers. She looks like a model at an auto show, but Viktoria Wohlrapp, a senior marketing manager for Porsche, says that’s not why they hired her. Porsche is the most profitable auto brand in the world, but 85 percent of its customers are men. The company has been plotting how to sell more cars to women for years, and management says it hopes that having a prominent female athlete associated with the brand might help correct the gender imbalance. So it signed Sharapova to a three-year deal.

In a floral dress and bright yellow high heels, Sharapova is starting to sweat. “Get her a tissue,” Eisenbud quietly instructs a PR person. Sharapova discreetly dabs her chin and cheeks. A few minutes later, her promotional duties finished, she says she was a Porsche fan long before the company hired her. “I love the feeling of being in a sports vehicle,” she says. “I know it’s quite rare for a woman, but it’s such a powerful feeling.” A week later, with some unexpected downtime—thanks to a second-round loss to Australian Daria Gavrilova—Sharapova tweets a photo from behind the wheel of a Porsche (#girlstrip, #horsepower) to her 1.58 million followers.

Can Sharapova actually sell cars? “That’s very hard to say,” Wohlrapp admits. “But for us, it’s an image thing. It was very important to find someone who matches the brand, and we feel like Maria and Porsche is a good thing.” Harvard Business School professor Anita Elberse, who wrote a case study in 2010 about the building of Brand Sharapova, has found that a celebrity endorsement can boost a company’s bottom line by as much as 4 percent. With a brand like Nike, the Sharapova effect is relatively easy to measure: The company sells a line of Sharapova tennis apparel (designed by her), and the demand for those items is an indication of the value she creates. With watches and cars, it’s harder to gauge the impact. But Elberse says that luxury brands are deriving tangible benefits from sponsorship deals: “These companies wouldn’t be doing it if they didn’t see some value.”

In 2012, Sharapova started Sugarpova, which makes candy gummy lips and tennis ball chewing gum, and has since branched out into clothing and fashion accessories. She spent $500,000 of her own money to fund the company, which sold 30,000 bags of candy online in its first six months. “I love [tennis], but I don’t see myself going into the commentary booth,” she says. “Except for when my boyfriend plays”— rising Bulgarian player Grigor Dimitrov, whom she’s been dating since 2013— “I don’t remember when I actually sat and watched a whole match on television.”

But Sharapova isn’t ready to give up on the game. She maintains an intense training schedule during the offseason and still manages to make it to the final rounds of most tournaments. Those endless losses to Williams might have destroyed the confidence of anyone else, but Sharapova continues to chase her better half. “I think Maria is playing well,” Williams said at a news conference on May 7, after the two reached the semifinals of the Madrid Open (neither made it to the final).

After every point, whether she’s won or lost, Sharapova does the same thing. She walks back behind the baseline, faces the stands, adjusts her strings, then flips around to the net like a soldier coming to attention. She makes a fist as a subtle grimace travels across her face. Then she tosses the ball to serve and starts all over again.

Wimbledon 2015: Betting Odds For Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova, Caroline Wozniacki And More

(6/17/15) At last year’s Wimbledon, No.1 Serena Williams endured a messy third-round exit in singles competition and then pulled out of doubles play after a bizarre scene. Williams appeared sick and clearly wasn’t herself on the court, and after only three games with partner and sister Venus removed herself from play. Later Williams would reveal she was dehydrated and feverish.

Now, hoping to erase that memory and build on her stellar performance at the French Open last week, Williams returns to the All England Tennis club as the favorite to claim the 21st slam of her career.

The 33-year-old fought off another illness at Roland Garros to eventually beat No. 13 Lucie Safarova in three sets for her third French title and second slam of the year to move to third on the all-time list.

Williams, who’s claimed Wimbledon five times with the last coming in 2012, enters the tournament as a heavy 8/5 favorite by odds makers, according to Sportsbook.ag.

Her overall dominance throughout her career, not her recent play on Wimbledon’s grass, make Williams the player to beat this year. In the last two go-rounds Williams was eliminated in the fourth and third round, but her victories at the Australian and French Opens put her well above the competition.

Defending champion and No. 2 Petra Kvitova, hailing from the Czech Republic, holds steady at 7/2 as Williams’ biggest threat in the tournament. She suffered a late collapse in the fourth round of the French to No. 23 Timea Bacsinszky, but Kvitova’s twice won Wimbledon and she swept Williams in the semifinals in Madrid last month in route to the title.

However, Williams is 5-2 all-time against Kvitova.

Next up is No. 4 Maria Sharapova at 8/1, and No. 25 Victoria Azarenka at 10/1. Eleven years ago Sharapova roared to fame with her first slam victory at Wimbledon, and she made the semifinals in the two subsequent years. But the Russian hasn’t advanced beyond the fourth round since her runner-up finish in 2011.

Odds to Win Wimbledon

Serena Williams 8/5

Petra Kvitova 7/2

Maria Sharapova 8/1

Victoria Azarenka 10/1

Simona Halep 12/1

Lucie Safarova 20/1

Madison Keys 20/1

Sabine Lisicki 25/1

Agnieszka Radwanska 25/1

Caroline Wozniacki 30/1

Eugenie Bouchard 30/1

Karolina Pliskova 30/1

Sloane Stephens 30/1

Venus Williams 30/1

Angelique Kerber 40/1

Garbine Muguruza 40/1

Kids' Choice Sports 2015 nominations

(6/8/15) Nickelodeon's Kids' Choice Sports awards show airs live on Thursday, July 16.

Best Female Athlete
Abby Wambach (USWNT)
Alex Morgan (USWNT and NWSL, Portland Thorns FC)
Candace Parker (WNBA, Los Angeles Sparks)
Danica Patrick (NASCAR)
Maria Sharapova (WTA)
Maya Moore (WNBA, Minnesota Lynx)
Serena Williams (WTA)
Stacy Lewis (LPGA)

Beaten Sharapova shrugs off French Open exit

(6/1/15) Defending champion Maria Sharapova was sent packing from the French Open at the fourth-round stage on Monday, losing in straight sets to Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic.

Safarova, the 13th seed, won 7-6 (7/3), 6-4 to progress to a first ever quarter-final at Roland Garros, where she will face Garbine Muguruza after the Spaniard saw off Flavia Pennetta.

Sharapova, who also won the clay-court Grand Slam event in 2012 and was the beaten finalist in 2013, had been forced to wait until Monday morning for her clash with Safarova, which had been postponed on Sunday due to rain in the French capital.

But on a bright Paris morning the Russian second seed, who was looking to become the first woman to successfully defend the French Open title since Justine Henin in 2007, was punished for an erratic display from beginning to end.

Sharapova was broken in her second service game, and although she soon broke back, Safarova claimed the opening set in the tiebreak on Court Philippe Chatrier.

Breaks were again exchanged in the second set but Sharapova found herself serving to stay in the match at 5-4 down, and while she saved one match point she could not save the second that came her opponent's way.

"I had a few small openings but I wasn't able to keep up my level. She was more consistent and aggressive, created the angles and that was the difference," said Sharapova, who had been battling a heavy cold all week.

"It was a tough day at the office."

The Czech had not won any of her last four meetings with Sharapova since triumphing in their first ever clash in Madrid in 2010 and will now face Muguruza on Tuesday after the Spanish 21st seed breezed past Pennetta.

Muguruza won 6-3, 6-4 on Court Suzanne Lenglen to reach the last eight at Roland Garros for the second year in succession.

Twelve months ago Muguruza was knocked out in three sets by Sharapova having defeated Serena Williams in the second round.

"Here again, I have reached the quarter-finals. It's a great leap forward already. It's Roland Garros. There's a lot of pressure. So I'm very happy to have gone that far already," said Muguruza, who was born in Venezuela.

The exit of the reigning champion leaves just two of the top six seeds left going into the quarter-finals.

Number one seed Williams, who is looking for a 20th Grand Slam crown at the event she won in 2002 and 2013, was in action against compatriot Sloane Stephens on Court Philippe Chatrier.

The winner of that will go through to a last-eight tie against Sara Errani after the Italian 17th seed and 2012 runner-up beat unseeded German Julia Goerges 6-2, 6-2.

Czech fourth seed Petra Kvitova, last year's Wimbledon champion, was due to meet Swiss 23rd seed Timea Bacsinszky with the winner going on to meet either Andreea Mitu of Romania or Belgium's Alison Van Uytvanck.

Sharapova ousted, Serena wins at French Open

(6/1/15) For the third match in a row at the French Open, Serena Williams was oddly out of sorts at the start and dropped the opening set.

And for the third match in a row, almost as though this was the plan all along, Williams righted herself to pull out a victory.

In a riveting showdown between the last two American women in the draw, the No. 1-ranked and No. 1-seeded Williams came back to edge Sloane Stephens 1-6, 7-5, 6-3 and reach the quarterfinals at Roland Garros, managing to avoid joining Maria Sharapova on the way out of the tournament Monday.

"Not simple for me today. I’m surprised to win," Williams told the crowd in French. "Experience helped me."

Close as it was, thanks in large part to Williams’ 43 unforced errors, more than twice as many as Stephens’ 21, the eventual outcome seemed certain once Williams pulled even by taking the second set.

That’s because Williams is 10-0 in three-setters this season.

She is 29-1 overall in 2015 and owns an 18-match Grand Slam winning streak, including championships at the U.S. Open last September and Australian Open in January, raising her total to 19 major singles trophies. Only two tennis players won more: Margaret Smith Court (24) and Steffi Graf (22).

Either Williams, in 2013, or Sharapova, in 2012 and 2014, has won the French Open the past three years. Only Williams has a chance to do it again on Saturday, because the second-seeded Sharapova was outplayed throughout a 7-6 (3), 6-4 loss to 13th-seeded Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic earlier Monday.

Coughing between points on an overcast day, Sharapova was unable to dictate play against Safarova, who finished with a 34-20 edge in winners.

"My opponent had a different gear than I did," Sharapova said.

This was her earliest exit at Roland Garros since 2010, when she was beaten in the third round.

Sharapova did not use the cold she’s been dealing with as an excuse, saying: "I don’t like to talk about it, and I don’t think it really makes a difference. I’m still a competitor, no matter what."

In her first French Open quarterfinal, Safarova will face No. 21 Garbine Muguruza of Spain, who beat No. 28 Flavia Pennetta of Italy 6-3, 6-4.

Sharapova-Safarova and Muguruza-Pennetta were originally supposed to be played Sunday, but were postponed after a rain delay that afternoon.

They instead became part of a Monday full of tennis’ biggest names, with Williams, Sharapova and the Big 4 of the men’s game — Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray — all on the schedule.

Federer, whose record 17 Grand Slam titles include the 2009 French Open, needed only about an hour to finish off his 6-3, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory over 13th-seeded Gael Monfils of France in a match that was suspended because of darkness after the second set Sunday night.

In truth, this one might have been over after the very first game when they resumed: Monfils led 40-love, then tried to showboat a little and got broken. Federer broke to open the fourth set, too, en route to his 11th Roland Garros quarterfinal, where he’ll play Swiss Davis Cup teammate Stan Wawrinka.

In another quarterfinal, two-time major champion Murray will face 2013 runner-up David Ferrer. Murray stretched his post-wedding winning streak to 14 matches, all on clay, by beating Jeremy Chardy of France 6-4, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2, while Ferrer’s 6-2, 6-2, 6-4 victory over U.S. Open champion Marin Cilic was most noteworthy for this statistic: Cilic was broken once in 40 service games until Monday, when he was broken five times.

Williams’ quarterfinal opponent will be No. 17 Sara Errani, a 6-2, 6-2 winner over Julia Goerges.

Errani lost the French Open final in 2012, when Sharapova completed her career Grand Slam. Years ago, Sharapova famously described herself as a "cow on ice" when playing on red clay, troubled by the tricky footing. She overcame that well enough to win 65 of her last 71 matches on the surface entering Monday, including appearing in three consecutive finals in Paris.

"Maria," Safarova said, "is an amazing player."

But Safarova was better on this day.

Ivanovic, Svitolina into last-eight, Sharapova rained off

(5/31/15) Ana Ivanovic made the French Open quarter-finals for the first time since her 2008 title run Sunday where she'll face Elina Svitolina, the first Ukrainian to make the last eight.

But defending champion Maria Sharapova's scheduled last-16 clash against Lucie Safarova was pushed back until Monday after rain caused a lengthy stoppage at a chilly Roland Garros.

The Russian second seed now faces the prospect of playing matches on two successive days with the first two women's quarter-finals already programmed for Tuesday.

Seventh-seeded Serb Ivanovic defeated Russian ninth seed Ekaterina Makarova, a semi-finalist at the Australian Open in January, 7-5, 3-6, 6-1 to book her eighth career Grand Slam quarter-final.

Watched again by German World Cup winning football star Bastian Schweinsteiger, the 27-year-old Ivanovic shrugged off a two and a half hour rain stoppage to secure her third three-set win in four rounds in Paris.

The 20-year-old Svitolina beat fellow former Roland Garros junior champion Alize Cornet on a windy, chilly Court Philippe Chatrier 6-2, 7-6 (11/9).

"It's amazing to be in the quarter-finals again. To be honest, coming into the tournament I didn't really expect that at all," said Ivanovic.

"But I really worked hard for each match. I worked hard even before the tournament to reach the quarter-final again."

Svitolina, seeded 19, is only the second Ukrainian woman to reach a Grand Slam quarter-final after Kateryna Bondarenko made the last eight at the 2009 US Open.

It was Svitolina's first win over Cornet in three meetings and the result ended French hopes in the women's singles for another year.

She displayed nerves of steel to achieve victory, failing to serve out the tie in the 10th game of the second set and then allowing five match points to slip through her fingers.

However, she secured victory on her sixth match point when Cornet went long with a backhand, her 42nd unforced error of the windswept tie.

Svitolina will take a 6-0 losing record into her clash with Ivanovic, a run that includes a second round loss in Paris last year and again on clay in Madrid earlier this month.

"I hope I can serve better, of course, because I was serving not so good against her in Madrid," said Svitolina.

With four men's last-16 ties still to be played on Court Philippe Chatrier and Court Suzanne Lenglen, it was decided that Sharapova and Safarova will play their fourth round on Monday instead.

Sunday's other fourth round clash between 33-year-old Italian Flavia Pennetta, who has never played in the French Open quarter-finals, and Garbine Muguruza, the Spanish 21st seed, was also shelved.

Muguruza, the 2010 junior champion, had a breakthrough Roland Garros in 2014 when she defeated Serena Williams on her way to the last-eight.

"The scheduled 4R matches between Sharapova-Safarova & Muguruza-Pennetta have been cancelled for today," tweeted the organisers.

Sharapova advances with advice for prodigies

(5/29/15) Maria Sharapova knows the pitfalls of being a prodigy and after easing into the fourth round at Roland Garros on Friday the seasoned grand slam champion offered some sage advice to the new generation in women's tennis.

The French Open defending champion, seeded second, showed all her maturity when she beat Australian 26th seed Samantha Stosur 6-3 6-4 to stay on course for a possible third Roland Garros title, 11 years after winning Wimbledon as a teenager.

Since then, several players have been dubbed 'the new Sharapova', including Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, whose rapid rise up the rankings last year drew obvious comparison with the glamorous Russian.

Bouchard, however, has been struggling to back it up this year, losing her opening match here after numerous first round losses, and Sharapova understands what she is going through.

"To be in a position where you have done extremely well, and you've gotten really good results, you've proved you belong to the top, sometimes that takes a little while," said Sharapova.

"I had a very tough experience winning. I mean, of course, I won (Wimbledon) when I was 17 years old and, all of a sudden, I thought I should be able to win every single match.

"It took me a while to realise that that's just not the reality of things."

Sharapova, who has won at least one WTA title every year since 2003, has survived some tough times.

Shoulder problems sent her plummeting down the rankings and she failed to win a major between 2008 and 2012, the year of her first Roland Garros title.

In that time she learned to be patient and took care in choosing the people she wanted around her.

"For me, the most important thing was nothing to do with tennis because I knew that I was still developing my game.

"It was rather to do with the people I surrounded myself with, who were able to make smart decisions for me.

"At that age it's tough. You have so many opportunities and they are so much fun, especially at a young age

"To be part of great events and meet stars and to be part of a Vogue photo shoot, those are really cool things for a young girl and I did enjoy them.

"But, I think, at the end of it all, the thing that got me to that position was winning tennis matches."

On Friday, Sharapova showed she can still get her hands dirty on a tennis court.

She fought for each point against Stosur, a runner-up in 2010 and twice a semi-finalist, wearing down the Aussie with her sheer tenacity and aggression.

The five-times grand slam champion will take on Czech 13th seed Lucie Safarova for a quarter-final spot.

Sharapova, Federer advance at French Open

(5/28/15) Maria Sharapova will get an early test in her bid for a third French Open title.

The defending champion, who has been battling a cold, limited her mistakes to just eight unforced errors as she beat Russian Fed Cup teammate Vitalia Diatchenko 6-3, 6-1 on Wednesday.

Sharapova advanced to a third-round match against 2010 French Open finalist Samantha Stosur. The Australian swept to a 6-0, 6-1 victory over French wild card entry Amandine Hesse.

The rout extended Stosur’s winning streak to seven matches after she arrived in Paris on the back of her first title this year in Strasbourg.

In men’s play, second-seeded Roger Federer made light work of Marcel Granollers, winning 6-2, 7-6 (1), 6-3, while 2014 Australian Open winner Stan Wawrinka reached the third round with a 6-3, 6-4, 5-7, 6-3 defeat of Dusan Lajovic. No. 12 seed Gilles Simon eased past Martin Klizan, 7-5, 6-2, 6-3.

"Playing Maria is always a big challenge for me," Stosur said. "No matter what surface it’s on, I don’t have a very good record at all."

The 26th-seeded Stosur has not beaten Sharapova since a match on hard court in Tokyo three years ago, with Sharapova boasting a 14-2 career record against the Australian veteran. But Stosur can take confidence from their previous match on the Parisian clay in the fourth round last year, when she led 6-3, 4-3 before Sharapova won the next nine games.

"It’s one of those matches that’s a tough matchup, but I know I’ve got the game that can trouble her, and hopefully I can do it well and we will see what happens," Stosur said.

After reuniting last month with former coach David Taylor, Stosur is hitting form at the right time. Before Strasbourg, where the 2011 U.S. Open champion won a seventh career title, Stosur had won back-to-back matches just once in 10 tournaments.

She said her good spell of form is mainly due to her renewed partnership with Taylor.

"I think going back with Dave, that’s given me confidence," Stosur said. "That’s probably a contribution, and then playing on a surface that I feel good on. Been able to get over a couple of injuries again. It all I guess makes for a better kind of couple of weeks."

Sharapova’s main focus at the moment is to fully recover from her cold after winning the Italian Open.

"For me right now it’s really about recovery and just being healthy for the next round," said Sharapova, who is bidding to become the first player to retain her title in Paris since Justine Henin in 2007. She also won in 2012.

"Fortunately I played a lot of tennis in the previous two tournaments and this is not a stage where you’re trying to fix things or work on things. It’s really about maintenance and recovery and getting ready for the next match," she said.

Among other seeded women to advance were No. 13 Lucie Safarova and No. 20 Sabine Lisicki.

Sharapova jeered off court

(5/25/15) Defending women's champion Maria Sharapova reached the French Open second round on Monday but was jeered by fans after she refused to carry out an on-court TV interview.

Second-seeded Sharapova defeated experienced Estonian Kaia Kanepi 6-2, 6-4 to set up a clash against Russian Fed Cup teammate Vitalia Diatchenko.

But the 27-year-old irritated the Philippe Chatrier Court crowd by refusing to carry out the traditional on-court television pleasantries, claiming her voice was not strong enough.

She said she had been suffering from a cold in a worrying repeat of last year when she was also sick in the run-up to Paris.

"I totally understand that everyone usually does the interviews and answers a few questions to the crowd," said Sharapova, who was also champion in 2012 and runner-up in 2013.

"It's absolutely normal. I'm not making any excuses but I've got to do what I have to do."

Sharapova off to flying start at French Open

(5/25/15) Reigning champion and two-time winner Maria Sharapova was an opening-round victor Monday at the French Open.

The second-seeded former world No. 1 star eased past Estonian Kaia Kanepi 6-2, 6-4 on the red clay at Court Chatrier.

Sharapova titled here in 2012 and last year when she bested Romanian Simona Halep in the final.

The five-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova has reached at least the semifinals the last four years in Paris. In addition to her two titles, the tall Russian was the 2013 Roland Garros runner-up to Serena Williams, who also got the best of Sharapova in January's Aussie finale.

Sharapova's second-round opponent will be fellow Russian Vitalia Diatchenko.

Meanwhile, eighth-seeded Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro and 11th-seeded German Angelique Kerber joined Sharapova in the round of 64.

Suarez Navarro, who was the runner-up to Sharapova in Rome two weeks ago, advanced with a 6-2, 6-2 win over Romanian Monica Niculescu. A two-time French Open quarterfinalist, Suarez Navarro won her WTA-leading 32nd match of the year.

Kerber, who already owns two clay-court titles this season, routed Hungarian Timea Babos 6-0, 6-1.

An upset came when German Annika Beck doused 14th-seeded former Wimbledon runner-up Agnieszka Radwanska 6-2, 3-6, 6-1 at Stade Roland Garros.

In other action involving seeds, No. 19 Ukrainian Elina Svitolina blitzed Belgian Yanina Wickmayer 6-2, 6-2; No. 20 former Wimbledon runner-up Sabine Lisicki of Germany mauled Puerto Rican Monica Puig 6-3, 6-2; No. 26 Aussie Samantha Stosur drilled American Madison Brengle 6-1, 6-3; and No. 29 French favorite Alize Cornet overcame Italian Roberta Vinci, a runner-up in Nurnberg last week, 4-6, 6-4, 6-1. The former U.S. Open champion Stosur is fresh off her clay-court title in Strasbourg, France.

Several other women reached the second round, including Romanian Alexandra Dulgheru and France's Virginie Razzano.

Sharapova, Murray get French Open bids underway

(5/25/15) Defending champion Maria Sharapova and men's third seed Andy Murray get their French Open campaigns underway on Monday.

Sharapova, second seed behind Serena Williams, tackles experienced Estonian Kaia Kanepi who was a quarter-finalist in 2012.

Despite a healthy 4-0 career record over the world number 49, Sharapova will not underestimate a player who she also defeated in Paris seven years ago.

"She's played really well here at the French Open. She's capable of playing good tennis. She's a big hitter and great server," said the Russian star.

"It's a tough start for me, but I don't know when it's ever really an easy one at a Grand Slam."

British third seed Murray may be able to count on some Paris support as he is coached by former French world number one Amelie Mauresmo.

Murray comes into Roland Garros having picked up his first ever titles on clay this year in Munich and Madrid where he beat Rafael Nadal in the final.

His claycourt record this season reads 10-0.

Murray, twice a semi-finalist, tackles Argentine qualifier Facundo Arguello who reached the main draw as a lucky loser having lost in the final round of qualifying.

Ranked 139 with a career high of 104, the 22-year-old from Cordoba is a pupil of 2004 Roland Garros champion and former world number five Gaston Gaudio.

"It's probably the best I have played on clay, for sure. I mean, I never really felt particularly comfortable on the surface," said Murray who has been drawn in the same section as nine-time champion Nadal and top seed Novak Djokovic.

"But winning tournaments and beating good players helps with the confidence. I just feel like I have an idea of what I'm doing on the court sometimes.

"In the past I have not really known what was happening on the court and felt like I was struggling with my movement."

Maria Sharapova on Natural Beauty | Finding My Way

(5/25/15) Maria Sharapova on Natural Beauty | Finding My Way: Video.

Brand Maria Sharapova

(5/22/15) (ft.com) Maria Sharapova appears in the hotel lobby in canary yellow shorts and a grey sweater, her face still flushed from an hour-long workout in the gym.

“Hi, I’m Maria,” she says, extending a hand.

The introduction is polite, but hardly necessary. Sharapova has one of the most recognisable — and marketable — faces in the world. She became an overnight sensation more than a decade ago, as the tall, blonde, preternaturally cool tennis player who won her first Wimbledon title aged only 17. In the years since, she has added another four grand slam titles to her name, becoming one of just 10 female players to win at least once in Melbourne, Paris, Wimbledon and New York — the most coveted titles in tennis.

Her sporting triumphs have been matched perhaps only by her success off the court. Sharapova has only rarely been the very best tennis player in the world — but she has long been the sport’s biggest brand. Through victory and through defeat, Sharapova has topped the Forbes ranking of the world’s highest-paid female athlete every year for the past decade.

Nike, Porsche, Evian, Tag Heuer and a raft of other companies pay her more than $20m in annual endorsements (four times her earnings from prize money in 2014). In return, they get to place her image alongside their products on billboards, magazines and screens worldwide. They also gain access to her vast following on social media, which has reached 1.6 million on Twitter and nearly 15 million on Facebook. She has her own web app, and is building a candy-to-clothing business that is already present in 30 markets. Sharapova is more than familiar; she is ubiquitous.

Sharapova smiles and apologises for her state, before disappearing to her room for a shower. She returns 10 minutes later, dressed in a black pullover, grey cotton trousers and black trainers. It is an unseasonably cold day in Madrid, and she has brought along a woollen shawl that she winds around her body every time a fresh gust of wind blows in from the hotel door.

I had expected Sharapova to arrive with an agent or spokesperson in tow but, aside from a couple of well-dressed businessmen, we have the lobby bar to ourselves. As her veteran agent tells me a few days later, “There are a lot of tennis players who need someone to hold their hand. We have never been like that?.?.?.?she is very secure.” Sharapova orders a pot of English breakfast tea and settles down on a high-backed crimson sofa.

She is in the Spanish capital to compete in the Madrid Open, a clay court tournament that ranks just below the grand slam events for importance. She won the title here last year, before battling her way to an emotional second victory in Paris. At 28, Sharapova knows she only has a few more years left to add to her haul of titles.

Her ambition clearly burns as brightly as ever but there is a subtle change in motivation. “If I ever needed to prove anything to anyone else I think I have,” she says. “Now, anything I achieve is more for me and my own gratefulness than anything else.”

Sharapova, of course, has plenty of reasons to feel grateful as it is. Her last two grand slam titles (both in Paris) came after tearing her rotator cuff, a potentially career-ending shoulder injury that required surgery in late 2008. She couldn’t play tennis for nine months, missed two grand slams and dropped to 126 in the rankings — her first spell outside the top 100 since 2003. It would take her three years to struggle back into a grand slam final, and four to actually win one. The shoulder has given her trouble on several occasions since, most recently in late 2013.

“The toughest part was not really having many examples of people who came back from shoulder injury,” she recalls. “I was never able to think of someone and say to myself, ‘OK, they went through this and got back their strokes.’”

Indeed, neither did Sharapova. “It put a lot of doubts in my game. My game was based on being powerful and hitting very deep strokes. The serve especially was really challenging because all of a sudden I was losing my speed, I was losing my feel?.?.?.?The way I was able to serve as a 17-year-old, my shoulder will never be able to support that again.”

Sharapova ended up reinventing key parts of her game — essentially swapping raw power for a more patient, tactical approach. Her serve has lost its early-career bite but she has vastly improved her return and added new facets to her game, most notably the drop shot. In most matches, Sharapova will try to occupy a central position just inside the baseline. From here, she can dictate the run of play, whipping the ball from one side of the court to the other, and forcing her opponent into a desperate, exhausting chase until she sees the chance to put the ball out of reach.

It is a style of play that suits slower surfaces such as clay better than grass and hard courts. All her grand slam titles before her operation came on fast courts. Her two grand slam trophies since have been on clay — in Paris — as was her most recent tournament win, in Rome last week. Returned to the number two position in the WTA ranking, she will try to defend her French Open title starting this weekend — and rekindle her decade-long quest to beat the world number one, Serena Williams.

The one constant in Sharapova’s game — and her most powerful weapon on court by some distance — is her mind. She never shows nerves. She never gives up. She often plays her best tennis, her hardest, longest strokes and her most daring drop shots precisely when the pressure on her is greatest. She runs after balls she knows she has little chance of reaching — and nine out of 10 times she won’t. But once every so often, Sharapova will somehow scoop that impossible ball back across the net. What counts is the message she sends to her opponents: I will fight you all the way.

“There is nobody out there who is more intense, point for point, week in week out than Maria,” Chris Evert, the former multiple-grand-slam winner, tells me. “I have watched her so many times when she’s been losing, when she is down a set and a break or a set and two breaks. And then the fight comes out. She comes back better than anyone. The fighter aspect always amazes me.”

To play the way she does, Sharapova has to nurse her strength. She competes in fewer tournaments than other players and occasionally takes time off from the official tour schedule (“Maria time”, as her entourage calls it). “In order to be explosive and have that sort of energy you need motivation and will. So I have always structured my schedule in a way that, when the time comes to push myself, I am fresh enough to do that,” she says.

So what does she do during “Maria time”?

Sharapova looks momentarily confused. “I like to work,” she replies. “It’s hard for me not to do much, and it’s hard for me to sit still. I like to do things.”

The steely determination that marks modern athletes often triggers a somewhat futile search for the origins of their disposition. In the case of Sharapova, that quest invariably leads to her childhood. Born in Nyagan, western Siberia, in 1987, she started playing tennis as a four-year-old, after her parents moved to the Black Sea resort of Sochi. When she was six, she was spotted by Martina Navratilova during a tennis exhibition in Moscow. The former world number one told Sharapova’s parents to send her to the US for proper training — prompting a dramatic turn in the little girl’s life.

Sharapova arrived in the US a few weeks shy of her seventh birthday, to start training at the Nick Bollettieri Academy in Florida. She spoke no English, and her father had to work odd jobs around town to make ends meet (her mother only joined them two years later). “My dad was working sometimes a couple of hours away, so I wouldn’t see him for a week or two. I was living in a dormitory with girls who were much older than me,” she recalls, adding: “I was never part of the rat pack.”

Anyone looking for psychological clues — the lonely, motherless Russian girl hardened by a strange and hostile environment — will be disappointed. “I was living my dream,” exclaims Sharapova. “I was a young kid who loved to play tennis, playing tennis at one of the best academies in the world. I saw Agassi, I saw Monica Seles. I saw all these great champions come through and practise. And I woke up every morning and couldn’t wait for my alarm to ring at 6.30am and go and have my lesson.” It was, she insists, a “really neat experience”.

?.?.?.?

Not being part of the gang has never bothered Sharapova, who has a reputation for being aloof on tour. Her entourage is minimal. The loneliness that professional tennis inflicts on its practitioners does not seem to trouble her. Most players spend 10 months on the road, moving from hotel to hotel, arena to arena. The game itself is an almost uniquely individualistic endeavour. There is no home base and no familiar crowd. There are no team mates, and no shared sorrow or joy (except, perhaps, with the coaching staff who sit in the players’ box). It is just the athlete and her racket, defending a vast, vulnerable space against the onslaught from the other side. Apart from a brief chat in the dressing room and the handshake after the match, tennis requires little contact between players.

“The sport makes you forget very fast, which in a way is quite sad,” says Sharapova. “Last year I won the title here but I don’t really have too many memories. It was a tough final. We rushed back to the hotel, got our bags, got on the plane and I was in Rome playing two days later.”

For Sharapova, of course, the intercontinental tennis carousel came to an abrupt halt after her shoulder injury. “Since the age of four, my tennis career was sort of on automatic. You wake up, train, take an aeroplane, play a tournament and go back home. All of a sudden, I had an injury that was basically a stop sign. You can’t play, and you can’t have a career for the next six to 12 months. It is a strange feeling.”

For the first time in many years, Sharapova found time to think, not least about her life after tennis. Worried that her professional career might be over sooner than she had hoped, she decided to set herself up as a businesswoman. Sharapova had already spent years working with companies such as Nike and Tiffany, occasionally helping to design products sold under her name.

“In the end, I was always a very small part of these brands. But I wanted to start something that was mine, where I felt the pressure and privilege of owning a brand, and where I had to make the final decision,” she says.

Together with Max Eisenbud, her long-time agent, Sharapova developed plans for a high-end candy business called Sugarpova that was eventually launched in 2012. Wholly owned and financed by Sharapova, the company makes colourful and smartly packaged gummies, sweets and chewing gum, with flavours branded as “Flirty”, “Cheeky” or “Sporty”. There is little financial information about the company but Eisenbud tells me that Sugarpova has sold 3.5 million bags of candy in its first two years, and is now present in 30 markets. “We are growing like crazy,” he says.

Sharapova sees the candy business as just the start. Sugarpova has already branched out into selling accessories such as T-shirts and jewellery. Next in line are chocolates and mints, and eventually Sharapova and Eisenbud plan to extend the brand into fragrances and fashion. “My vision is for this to become a lifestyle brand,” says Sharapova (who has mastered the vernacular of the marketing world to perfection). “That doesn’t necessarily tie in to a food product. But in order to get lifestyle recognition I want to build the brand around candy.”

Both Sharapova and Eisenbud say their long-term goal is to establish a “House of Sugarpova” collection of brands and products. It sounds ambitious but not outlandish, especially given the history of the Sharapova-Eisenbud partnership, one of the most lasting and lucrative in modern sport.

Eisenbud claims he spotted Sharapova’s potential immediately. He had just been hired as a junior agent at IMG, the sports marketing group, and was touring the courts of the Bollettieri Academy when he set eyes on a 12-year-old Russian talent whacking balls across the court with stunning intensity.

“I didn’t know anything about her but I just stopped in my tracks. She was so skinny, like a piece of spaghetti, but her concentration and focus were unbelievable,” he recalls. “Did you ever see the footage of Tiger Woods hitting a golf ball when he was seven or eight years old? This was the same. It was obvious she would be a star.”

I ask Eisenbud why Sharapova is so valuable to advertisers. The question is more sensitive than it seems. Sport is supposed to be the ultimate meritocracy, where the best player wins the most trophies and earns the most money. It has not been that way in women’s tennis, however. Serena Williams has won 19 grand slam titles to Sharapova’s five, twice as many titles overall and double Sharapova’s prize money. As Rolling Stone magazine once wrote, Williams “runs women’s tennis like Kim Jong Un runs North Korea”. And yet, every year for the past decade, it is Sharapova that has come out on top financially.

Why the discrepancy? “The obvious answer is that she is a very attractive girl, that she is marketable and has done a lot of winning,” replies Eisenbud. “The real answer, however, is that she is very savvy, she is a very smart businesswoman — and she understands return on investment. She understands that if Porsche or Evian are paying her a lot of money, the only way that money will keep on flowing is if she helps them with their goals and objectives.

“I think a lot of athletes don’t understand that. They think, I’m great and someone will pay me. But when Maria is at a photo shoot she wants everything to be perfect. She asks, ‘Do you have everything you want? Do you want to shoot this again?’ She is very special like that.”

Eisenbud believes that Sugarpova will provide the perfect outlet for Sharapova’s competitive drive once her tennis career is over. Just when that will be, however, is hard to predict. Sharapova herself says she has “no idea” when she will quit but insists that the idea of retirement holds no fear for her. “When I was injured, I never thought I would be playing at 28,” she remarks. “I have had a lot of incredible experiences [as a player] and I hope I will have many more. But, believe me, I will be very happy when I finish. There will be no regrets. I want to have family time. I want to have kids.”

For the past couple of years, Sharapova has been going out with Grigor Dimitrov, the 23-year-old Bulgarian tennis player (the two are the tour’s glamour couple, and a favourite target for paparazzi from Rome to Los Angeles). Currently ranked 11, he is regarded as one of the biggest talents on the tour, though he has yet to record his first grand slam win.

“It’s nice to have someone who really understands and respects [what I do] and who knows the drill,” says Sharapova when I ask her about the relationship. “There are so many little variants in an athlete’s career that are not always easy to explain to the outside world. So it is nice that they are aware of it and know it.”

If Sharapova fails to win Paris this year — or anywhere else for that matter — it will not be for a lack of willpower or fight. It will be because Sharapova’s professional career has overlapped with that of arguably the greatest female tennis player of all time, her eternal rival and perpetual nemesis, Serena Williams.

She beat Williams, surprisingly comfortably, in that breakthrough 2004 Wimbledon final. Giggling her way through the post-match interview on court, the teenage Sharapova turned to her opponent and said: “I know there will be so many more moments when we will play [each other]?.?.?.?and fight for the trophy. Thank you for giving me a tough match but I am sorry — I had to win today.”

It turned out she was tempting fate. Since 2004, the two players have met on 16 occasions, and Williams won every single one of their encounters, usually in straight sets. The decade-long duel has been so one-sided that some fans scoff at the idea of a proper rivalry. But Chris Evert, who went through similar phases in her legendary contest with Martina Navratilova, disagrees.

“In a lot of people’s minds, this is a non-rivalry,” she says. “But it is a rivalry in the tennis world, because rivals are studies in contrast. And there is so much contrast here, in anything from temperament to looks to game style. Everyone in the tennis world is always intrigued when we watch the two, to see whether this is the one time that Maria Sharapova beats Serena Williams.”

The last important match between the two was in the final of the Australian Open in January. Williams triumphed — again — but the match (6-3, 7-6) was closer than other recent encounters. The second set in particular turned into a raw, fierce, exhilarating contest. Sharapova was defeated, ultimately, by the power and accuracy of Williams’ serve — the best the women’s game has ever seen. She served 18 aces in the match, of which 15 came in the crucial final set. And yet, despite the stinging defeat, Sharapova came away thinking that she can, after all, beat her great rival.

“The thing about my matches with Serena is that there have been some very easy scorelines. And there have been matches where I have formed opportunities, where I formed little door openings — and then they slipped away. Melbourne was another occasion like that.

“When you play against the number one, a lot of things have to work for you. You cannot make unforced errors, you cannot give away easy points, you cannot give her confidence, you can’t be playing at the highest level all the time. What is important is to take advantage of the moments when her ball is coming a bit short or when you have opportunities with her second serve.”

Does she think she can beat Williams one day? There is not a second’s hesitation: “Absolutely.”

Disrespectful to talk about Nadal's downfall, says Sharapova

(5/22/15) Predicting Rafa Nadal's downfall as he prepares to try and win a record-extending 10th French Open title is disrespectful to the Spaniard, double Roland Garros champion Maria Sharapova said on Friday.

For the first time in the build-up to the tournament Nadal has failed to win a claycourt title in Europe, his best result being a defeat in the final of the Madrid Masters against Briton Andy Murray this month.

"Everyone expects so much of Rafa at this time of the year. An individual loses a few matches, someone who's won this event, what is it nine times, I believe?

To put so many question marks, I almost think it's a little bit disrespectful," former world number one Sharapova of Russia told a news conference after the French Open draw ceremony.

"He's an incredible champion, and he has no reason to be here doing it again, and his will and motivation to keep doing it and to keep proving to himself that he can do it again is pretty remarkable.

"It's actually been a little bit sad, because if I was in his shoes I'd be a pretty accomplished and satisfied player. Here he is just grinding away and proving everyone wrong. I think that's pretty respectful."

Fourteen-times grand slam champion Nadal, who has struggled to rediscover his top form after injury and illness last year, was handed the toughest route in Friday's draw.

He could have to beat Bulgarian Grigor Dimitrov, world number one Novak Djokovic of Serbia, Murray and 17-times grand slam champion Roger Federer, in that order, to win his 10th Roland Garros title in 11 years.

The tournament starts on Sunday.

Sharapova ready to go distance again in Paris

(5/22/15) Maria Sharapova has hit form at the perfect moment as she eyes a defense of her French Open crown but old nemesis Serena Williams is lurking in the Parisian shadows.

Russian Sharapova, who once despised claycourt tennis but transformed herself into the 2012 and 2014 champion, arrives in the French capital fresh from winning the Italian Open in Rome.

The 28-year-old, beaten by Williams for a 16th consecutive time in the Australian Open final in January, defeated Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro in the Rome final, a week after reaching the semis in Madrid and will be full of confidence.

"I'm in an especially good spot physically. I'm prepared to go the distance now, and to beat someone like Carla who loves long matches, to come through that gave me a lot of confidence," Sharapova, winner of 20 of her last 21 matches at Roland Garros, said last week.

Yet most observers make twice French Open champions Williams the favorite -- even if she has suffered niggling injuries of late and can be at her most beatable on the red dirt.

Romania's Simona Halep, last year's runner-up, will be in the mix too but few would be surprised if Williams and Sharapova served up a repeat of the 2013 final.

"I think this would be a better surface for her to play Serena," Chris Evert, a commentator for ESPN during the French Open fortnight, said in the build-up to the tournament.

"I think that it (the clay) defuses Serena's power. I think (Sharapova) likes that few extra seconds that clay allows her to set up her shots.

"She feels confident, she feels happy on the clay."

Williams, 33, will be aiming for a 20th grand slam singles title to move four shy of Margaret Court's record, but was forced to withdraw in Rome with an elbow injury, having also suffered knee problems earlier in the year.

Her physical condition will be severely tested over the coming fortnight, but Martina Navratilova believes if she is fit, Williams remains in a class of her own.

"Serena is amazing, and she will get to 20 slams for sure," the 18-times grand slam singles winner told the Tennis Podcast.

"It definitely gets harder when you are in your 30s but at the same time, the new generation hasn't quite caught up to Serena so she has a nice window there."

Incredibly, despite being a relative veteran, there is talk of a Williams grand slam, but Evert, thinks that is unlikely.

"I think Serena, when she has bad days, she's very beatable," the American said. "When she has bad days, she loses her timing, consistency, everything just goes."

The list of those waiting to take advantage if the world number one stumbles is not a long one, however.

Halep has the patience on clay, while Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova has the power but not necessarily the craft to survive two weeks at Roland Garros.

Former world number one Victoria Azarenka, coming back to her best after injury, could be a dark horse.

French Open women's formguide

(5/21/15) MARIA SHARAPOVA (RUS) Age - 28, Ranking - 2: French Open best - winner in 2012 and 2014

The defending champion has reached the last three finals in Paris winning twice and losing in the 2013 final and she has the game and experience to win again ---- as long as someone else takes care of Serena Williams who beat her in 2013 and who has not lost to the Russian since 2004. The American leads 17-2 in their head-to-heads. Also lost to Williams in the Australian Open final at the start of the year and since then her form has been mixed with disappointing showings at Indian Wells and Miami followed up by a run into the semi-finals in Madrid and a tournament triumph on clay in Rome last weekend.

Djokovic, Sharapova victorious at Italian Open

(5/18/15) Top-ranked Novak Djokovic bolstered his clay-court credentials a week ahead of Roland Garros with a convincing 6-4, 6-3 win over Roger Federer on Sunday to capture his fourth Italian Open title.

Extending his winning streak to 22 matches, Djokovic proved too consistent and too quick for Federer, who has never won the title at the Foro Italico in 15 appearances.

"It was a great week and today was my best match," Djokovic told the crowd in Italian. "It’s always a pleasure to play against Roger and obviously I’m very pleased by today. … Along with 2011, this is the best year of my career. I don’t know how (to) continue at Roland Garros but obviously I have a lot of confidence. I hope I can continue like this."

Djokovic produced a spectacular return to set up the decisive break at the end of the first set then got an early break in the second.

The match lasted just 75 minutes.

"Novak was too strong today," Federer said.

In the women’s tournament, Maria Sharapova rallied to beat 10th-seeded Carla Suarez Navarro 4-6, 7-5, 6-1 and win her third Rome title.

The victory gives Sharapova confidence as she prepares to defend her title at the French Open, which starts next weekend.

The French Open is the only Grand Slam that Djokovic has never won, and he will enter as the favourite this year considering Rafael Nadal’s recent struggles.

Djokovic also won the Rome title in 2008, 2011 and last year.

Handed a marker to sign a TV camera lens after the match, Djokovic wrote in Italian, "Grazie ancora Roma" — Thanks again Rome — surrounded by a heart.

With the temperature soaring above 30 Celsius (about 90 Fahrenheit) at the Foro Italico, Djokovic won most of the long rallies.

The first set was decided by just a few points. Leading 5-4, Djokovic produced a spectacular forehand return cross-court winner that landed on the line to set up a break point, then closed it out when Federer netted a backhand after a long rally.

Sharapova’s first two titles in Rome came back-to-back in 2011 and 2012.

"It’s always a special victory," Sharapova said during the trophy presentation. "It isn’t my first time but when I’m able to hold the trophy again it brings back memories of winning it the first time."

Sharapova struggled for long stretches to figure out Suarez Navarro’s variation of spins, slices and heavy topspin shots — with a one-handed backhand that was difficult to read.

But once the second-seeded Sharapova started stepping into the court, attacking the Spaniard’s serve and finding the corners, she took control.

The match lasted more than 2 1/2 hours and Sharapova hit 39 winners to Suarez Navarro’s 12.

For her 35th career title, and 11th on clay, Sharapova celebrated mildly with a smile and a few fist pumps.

"I remember coming to Italy as a little girl and this was one of the tournaments I dreamed of playing," Sharapova said. "Now to win it for a third time is very special."

Suarez Navarro was playing her third final of the year — and for the third time she finished runner-up, following performances in Antwerp, Belgium; and Miami.

Williams, Sharapova eliminated from Madrid Open

(5/8/15) Serena Williams was beaten in the Madrid Open semifinals, a short time after Maria Sharapova also lost.

Petra Kvitova defeated the top-ranked Williams 6-2, 6-3 Friday, while Svetlana Kuznetsova ousted Sharapova 6-2, 6-4.

The victory was Kvitova’s first against Williams, a 19-time Grand Slam champion.

"I’m just exhausted today," said Williams, who had her serve broken six times. "But it’s really good preparation for Roland Garros."

Earlier, Kuznetsova beat Sharapova for the first time in seven years, breaking her opponent’s serve three times and saving the one break point she faced.

"I’m just happy to be in the final," said Kuznetsova, who had never before even reached the semifinals at the Madrid tournament.

Sharapova, who could have returned to No. 2 in the rankings with a victory, said she wasn’t able to take advantage of Kuznetsova’s second serves like she had done previously.

"Today she had much more pop on her ball than I did, while I felt my shots were a bit too flat," Sharapova said. "I also think the court and the bounce, with the altitude here, meant her spin was getting really high."

Kuznetsova, who will be playing in her first final in nine months, is 1-3 against Kvitova but beat the Czech on clay last year at the French Open in their last meeting.

Sharapova tops Wozniacki to reach Madrid semis

(5/7/15) Maria Sharapova reached the Madrid Open semifinals by defeating Caroline Wozniacki 6-1, 3-6, 6-3 on Thursday.

The Russian continued the defence of her title by breaking the fifth-seeded Wozniacki’s serve five times, completing the win in almost exactly 2 hours.

The third-seeded Sharapova is chasing an 11th WTA title on clay, although the surface remains unpopular with the Russian.

After the hard-court tournament in Miami ends, Sharapova says "it’s a bittersweet moment" when she has to get her clay-court shoes out. She said it reminds her that "OK, the next three months are going to be very tough."

Sharapova will play either Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia or Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic.

Raonic, Sharapova advance to 3rd round at Madrid

(5/6/15) Canadian Milos Raonic is off to the third round of the Madrid Open tennis tournament.

The fifth-seeded native of Thornhill, Ont., advanced with a 6-3, 6-4 win over Argentina’s Juan Monaco. Raonic registered nine aces and twice broke Monaco.

Raonic is looking to reach the quarter-finals or better of an ATP Masters 1000 event for the 10th time in his last 13 events.

Elsewhere, Maria Sharapova advanced to the third round of the women’s event by downing Mariana Duque-Marino of Colombia 6-1, 6-2.

The third-seeded Russian broke Duque-Marino’s serve four times while saving three break points on her own serve.

Fourth-seeded Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic also advanced, beating American Coco Vandeweghe 6-4, 2-6, 6-3.

Also, Barbora Strycova of the Czech Republic beat Varvara Lepchenko of the U.S. 6-4, 6-2, and Victoria Azarenka of Belarus defeated Ajla Tomljanocic of Croatia 6-3, 6-3.

Halep, Bouchard suffer first round exits, Serena, Sharapova through

(5/3/15) World number two Simona Halep crashed to a shock 7-6 (8/6), 6-3 defeat to France's Alize Cornet, whilst Eugenie Bouchard's slump continued in the first round of the Madrid Open on Sunday.

However, there were no such problems for world number one Serena Williams or defending champion Maria Sharapova who both eased through in straight sets.

Halep reached the final in the Spanish capital last year, but looked out of sorts as a double fault handed Cornet the opening set in a tie-break.

And the Romanian's serve crumbled when serving to stay in the match in the second as Cornet wrapped up victory in just under two hours on court.

"It went great for me - I played really amazing on the centre court," said a delighted Cornet.

"The first set was really tight and I saved a set point by doing an amazing backhand down the line.

"The second was tight as well. The score doesn't really mean anything and I had to be focused to the end. I was a bit stressed because I was about to beat the world number two, but finally it was just a big relief and I'm really proud of myself."

Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard's alarming loss of form continued as she lost a sixth consecutive match to the Czech Republic's Barbora Strycova.

Bouchard looked to be set for a morale-boosting win as she cruised through the first set 6-0, but Strycova stormed back to win the next two sets 6-3.

Williams moved to 21-0 on the year with a 6-0, 6-1 destruction of fellow American Madison Brengle in under an hour on court.

The 19-time Grand Slam champion will face compatriot Sloane Stephens in round two.

"My preparation wasn't as great as I wanted it to be, but it's ok," said Williams.

"I definietely feel I know what to do more on the clay and being ready mentally and being ready for longer points, longer matches."

Sharapova showed no signs of her recent struggles with form and fitness as she beat Switzerland's Timea Bacsinszky 6-2, 6-3.

Halep's exit could be a big boost for Sharapova had been set to meet the Romanian in the last four had both women made it that far.

The Russian dominated the Bacsinszky serve in the first set to break three times and then depended on her own in the second.

One break in the eighth game was enough to set up a second round clash with Britain's Heather Watson or Colombian Mariana Duque-Marino.

Fourth seed Petra Kvitova had to come from a set down to see off Belarus's Olga Govortsova 3-6, 6-1, 6-4.

Caroline Wozniacki continued her encouraging form of late with a comfortable 6-3, 6-0 win over Australia's Jarmila Gajdosova.

The Dane's conqueror in the final in Stuttgart last weekend, Angelique Kerber, suffered an early exit, though, as the German lost out 4-6, 6-3, 6-3 to former US Open champion Samantha Stosur.

There was also plenty for the home fans to cheer as 10th seed Carla Suarez Navarro and world number 20 Garbine Muguruza booked their places in the second round with straight sets wins over Zarina Diyas and Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor respectively.

Sharapova, Kvitova ousted; Wozniacki reaches Porsche QFs

(4/24/15) Three-time defending Stuttgart champion Maria Sharapova and Wimbledon titlist Petra Kvitova were a pair of second-round losers, while former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki reached the quarterfinals at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix.

German left-hander Angelique Kerber upended the top-seeded former world No. 1 star Sharapova 2-6, 7-5, 6-1. The loss means Sharapova will be supplanted by Simona Halep as the new world No. 2 when next week's rankings are released.

Kerber improved to 3-4 lifetime against the five-time Grand Slam champ Sharapova, who beat the German in a semifinal here two years ago. Kerber has now won their last two matchups.

The reigning French Open titlist and Australian Open runner-up Sharapova captured a third straight Porsche title last year by beating fellow former No. 1 Ana Ivanovic in a marquee finale.

Meanwhile, American Madison Brengle doused the third-seeded Czech left-hander Kvitova 6-3, 7-6 (7-2) and the fourth-seeded U.S. Open runner-up Wozniacki got past Czech Lucie Safarova 7-6 (7-5), 6-1 on the indoor clay at Porsche Arena.

Brengle served for the match at 5-4 against Kvitova, but the Czech slugger saved three match points to force a tiebreak. The Delaware native Brengle eventually won her first match over a top-10 player with a backhand passing shot.

"I think that Madison played a solid match. She didn't miss much and it was really difficult for me because when I had the opportunity for winners I missed," Kvitova said. "The confidence wasn't really high then and I didn't feel physically there as well.

Wozniacki was a Stuttgart finalist in 2011.

"It was a tough first round but I'm happy to be through," Wozniacki said. "I'm pleased with the way I managed to mix up the pace, and I ran a lot of balls down, which was good. Here the clay is a little bit more slippery, so it was all about being the first one to move your opponent, and I did that well."

Sixth-seeded Russian Ekaterina Makarova eased into the quarters by leveling Russian lucky-loser Marina Melnikova 6-2, 6-3, while Thursday's nightcap saw eighth-seeded Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro top Swiss teenager Belinda Bencic 6-4, 7-6 (7-1).

In some other second-round action, former French Open runner-up Sara Errani handled Kazakhstan's Zarina Diyas 6-4, 6-1 and rising Frenchwoman Caroline Garcia grounded German wild card Carina Witthoeft 7-6 (7-4), 6-2.

Friday's quarterfinals will pit a second-seeded Halep against Errani; Wozniacki versus Suarez Navarro; Makarova against Kerber; and Brengle versus Garcia.

The 2015 Stuttgart champ will earn $108,000 and a new Porsche 911 Carrera sports car.

Sharapova to miss Fed Cup clash with Germany

(4/14/15) World number two Maria Sharapova will miss Russia's Fed Cup semi-final with Germany this weekend in Sochi because of a leg injury, the Russian tennis federation announced Tuesday.

"I was looking forward to my return to Sochi to play in the Fed Cup," the federation press service quoted Sharapova as saying.

"It could be my life's first ever experience - to play in the city where I grew up.

"And I've changed my personal schedule in order to play for my country in the semi-final."

Five-time Grand Slam title winner said the injury, which she has suffered at the WTA tournament at Miami, prevented her from practicing in recent days.

"I need to be in my top form to help my team, to perform at my best in the Fed Cup semi-final against such a strong opponent.

"Unfortunately I was too short of time to recover completely."

Russian team skipper Anastasia Myskina confirmed that Sharapova had dropped out through injury and named Vera Zvonareva, 137th in the WTA rankings as a replacement for 2012 Olympic silver medallist.

"We were in contact with Maria (Sharapova) and her team. I know that she did her best to recover after an injury to play at Sochi," Myskina said.

"But currently she's not ready to play.

"Nevertheless I believe in our team. And I'm looking forward to the upcoming semi-final."

Before the 27-year-old Sharapova's withdrawal Russia looked favourites to win the semi-final as she has been joined by 25th-ranked Svetlana Kuznetsova, a two-time Grand Slam winner, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (38th), and Elena Vesnina (71st).

Sharapova confirmed in Russia's Fed Cup team

(4/8/15) The Russian Tennis Federation has confirmed that Maria Sharapova will play for her country against Germany in the Fed Cup semifinals this month.

The second-ranked Sharapova rarely plays Fed Cup, citing a busy schedule, but will be part of the Russian team facing Germany on April 18-19 in Sochi. Playing in the team event helps her become eligible for next year’s Olympics.

Russia captain Anastasia Myskina, a former French Open champion, has also picked Svetlana Kuznetsova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and Elena Vesnina.

The German Tennis Federation said its team would consist of Andrea Petkovic, Angelique Kerber, Sabine Lisicki and Julia Goerges.

"With its exceptional player Maria Sharapova in the lead, Russia will definitely be highly motivated in front of its home crowd. But we’ll have our chances too," German team captain Barbara Rittner said in a statement Wednesday. "A final at home against the Czech Republic or France is our big aim."

The German team boasts strength in depth with three top 20 players. Sharapova is Russia’s only player in the top 20, with world No. 8 Ekaterina Makarova not in the team.

Four-time champion Russia and two-time winner Germany have met only twice in the Fed Cup since the collapse of the Soviet Union, with each team winning one match. Germany won the last time it played Russia — in 2002 — in a match which featured both of the current team captains.

Germany lost to the Czech Republic in last year’s final, while the 2013 final saw Russia lose to Italy.

Sharapova shocked by Gavrilova in Miami opening match

(3/27/15) World number two Maria Sharapova crashed out of the Miami Open hardcourt tennis tournament, ambushed by 97th-ranked Daria Gavrilova 7-6 (7/4), 6-3.

Thursday's upset, biggest so far at the combined WTA and ATP Masters event, took one hour, 49 minutes and marked the worst defeat five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova has endured in Miami since she lost in the first round on her debut in 2003.

"It's sport, and I happened to lose the match," Sharapova said of dropping her second-round opener after a first-round bye. "Of course it's a bit of a surprise ... I'm expected to win.

"But that's one of the reasons why we play the matches -- you still have to go out and win it no matter if you're the favorite.

"Today I didn't," added the former world number one, who has never lifted the trophy in Miami despite five trips to the final.

Gavrilova, who only broke into the top 100 on Monday, let out a squeal of delight upon sealing the win.

"I still can't realize that it's my dream," said Gavrilova, who said she had dreamed of beating Sharapova ever since she saw her countrywoman beat Serena Williams in the Wimbledon final in 2004.

The surprise defeat of the second seed opens the door for a possible move by Romanian Simona Halep from number three to number two in the world rankings behind Williams.

- Too far behind -

Sharapova lost the opening set after nearly an hour and quickly found herself trailing the former junior world number one 4-1 in the second.

Sharapova clawed a break back but was then broken to love as Gavrilova set herself up for the win with a 5-3 lead.

She calmly closed out the biggest win of her career on her first match point.

"I thought I was very composed and just did my best," Gavrilova said. "I was believing. When I sat down with my towel (at the end), I was crying a little bit."

Sharapova said she simply left herself too much to do in the second set.

"I had little times where I did come back, but I was always behind," said Sharapova, who was broken four times in the contest. "I put myself in a situation that was too far behind to come back from."

Gavrilova lives and trains in Australia, where she is coached with funding from the Australian federation and is pursuing Australian citizenship.

The triumph was her first against a top-10 player after four prior chances. She had never before beaten anyone ranked higher than 35th.

My Russian heritage is non-negotiable, says Sharapova

(3/23/15) Maria Sharapova's life-changing move from Siberia to Florida as a seven-year-old propelled her on a path to fame and fortune but she says she would never turn her back on her mother country.

It is sometimes easy to forget that five-times grand slam champion Sharapova, the world's highest-paid female athlete, is actually Russian until you witness her conduct a post-match press conference in her native tongue.

With $32 million in prize money alone, a string of lucrative endorsements, her own candy business and even a famous boyfriend she is the living embodiment of the American dream.

Yet, Sharapova baulks at the idea that she would want to trade her Russian passport for an American one, as former Czech Martina Navratilova did early in her glittering career.

"I would have if I wanted to (change citizenships) but it's never been actually a question in my family or in my team whether I wanted to change citizenships," the Russian told CNBC in an interview to be screened on Wednesday.

Sharapova, who won the Wimbledon title aged 17, still gives her all for Russia in the Fed Cup and was a torch bearer at the Sochi Winter Olympics a year ago.

She said her Russian heritage moulded her instincts.

"It is about the family environment, it is about the rich culture," the 27-year-old said.

"Just life experiences that I look back to and I know that for so many years I was shaped into the individual I was from those experiences.

"And not necessarily simply the country, but the people, the mentality and the toughness and that never giving up attitude."

World number two Sharapova will not have to venture too far from her adopted home at the Miami Open which starts this week.

Should the tournament go according to rankings she will play nemesis Serena Williams in the final.

She beat the American in the 2004 Wimbledon final and again a few months later but lost the next 16, most recently in this year's Australian Open final.

But Sharapova said their rivalry still burned strong.

"She's at the peak of her career. I am now number two in the world," she said. "I feel like we're still driven and hungry to be the best tennis players.

"I don't think anyone in the tennis world believed that, in 10 years' time, we would still be rivals. I think it's an incredible story."

Serena in, Sharapova out at Indian Wells; Federer, Nadal win

(3/18/15) Struggling with her serve and a rash of errors, Serena Williams overcame a slow start to beat Sloane Stephens 6-7 (3), 6-2, 6-2 in the fourth round at the BNP Paribas Open on Tuesday, extending her winning streak to 14 matches.

Maria Sharapova struggled mightily, too, losing 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 to defending champion Flavia Pennetta, who won her ninth straight match after becoming emotional and leaving the court in the first set.

Four-time Indian Wells champion Roger Federer defeated Andreas Seppi 6-3, 6-4, avenging his third-round loss to Seppi at the Australian Open.

Seppi fought off three match points on his serve to trail 5-4 in the third set. He netted a forehand to give Federer a fourth match point in the next game, and the Swiss star closed it out with a forehand winner in the corner.

Seppi's win Down Under stopped a 10-match skid against Federer. The Italian broke Federer to tie it up 3-all in the second, but Federer broke back on a forehand winner in the next game to take a lead he never gave up.

''It absolutely was an opportunity right away to play him again and sort of erase it to some extent from the memory as the season moves forward,'' Federer said. ''It's one of those matches you're happy you're through, and I was happy it was over.''

Pennetta was happy to advance after working through her emotions, saying she ''let everything out, screaming, do something.''

''For the first two or three games I was OK,'' Pennetta said. ''Then it's coming. Like I never expect. I never do something like that. Normally you go away and you don't want to stay on the court. But for me was important to just keep calm and try to play. In the end I just play really well.''

Pennetta had 34 unforced errors and just 15 winners. Sharapova topped her in both categories with 42 unforced errors and 27 winners to go with 11 double faults.

Pennetta broke two-time Indian Wells champion Sharapova twice in the final set, winning the last seven games.

''She got in a really good rhythm,'' said Sharapova, who didn't notice Pennetta's meltdown. ''Everything I gave her she was able to hit back solid with pace.''

Williams committed 52 unforced errors and had nine double faults to go with 13 aces and 31 winners in the up-and-down match played in 90-degree (32 Celsius) heat.

''I'm just trying to find my bearings,'' the world's top-ranked player said. ''Little off this week, but like I said, I'm just happy to be here.''

Williams set up match point with a 128-mph ace and won when Stephens dumped a backhand into the net, one of her 36 errors.

Williams broke Stephens three times in the final set of her third match at Indian Wells since ending a 14-year personal boycott of the tournament, where she has won two titles.

''The crowd has been really great,'' Williams said. ''It's been really relaxing here. I just feel I don't want to leave.''

Stephens recovered after blowing a 3-1 lead in the first set to dominate the tiebreaker that included just one winner, a smash by Williams to trail 3-2.

Williams has been subdued on court, with none of the screaming and exuberant fist-pumping that often marks her matches.

''That's why I was so calm after I lost (the first set), because it was like, I don't really need to win this title,'' Williams said. ''Just being out here is a real win for me and I was just calm through it.''

Stephens won four of the final five points and then promptly got broken to start the second set. Her double faults in the first game set up both break points, and Williams cashed in on the second one when Stephens' backhand went long.

Stephens held to get to 3-2 before Williams won five straight games to close out the second set 6-2 and take a 2-0 lead in the third. They shared a brief conversation at the net during the post-match handshake.

''I have always thought Sloane can be really great,'' Williams said. ''I think she's on the right track. She played really well. It's good to see her doing really well again.''

In third round men's play, Nadal beat Donald Young 6-4, 6-2 in a matchup of lefties.

''I feel confident that I am playing much better than one month and a half ago,'' Nadal said. ''I feel closer to be what I am, what I want to be, and it's a positive victory for me.''

Sixth-seeded Milos Raonic beat Alexandr Dolgopolov, 7-6 (2), 6-4; No. 11 Grigor Dimitrov lost to 17th-seeded Tommy Robredo, 6-4, 1-6, 7-5; Jack Sock upset 15th-seeded Roberto Bautista Agut, 3-6, 6-3, 6-2 to earn his first meeting against Federer; and No. 9 seed Tomas Berdych beat Steve Johnson, 6-4, 6-2.

No. 12 Carla Suarez Navarro beat Heather Watson 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-1 to reach the quarterfinals, where she will play third-seeded Simona Halep, a 6-4, 6-4 winner over 14th-seeded Karolina Pliskova.

Jelena Jankovic, the 2010 champion, outlasted 18-year-old Belinda Bencic, 6-3, 3-6, 6-3.

Sharapova beats Azarenka on 6th match point at Indian Wells

(3/17/15) Maria Sharapova defeated Victoria Azarenka 6-4, 6-3 on her sixth match point in a third-round pairing of former No. 1-ranked players at the BNP Paribas Open on Monday.

Sharapova hit 23 winners, one more than Azarenka, and had 10 fewer unforced errors than Azarenka's 37 to even their all-time series at seven wins apiece.

Azarenka fought off four match points on her serve in the eighth game to hold trailing 5-3. They dueled through five deuces until Azarenka fired a big serve to keep herself in the match.

Sharapova took a 40-15 lead to set up her fifth match point, but netted a forehand. She converted on her sixth one with a shot that Azarenka couldn't return near the net.

Sharapova, a two-time champion at Indian Wells, will meet defending champion Flavia Pennetta in the fourth round. Seeded 15th, Pennetta beat Sam Stosur 6-4, 6-2 on an outside court.

Azarenka, who beat Sharapova for the title here in 2012, is just starting to return to form after a left foot injury limited her to nine tournaments last year and dropped her ranking to 32nd. The two-time Australian Open champion led 4-3 in the first set before Sharapova won the final three games.

Two more former Indian Wells champions and top-ranked players went out in the third round. Fourth-seeded Caroline Wozniacki lost to 31st-seeded Belinda Bencic, 6-4, 6-4, and fifth-seeded Ana Ivanovic lost to 25th-seeded Caroline Garcia 6-2, 5-7, 6-2.

Bencic earned her first win over a top-five player and at 18 became the youngest player to reach the fourth round this year. Last year in Istanbul, Bencic failed to win a game off Wozniacki.

''In Istanbul I had maybe too much respect and I was afraid, nervous,'' she said. ''Today I really had a good game plan. I served well kind of, and had sometimes some easy points on my serve because of that.''

In other women's matches, No. 6 seed Eugenie Bouchard beat CoCo Vandeweghe 6-3, 6-2 and qualifier Lesia Tsurenko defeated 20th-seeded Alize Cornet, 7-5, 1-6, 6-2.

Andy Murray outlasted Philipp Kohlschreiber 6-1, 3-6, 6-1 in a nearly two-hour baseline slugfest under a hot sun. Murray earned the only two breaks of the third set and closed out the win when Kohlschreiber's forehand went wide, one of 35 unforced errors by the German. The temperature topped 90 degrees (32 Celsius), unusually warm for this time of year.

Cool mornings, hot afternoons and warm evenings have made for changing court conditions and ball speed in the desert, and Murray was affected by them.

''When you are playing in those matches during the heat of the day, you need to trust your shots. You need to go after them, because if you back off and try and sort of guide the ball in these conditions, it doesn't work,'' he said. ''During the day it's ridiculous how high the balls bounce and how quick they move through the air and jump off the court.''

Murray moved on to a fourth-round match against Adrian Mannarino, who beat 14th-seeded Ernests Gulbis, 6-4, 6-4.

Fifth-seeded Kei Nishikori was stretched to three sets before overcoming Fernando Verdasco, 6-7 (8), 6-1, 6-4. Nishikori double-faulted twice in the final game before advancing to the fourth round for the first time in his seventh appearance at Indian Wells.

''Third set, it could go both ways, but I got first break,'' Nishikori said. ''I really served well. Until last game I didn't face break points. It was still close the last game, so really happy to beat Fernando.''

John Isner beat 18th-seeded Kevin Anderson, 7-6 (8), 6-2, setting up a possible fourth-round match against top-ranked Novak Djokovic, who played Albert Ramos-Vinolas in a night match.

Isner has lost just 12 points on his big serve in his first two matches.

''Winning that, it's pretty big for my confidence,'' he said. ''Serve came up huge when I needed it in the first-set tiebreaker. 146 right on the line, and I just gutted it out and I played a good second set.''

Jelena Jankovic, who won here in 2010 and spent 18 weeks at No. 1 in the world, outlasted Madison Keys, 5-7, 6-4, 6-3 despite the Serb having just 13 winners and 42 unforced errors.

Jankovic is coming off a back injury and torn muscle in Doha, which hampered her practice schedule.

Keys, a 20-year-old American coached by former top-ranked Lindsay Davenport, had her chances to take control, leading 3-1 in the final set. She hit 39 winners, but came undone with a whopping 64 unforced errors.

Sharapova, Pennetta and Bouchard progress

(3/14/15) Twice winner Maria Sharapova and reigning champion Flavia Pennetta advanced to the third round of the BNP Paribas Open on Saturday, though in sharply contrasting fashion.

Russian Sharapova, the second seed, made a fast start to overpower Belgian Yanina Wickmayer early on but then ran into much stiffer resistance before grinding out a 6-1 7-5 win after one hour and 45 minutes of baseline battle.

Fifteenth-seeded Italian Pennetta overcame an initial bout of nerves to finish strong as she launched her title defense with a commanding 6-4 6-2 win over American Madison Brengle in the first match of the day on the stadium court.

Sharapova, champion at Indian Wells in 2006 and 2013, broke Wickmayer's serve three times to sweep through the opening set in just over half an hour, a crunching forehand crosscourt winner putting her ahead 6-1.

However, the Belgian was a very different proposition in the second set which went comfortably with serve until a marathon 10th game where Wickmayer saved four match points before holding to level at 5-5.

Sharapova held serve to lead 6-5 and finally converted a sixth match point in the 12th when the Belgian hit a backhand long.

"She's a tough opponent," world number two Sharapova said in a courtside interview. "She hits the ball quite hard and has an unbelievable serve. I started the match well but the second set was a different story."

The Russian will next meet Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who brushed aside Belgian Kirsten Flipkens 6-2 6-4.

In Saturday's evening encounter, sixth-seeded Canadian Eugenie Bouchard eased past Czech qualifier Lucie Hradecka 6-2 6-2.

The 21-year-old Bouchard, who reached the last four in Australia and France as well as the Wimbledon final in 2014, broke her opponent's serve three times in each set to wrap up victory in under an hour.

In other matches, fourth seed Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark battled past Tunisia's Ons Jabeur 7-6(3) 6-4 and fifth-seeded Serb Ana Ivanovic, the 2008 champion here, hammered Kazakhstan's Yulia Putintseva 6-3 6-1.

Sharapova boost for Russian Fed Cup hopes - Tarpischev

(3/11/15) World number two Maria Sharapova's participation will considerably boost Russia's Fed Cup chances this year, national tennis federation boss Shamil Tarpischev insisted Wednesday.

Four-time winners Russia take on two-time champions Germany for a place in the final in Sochi from April 18-19, as the Czech Republic host France in the second semi-final in Ostrava.

"We held talks with her (Sharapova) in recent days," ITAR-TASS news agency quoted Tarpishchev as saying.

"Now we're all happy that she has agreed to play against Germany. Her participation gives Russia a serious advantage.

"We want to win the Fed Cup this year. Together with Maria we have much more of a chance of doing that."

Sharapova must compete in the women's team event if she wants to bid for gold in Rio next year.

And the 27-year-old declared earlier Wednesday she was ready for the tie against Germany who Russia lead 3-1 in previous meetings.

"Sochi, I'm coming back!! (with my tennis gear this time)," Sharapova wrote at her official Twitter page.

Russia had a disappointing 2014 campaign, losing 4-0 to Australia in their opening round clash.

But Sharapova made a rare but decisive Fed Cup appearance in February helping Russia beat Poland in the opening round at Krakow.

It was just her fourth Fed Cup appearance since her 2008 debut.

Maria Sharapova withdraws because of stomach virus

(2/27/15) Top-seeded Maria Sharapova of Russia withdrew Friday before her Mexico Open semifinal against Caroline Garcia because of a stomach virus.

The third-seeded Garcia will face fifth-seeded Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland in the hard-court event at The Fairmont Acapulco Princess. Bacsinszky beat Bulgaria's Sesil Karatantcheva 6-2, 6-4.

Top-seeded Maria Sharapova reaches Mexico Open semifinals

(2/26/15) Top-seeded Maria Sharapova of Russia beat Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia 6-1, 4-6, 6-2 on Thursday night to reach the Mexico Open semifinals.

Sharapova will face third-seeded Caroline Garcia of France in the hard-court event at The Fairmont Acapulco Princess. Garcia led Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 6-2, 2-1 when the Croatian player retired.

In the other quarterfinals, Bulgaria's Sesil Karatantcheva topped Monica Puig of Puerto Rico, 2-6, 7-6 (7), 6-4, and fifth-seeded Timea Bacsinszky of Switzerland topped Johanna Larsson of Sweden 6-3, 6-3.

Errani out, Sharapova into Acapulco quarters

(2/25/15) Australian Open runner-up and No. 1 seed Maria Sharapova cruised to a second-round victory, while second-seeded Sara Errani was sent home Wednesday at the Mexican Open tennis event.

Sharapova needed just 68 minutes to dispatch Colombian lucky loser Mariana Duque-Marino 6-1, 6-2 on the hardcourts at the Acapulco Princess.

Slovak Magdalena Rybarikova will face Sharapova in the quarterfinals after routing Romanian qualifier Elena Bogdan 6-0, 6-2.

Errani, who won back-to-back titles here in 2012 and 2013, was handily defeated by Puerto Rican Monica Puig 6-1, 6-1.

Caroline Garcia, seeded third, beat Bethanie Mattek-Sands, 6-2, 6-3, while fifth-seeded Timea Bacsinszky battled past Lesia Tsurenko 6-2, 7-6 (7-4).

Also on Day 3, Mirjana Lucic-Baroni edged Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 7-5, Johanna Larsson topped Aleksandra Krunic 6-1, 6-2 and lucky loser Sesil Karatantcheva defeated Kiki Bertens 6-1, 6-4.

This week's winner will pocket $43,000.

Sharapova less fixated on top spot but eager to beat Serena

(2/23/15) Regaining the world's top ranking in women's tennis is less important to five-times grand slam winner Maria Sharapova than it was when she was younger, but the Russian is eager to beat dominant player Serena Williams.

Williams beat Sharapova, who is ranked number two, to claim her 19th grand slam singles title in the Australian Open final last month.

Sharapova, who first earned the top spot as an 18-year-old in 2005, has not beaten Williams since 2004.

"I wouldn't say it's as much of a priority as when I was younger," Sharapova told Reuters on Sunday in a telephone interview from the resort town of Acapulco ahead of the annual Mexico Open.

"She is definitely an opponent that I have had a lot of trouble playing against in the last 10 years and someone that I would love to beat," She said.

"I love facing her and I love that challenge. I'm definitely not shy of competing against her."

Sharapova, who will be playing in the Mexico Open for the first time, is the favorite to win against Italian Sara Errani, ranked 16th and America's 20th ranked Madison Keys in this week's matches in Acapulco.

"It's quite a tough deal. There are a lot of girls that have had big wins, even some that are not seeded, so I look forward to tough competition and of course being the number one seed," Sharapova said.

Russia defeats Poland 4-0 to advance in Fed Cup

(2/8/15) Maria Sharapova defeated Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1, 7-5 Sunday as Russia advanced to the semifinals of the Fed Cup with a 4-0 victory in the World Group first round tie against Poland.

''It is never easy to play after a long journey, new surface and very little training on it,'' Sharapova said. ''I tried to play my best tennis and I am happy that I won in two sets.''

Sharapova hit a total of 39 winners on the indoor hardcourt, compared to 16 for Radwanska, and won the first set in 33 minutes.

Sharapova led the second set 5-3 before Radwanska broke her serve and then drew level at 5-5 after surviving two match points. Sharapova held her next serve and broke Radwanska again to win on her third match point.

Russia had a winning 3-0 lead after Sharapova's victory, which it increased to 4-0 after Vitalia Diatchenko and Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova beat Klaudia Jans-Ignacik and Alicja Rosolska 6-4, 6-4.

Radwanska also lost on Saturday to Svetlana Kuznetsova while Sharapova beat Agnieszka's younger sister, Urszula Radwanska.

The second reverse singles on Sunday between Urszula Radwanska and Svetlana Kuznetsova did not take place.

Russia will host Germany in the semifinals after it beat Australia 4-1 in their World Group tie.

Kuznetsova, Sharapova win as Russia leads Fed Cup

(2/7/15) Russia took a 2-0 lead over Poland in the first round of the Fed Cup on Saturday after Maria Sharapova and Svetlana Kuznetsova took turns beating the Radwanska sisters.

Kuznetsova started by defeating Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 and Sharapova followed up with an easy 6-0, 6-3 win over younger sister Urszula Radwanska to give Russia a commanding lead in its first ever Fed Cup meeting with Poland.

The eighth-ranked Agnieszka Radwanska was broken twice in the final set in her hometown of Krakow as Kuznetsova wrapped up the win in 2 hours, 15 minutes in front of a crowd of some 15,000.

Both players struggled to hold serve in the first two sets, which featured a combined nine breaks.

"It was a great match, much tougher that that the results of the sets would suggest," Kuznetsova said. "The situation changed many times. In the second set I lost some of the concentration, but I won important exchanges in the third."

On Sunday, Agnieszka Radwanska plays Sharapova and Urszula plays Kuznetsova, followed by a doubles match if necessary.

Sharapova targets Olympics as Russia tackle Poland in Fed Cup opener

(2/7/15) Maria Sharapova leads Russia in their Fed Cup World Group opener against Poland this weekend looking to take a step closer to the 2016 Olympics.

It will be the first meeting between the two countries and a rare Fed Cup appearance by 2012 Olympic silver medallist Sharapova, who must compete in the women's team event if she wants to bid for gold in Rio next year.

The Russian star, runner-up to Serena Williams at the Australian Open last Saturday, has played just three ties for Russia since her 2008 debut and has a 3-1 singles record.

Champions the Czech Republic open their defence against Canada in Quebec City, as 2014 runners-up Germany host Australia in Stuttgart and France travel to play Italy, last year's semi-finalists, in Genoa.

The hardcourt clash on Saturday and Sunday at Krakow Arena will see 27-year-old Sharapova return to Fed Cup for the first time since February 2012.

Attention will also be focussed on her new team captain Anastasia Myskina, who a decade ago threatened to pull out of the Russian team if Sharapova was selected.

Myskina, the first Russian woman to win a Grand Slam at Roland Garros in 2004, the year she spearheaded their first Fed Cup victory, retired as a player in 2007 and took over the Fed Cup captaincy in 2014.

Russia are favourites with world number two Sharapova joined by 27th-ranked Sveltana Kuznetsova, a two-time Grand Slam winner, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (34), and Vitalia Diatchenko (82).

World Group newcomers Poland will be led by former Wimbledon finalist Agnieszka Radwanska, ranked eighth, after her run to the fourth round of the Australian Open, alongside her younger sister Urszula, ranked 135.

Alicja Rosolska and Klaudia Jans-Ignacik will be on doubles duty for Poland.

In Quebec City, the Czech holders are favourites having won all five of their previous meetings with the Canadians, despite being without top players Petra Kvitova and Lucie Safarova.

World number 20 Karolina Pliskova, 68th-ranked Tereza Smitkova, 107th-ranked Denisa Allertova and doubles specialist Lucie Hradecka, will line out in the first meeting between the two sides since 2002.

Sharapova still haunted by Williams jinx

(1/31/15) Maria Sharapova vowed Saturday to keep grinding away to break her jinx against Serena Williams, after she was beaten to the Australian Open title by a player who has won all 16 of their last encounters.

Despite being number two in the world, the Russian just cannot beat her bitter rival, with her winless streak going back a decade.

Williams' powerful serve made the difference on Saturday, with the 33-year-old blasting 18 aces to win her 19th Grand Slam 6-3, 7-6 (7/5) and consolidate her place among the game's legends.

Coming into the tournament the Russian also had the chance to topple Williams as world number one, but the opportunity also slipped from her grasp.

However, Sharapova said she was a fighter and would work hard to keep putting herself in the position to beat the intensely focused American.

"Yes, I haven't won against her many times, but if I'm getting to the stage of competing against someone like Serena, I'm doing something well," she said.

"I'm setting up a chance to try to beat her and it hasn't happened. I'm not just going to go home without giving it another chance.

"That's just not who I am and not who I was raised to be. I'm a competitor.

"If I'm getting to the finals of Grand Slams and setting myself up to play a match against Serena, I mean, maybe you're telling me I'm wrong, but I'm happy to be in that position.

"I love the competition. I love playing against the best, and at the moment she is."

- Tough to be the loser -

The first Australian final in a decade to feature the tournament's top two seeds was a one-sided affair in the opening set, although Sharapova rallied to make a contest of it in the second, displaying her renowned fighting qualities.

She held off a championship point at 5-4 in the second and another at 6-5 when it went to a tie-break before Williams won on her third attempt with an ace.

Sharapova admitted Williams' huge serve -- some of them fired down at 200 kph (166 mph) was key to her victory.

"That's one of her biggest strengths, her serve. Maybe it's something that has saved her in many matches, situations where you cannot get the racquet on the ball," she said.

"You have to let that go. And if you're able to get in the point somehow, make it a little bit easy for yourself -- I didn't feel that I had many of those chances to get in the point.

"When the games on her serve were 30-All, 40-30 or 15-30 a few times, she came up with really great serves."

Despite being outgunned, the 27-year-old, known for her steely composure on court, admitted it was tough to go home the loser without adding to her five Grand Slam titles.

"It's always tough getting to a final stage of an event where it's down to two players and you end up become the one that's going home with the smaller trophy, there's no doubt about it," she said.

"No matter how you played, well or not, whatever the scoreline is, it's always tough. But it will be alright."

Sharapova, who at least improved on her 6-1, 6-2 capitulation to Williams in the 2007 final at Melbourne Park, said the venue was still special for her.

"I've had some of my best memories on this court and also some of my toughest losses as well, but that's the life of a tennis player," she said.

Get Ready For The Cold

(1/31/15) As if losing to Serena Williams, again, wasn't bad enough. Next up for Maria Sharapova is a 30-hour flight to freezing Poland.

''Yeah, I'm really looking forward to it,'' Sharapova said with a laugh when a reporter asked if she still plans to fly to Krakow for the Fed Cup, where Poland plays Russia next weekend.

''I'm very much looking forward to the 30-hour flight taking to Krakow tomorrow,'' the 27-year-old Russian, sarcastically. ''A very convenient travel itinerary, too.''

After a few weeks in the Australian summer, the thought of winter in Poland isn't too appealing, apparently.

''It's like minus eight, so that's even better,'' Sharapova added, chuckling to herself. ''Love the climate, love the travel.''

Sharapova humbled but gracious after latest loss to Williams

(1/31/15) After more than a decade of losses to Serena Williams, Maria Sharapova is getting good at being gracious in defeat.

The Australian Open final Saturday demonstrated just how far the gap is between No. 1 and No. 2 following Sharapova's 16th loss in a row to Williams - 6-3, 7-6 (5) at Rod Laver Arena.

Five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova said Williams' serves were so fast, it was hard to even make contact with the ball. Hence the American's 18 aces - one of them at 203 kph (126 mph).

''I've got to congratulate Serena on creating history, on playing some of her best tennis,'' Sharapova said at the trophy ceremony, where she held back tears before stepping up to the microphone.

''I haven't beaten her in a really long time. But I love every time I step on court against her, because she's been the best. And as a tennis player you want to play against the best.''

It was Williams' 19th Grand Slam title, moving her ahead of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova and three behind Steffi Graf's Open-era leading total of 22.

Sharapova has now lost every match against Williams since the WTA finals in 2004 - she's won only two of 19 matches.

''I've had some of the best memories of my career on this court and also some of the toughest losses, but that's the life of a tennis player,'' said Sharapova, who won the Australian Open in 2008 but has lost two finals and three semifinals - including one of each to Williams.

Sharapova was gracious to Williams both at the trophy ceremony and in her post-match news conference. She didn't dwell on how much the loss hurt or how badly she wanted to end the losing streak but focused on how much she loves competition and competing against the best.

''If I'm getting to the stage of competing against someone like Serena, I'm doing something well,'' Sharapova said. ''I'm happy to be in that position. I love the competition. I love playing against the best, and at the moment she is.''

Williams has been the best for quite some time. Her latest stint at No. 1 has lasted for 101 consecutive weeks.

Unlike the men's side, where four players have dominated for a decade - Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Andy Murray - the women's side has one recurring champion and others occasionally making inroads.

''It's frustrating to be the one going home with the small trophy. But I do love the battle. I love high-quality tennis. I love being part of it. It's a lot better than watching it on TV,'' said Sharapova. ''I'm proud to be part of an era where she's in.''

Foiled again, Sharapova feels Serena breakthrough closer

(1/31/15) Maria Sharapova's dreams of a sixth grand slam title were ended by Serena Williams and her wrecking ball serve in the Australian Open final on Saturday, but the Russian was adamant she would some day have the American's measure.

Though gallant in defeat, her 6-3 7-6(5) loss under the lights of Rod Laver Arena was her 16th in succession to the American great, a decade-long record of pain and frustration.

The Russian bravely saw off two match points with a pair of sizzling winners, but had little say in the third and Williams's 18th ace sealed the match and her sixth title at Melbourne Park with a boom.

Though clinching her 19th grand slam title at the age of 33, evergreen Williams has shown no sign of slowing down and could conceivably haunt Sharapova for years to come.

"If I keep setting up myself chances, absolutely," Sharapova told reporters, when asked if she was getting closer to a breakthrough.

"Look, I actually believe that we attract what we're ready for. Yes, I haven't won against her many times, but if I'm getting to the stage of competing against someone like Serena, I'm doing something well.

"I'm setting up a chance to try to beat her and it hasn't happened. I'm not just going to go home without giving it another chance.

"That's just not who I am and not who I was raised to be. I'm a competitor.

"If I'm getting to the finals of grand slams and setting myself up to play a match against Serena, I mean, I know it sounds -- maybe you're telling me I'm wrong -- but I'm happy to be in that position.

"I love the competition. I love playing against the best, and at the moment she is."

The five-times grand slam champion was nearly dumped out in the second round when forced to fight off match points against countrywoman Alexandra Panova.

She said at the trophy ceremony she was proud of her effort, after being given a "second life".

"It's disappointing now. It's 45 minutes after the match," she told reporters.

"It's always tough to sit and speak in front of the press about a loss. But, look, I'm happy with the way I've handled a few of the matches here, how I've come back strong, how I've set myself up to try to win another major.

"It's not easy to get to the final of a grand slam. It takes a lot of work. It's over the course of two weeks. That's a good achievement. It's a good start to the year. The year is very young at this point."

Serena tops Sharapova to win 6th Australian Open

(1/31/15) Serena Williams won her 19th Grand Slam title and continued her unbeaten run in six Australian Open finals by extending her decade-long domination of Maria Sharapova.

She struggled with a hacking cough, she was sick, and she twice celebrated too early, but she held her composure in a 6-3, 7-6 (5) victory on Saturday.

On her third match point, she let her racket go before hearing a let call to what she thought was an ace.

"I thought, ‘Wow this is it, I did it, only to hear let. I was like, ‘OK Serena!"’ she said. "I was very disappointed, because Maria was playing so well. I thought she’s going to try to hit a winner now. She’s goes for broke on match point."

So she fell back on her biggest weapon, firing another ace — her 15th of the set and 18th of the match. This time, after checking it was official, she bounced around like a little child and the celebration was real.

"I’m so honoured to be here and to hold this 19th trophy," Williams said. "I didn’t think it would happen this fast, to be honest, but it feels really good."

The 33-year-old Williams became the oldest winner of the Australian women’s title in the Open era and moved into outright second place on the list of major winners in the Open era, behind only Steffi Graf’s 22. Almost immediately, her thoughts turned to the next major.

"I would love to get to 22. I mean, 19 was very difficult to get to," she said. "But I have to get to 20 first, and then I have to get to 21. It will be a very big task."

Still affected by a recent cold, Williams controlled the first set around a rain delay when play was stopped for 13 minutes for the roof on Rod Laver Arena to be closed due. Williams came back on court momentarily, but returned to the locker room.

"I had a really bad cough, I ended up throwing up, actually," Williams said. "I’ve never done that before. I guess there’s a first time for anything. I think in a way that just helped me — I felt better after that."

She returned to court and fired an ace to start a run of six straight points and, after dropping serve for the only time in the match, broke Sharapova’s serve for a third time to clinch it.

Williams won the first six points of the second set, too, before Sharapova started hitting out.

The five-time major winner had 18 of her 21 winners in the second set, and fended off four break points.

No. 2-ranked Sharapova saved two match points, including one in the 10th game when she bravely hit a forehand winner down the line — applauded by Williams — and she calmly held serve twice to stay in the match.

Sharapova saved another match point with a winning service return, but Williams took her next chance to secure the title that lifted her above the career records of Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova, who had 18 Grand Slam singles titles.

She was aggressive from the start, pumping her fist and screaming "C’mon" after big points. But she had to tone it down after going slightly too far in the seventh game of the second set when the chair umpire ruled a hindrance when she celebrated too early on a service winner and was docked a point.

When she eventually held that game with an ace, she held out her fist and mouthed "C’mon", barely uttering a sound.

"I know the rules now. I’m not one to argue unless I’m sure that I’m right … If anything I need to relax more," Williams said. "At that point, I was so uptight."

Williams has won 16 in a row and is 17-2 in career matches against Sharapova, who hasn’t won a head-to-head meeting since 2004.

And while Williams has a 100 per cent record at Melbourne Park, Sharapova dropped to 1-3 in Australian Open finals — her only victory coming in 2008.

"I haven’t beaten her in a long time but I love every time I step on the court with her," said Sharapova, who save two match points in the second round before advancing. "I’ve had some of the best memories of my career on this court and also some of my toughest losses, but that’s the life of a tennis player."

What to watch at Aussie Open Saturday: No 1 vs No 2

(1/30/15) It's been five years since Serena Williams won the last of her five Australian Open singles titles. Maria Sharapova's one and only trophy at Melbourne Park came in 2008 when she defeated Ana Ivanovic.

This year's final at Rod Laver Arena will feature a No. 1 (Williams) against a No. 2 (Sharapova) for the first time at Melbourne Park since 2004, when top-seeded Justin Henin defeated No. 2 Kim Clijsters in an all-Belgium final.

The 33-year-old Williams, who has won all five times she's reached the final, will be the oldest player to reach the championship match in Australia in the Open era. She last won the title here in 2010, beating Henin.

It will be Sharapova's fourth trip to the final here - as well as winning in 2008, she was comprehensively outplayed by Williams in 2007 and by Victoria Azarenka in 2012.

Williams' preparation for the final has been affected by a cold that has been bothering her for four or five days. On Friday, she was an hour late for morning training, abandoned it, then went back for an afternoon session.

''Yes, I had a false start (this morning), I wasn't feeling really well,'' Williams said. ''I've been sick with a cold all week, and I got better, then I got worse this morning. So I just had to go back (to the hotel), relax and take a nap, rejuvenate my body. I rescheduled practice for this afternoon. It went well this afternoon, I felt better.''

The men's doubles final will follow the women's championship match, with the French pair of Pierre-Hugues Herbert and Nicolas Mahut taking on Italy's Simone Bolelli and Fabio Fognini.

Here are some things to watch in the women's final Saturday:

CAREER DOMINANCE: It's not a very pretty head-to-head stats sheet for Sharapova and her team to ponder - the U.S.-based Russian has lost her last 15 matches against Williams. Her only two wins in their 18 career meetings were in 2004, although one of them came in the Wimbledon final that year, the first of Sharapova's five Grand Slam titles. The 2007 loss to Williams in the Australian Open final was 6-1, 6-2, one of Sharapova's worst in any Grand Slam match. They last met at a major in the 2013 French Open final, when Williams won 6-4, 6-4.

GETTING THERE: Williams was taken to three sets in her third-round match against No. 26 Elina Svitolina and in her fourth-rounder against Garbine Muguruza, but won her quarterfinals and semifinals in straight sets over Dominika Cibulkova, last year's finalist, and 19-year-old American Madison Keys. Sharapova nearly went out in the second round to Russian qualifier Alexandra Panova, who forced her to save two match points. From there, it's been straight-set wins over seeded players including Eugenie Bouchard and Ekaterina Makarova.

SERENA SPEAKS: On Sharapova: ''Maria is playing great. She's in the tournament only because she's a fighter and only because she refuses to give up. She has nothing to lose.''

On her 2005 Australian Open semifinal win (2-6, 7-5, 8-6) over Sharapova: ''The only thing I remember is the inside-out forehand on match point. I hit it for a winner. I hit it and I walked to the next side as if I knew it was already going to be a winner.'

On No. 1 vs. No. 2: ''I think it's great for women's tennis, good for me and Maria. I love playing her. I look forward to it. I didn't expect to get to the finals of this tournament when I first got here because I wasn't playing great. So I'm happy to be here.''

MARIA SPEAKS: On Williams: ''Her power and her aggressiveness, I think that's always made me a little bit too aggressive. Some (matches) I've had my chances that I didn't necessarily take. She's someone who makes you go for a little bit more than you would like.''

On her 2005 Australian Open semifinal loss: ''I don't actually remember too much of it. It was a very physical battle. It was tough to lose that one. Definitely had a lot of chances. ''

On being nervous: ''I think we wouldn't be human if we didn't feel extra nerves. Of course, I think nerves equals excitement in a certain way because you know something pretty big is ahead of you. I feel like it's been a really long time since I've won this title here and it would be extremely meaningful for me to hold the trophy.''

Australian Open finalist Maria Sharapova

(1/30/15) Factbox on Russia's Maria Sharapova, who will meet Serena Williams in the Australian Open final on Saturday:

Born: April 19, 1987 in Nyagan, Russia

Seed: 2

GRAND SLAM TITLES:

Five: Wimbledon (2004); U.S. Open (2006); Australian Open (2008); French Open (2012, 2014)

MAKING HER NAME

* Born in Siberia, moves to Black Sea coastal resort of Sochi aged two.

* Moves to Florida in 1996 to train at Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy in Bradenton. Sharapova's father Yuri moves to U.S. with her but mother, Yelena, has to stay in Russia due to visa restrictions.

* Turns professional in 2001.

TENNIS CAREER

* Wins first tour title at Tokyo in 2003. Finishes inside top-50 for first time.

* Becomes first Russian woman to win Wimbledon in 2004 aged 17, beating defending champion Serena Williams 6-1 6-4 in the final.

* In August 2005 becomes first Russian woman to reach the top of the world rankings.

* Wins her second grand slam after defeating second seed Justine Henin 6-4 6-4 in the 2006 U.S. Open final.

* Beats Ana Ivanovic of Serbia 7-5 6-3 in 2008 to win her third grand slam title, and first Australian Open.

* Undergoes shoulder surgery in 2008 and has a nine-month injury layoff.

* Regains number one ranking by beating Petra Kvitova in their semi-finals at Roland Garros in 2012 before defeating Sara Errani 6-3 6-2 in the final to complete her collection of grand slam trophies.

* Wins a silver medal in her Olympic debut at the 2012 Games in London, losing the gold-medal match against Williams 6-0 6-1.

* Misses second half of 2013 season with a shoulder injury.

* Returns to the WTA Tour in 2014 at the Brisbane International tournament, making the semi-finals.

* Loses in the fourth round at the Australian Open, losing to eventual finalist Dominika Cibulkova.

* Seeded seventh, she wins her fifth grand slam title at 2014 French Open, beating Simona Halep in the final.

* Wins three other titles at Stuttgart, Beijing and Madrid and finishes the year ranked second, behind Serena.

2015 AUSTRALIAN OPEN

* Begins 2015 with Brisbane title, beating Ana Ivanovic in the final. It is her first title victory before the season-opening grand slam.

* Has a comfortable victory over Petra Martic in the first round but then suffers a massive scare in the second when she is forced to save two match points against compatriot Alexandra Panova.

* Admits after the Panova match that she had a pointed telephone conversation with her father, who described the performance as "unacceptable".

* Destroys 20-year-old Eugenie Bouchard in the quarter-final after the Canadian had been tipped as a favourite, not allowing the youngster to get into the game at all.

* Follows that up with another clinical performance over compatriot Ekaterina Makarova to set up final with Serena.

Path to the final: 1st round - beat Petra Martic (Croatia) 6-4 6-1 2nd round - beat Alexandra Panova (Russia) 6-1 4-6 7-5 3rd round - beat 31-Zarina Diyas (Kazakhstan) 6-1 6-1 4th round - beat 21-Peng Shuai (China) 6-3 6-0 QF - beat 7-Eugenie Bouchard (Canada) 6-3 6-2 SF - beat 10-Ekaterina Makarova 6-3 6-2.

Sharapova out to end decade of Serena dominance

(1/30/15) Top seed Serena Williams' coach has dismissed the American's decade-long, 15-0 winning streak against Maria Sharapova as irrelevant ahead of the arch-rivals' blockbuster Australian Open final on Saturday.

The final will pit the world's two best players, both in sizzling form, against one another in a dream Grand Slam decider, although the second seeded Sharapova faces questions over her staggering inability to notch a win over Williams since 2004.

The Russian's overall losing record against Williams is 16-2, including a crushing straight sets win in the 2007 Australian final, and her last 15 meetings with the 18-time Grand Slam champion have ended in defeat.

In addition, Williams has won five titles in five final appearances at Melbourne Park, emerging victorious every time she has reached the decider.

But Williams' coach, Frenchman Patrick Mouratoglou, said such statistics would mean nothing when the adversaries face each other in the Rod Laver Arena, describing Sharapova as a champion in her own right with five majors to her name.

"Every sequence has to end, just ask Nadal," he told AFP, referring to Czech Tomas Berdych's quarter-final victory over Rafael Nadal this week to end a record-equalling 17-match losing streak against the Spanish great.

"Maria Sharapova is changing all the time. This is someone who works hard. She develops her game, she evolves. This is the strength of a champion. Nadal did it all the time, Serena too."

- 'Time of my life' -

Neither player will lack motivation in the final.

Sharapova, 27, can finally end a decade of pain at Williams' hands in the ninth Grand Slam final of her career.

Williams, who at 33 is the oldest woman to contest an Open-era final in Australia, is contesting her 23rd Slam final.

A win would take her overall tally to 19, surpassing Martina Navratilova and Chris Evert as she chases Steffi Graf's Open-era record of 22.

Both survived scares early in the tournament to hit top form going into the final, with Williams battling a cold and Sharapova staying alive after fending off two match points in the second round.

Williams admitted that facing Sharapova honed her competitive edge, saying she was relishing the chance to renew their rivalry in the only Australian final in a decade to feature the tournament's top two seeds.

"I love playing her, I think it's fun, I love her intensity," she said. "For whatever reason, I just have the time of my time."

Sharapova admitted her record against Williams was "terrible" and said she would be aiming to play it cool and tone down her aggression.

"She's great at making players hit that shot that you don't necessarily have to go for -- maybe going for a little too much, going on the line," she said.

Mouratoglou said Williams thrived on the intensity of a Grand Slam final and had the ability to improve her game as her stress levels increased.

"The great champions know to be the best in the most important moments of their careers," he said. "She knows how to raise her game when necessary, to be effective on the important points. Stress makes her better."

Williams cut short a training session after just five minutes on Friday, suffering from a hacking cough, but later returned for a hit-out.

Sharapova said she did not expect her rival's condition to have any bearing on the final, saying she overcame similar snuffles when she won the tite at Roland Garros last year.

"I came into the French Open last year being quite sick. Once you're out there, I don't think you think about anything but what's in front of you," she said.

Serena and Sharapova's 'black heart' rivalry

(1/30/15) The bitter rivalry between Australian Open finalists Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova took root on the hallowed Wimbledon turf in 2004 and is still thriving more than a decade later -- both on and off the court.

Sharapova was a 17-year-old unknown when she stunned the tennis world by winning at the All England club in 2004, going on to become a superstar with five Grand Slams who ranks as the world's highest paid female athlete.

The problem was, the fairytale victory that catapulted her to global celebrity came at the expense of Serena Williams -- top seed at the time and hot favourite for a third straight Wimbledon title -- a result that the American has never forgotten.

It has spurred her on to an overall record of 16-2 against Sharapova, with the Russian's last victory over the world number one coming more than a decade ago.

Since 2005, the American's winning streak is 15-0, including straight sets wins over Sharapova in the Australian and French Open finals (2007 and 2013), as well as the gold medal match at the 2012 London Olympics.

Williams could not resist a dig when asked this week about her last loss to Sharapova in Los Angeles 11 years ago, replying: "She was 17, super young and I think I was basically serving under hand."

The 33-year-old also spoke of the multiple major champion in terms more often used for promising rookies, saying: "She wants to improve her game, she wants to take it to the next level".

Sharapova admits her results against Williams are "terrible" and is desperate to break the sequence as their feud -- which at times has seen the pair trade personal barbs -- flares again on Saturday at Melbourne's Rod Laver Arena.

"I think my confidence should be pretty high going into a final of a Grand Slam no matter who I'm facing and whether I've had a terrible record, to say the least, against someone," she said.

"It doesn't matter. I got there for a reason. I belong in that spot. I will do everything I can to get the title."

- No cool parties -

Known for her steely composure on court, Sharapova admitted that Williams is one of the few players who riles her up.

"I think that's always made me a little bit too aggressive, maybe going for a little bit more than I had to," she said.

"She's great at making players hit that shot that you don't necessarily have to go for... it's been a really difficult match-up for me, but I'm a competitor. I'll go out and do everything I can to try to change that result around."

The animosity has occasionally spilled off-court, such as when Williams unloaded in a 2013 magazine interview about a top five player she didn't like.

"She begins every interview with 'I'm so happy. I'm so lucky' –- it's so boring," she told Rolling Stone. "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."

Everyone -- including Sharapova -- interpreted it as a reference to her relationship with Bulgarian player Grigor Dimitrov and the Russian fired back with her own pointed reference to Williams' and her French coach Patrick Mouratoglou.

"If Serena wants to talk about something personal, she should talk about her relationship and her boyfriend, who is married, who is getting a divorce and has kids, and not draw attention to other things," she said.

Williams declined to answer this week when asked if her head-to-head record with Sharapova was too one-sided to be considered a proper rivalry.

Sharapova knows that her status as one of the greats of the modern era will be questioned if she continues to be dominated by her biggest rival, whose 18 Grand Slams means her own place in the pantheon of tennis legends is assured.

No Tennis Dreams

(1/29/15) Maria Sharapova has played at the Australian Open for 12 years, but she apparently still has some trouble with a strong Aussie accent.

After beating Ekaterina Makarova on Thursday to set up a final against Serena Williams, she was asked by an Australian reporter how she deals with nerves the night before a big match.

Sit in a room with music? Go for a walk? Have a bath?

Sounding slightly incredulous, Sharapova responded: ''Sit at a bar?''

''That's a good option. I never tried that option,'' she added with a laugh after the question was cleared up.

For the record, the pre-match usually pans out like this: ''I usually spend some time with my team and we talk about pretty much everything, the match, how we're feeling, things like that.''

And Sharapova usually sleeps just fine.

''I don't dream too much of tennis, thankfully.''

Serena relishing Sharapova 'title fight' at Open

(1/29/15) Top seed Serena Williams said Thursday she was delighted to renew her one-sided rivalry with Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open final after defeating fellow American Madison Keys to reach the decider.

The 18-time Grand Slam champion's hard-fought 7-6 (7/5), 6-2 semi-final win over Keys will pit the world's top two players against one another at Melbourne Park with a major on the line.

Williams, 33, responded enthusiastically when asked if the clash between the first and second seeds was similar to a boxing title fight to determine the champion of the world.

"It's great for women's tennis," she said. "I think it's good for me and Maria. I'm excited. I love playing her. I look forward to it."

If the tournament final was a boxing bout, the tale of the tape would be all in Williams' favour -- she has a daunting 16-2 record over the world number two and Sharapova has not landed a glove on her in more than a decade.

The American, who will become the oldest woman to contest an Australian final in the Open Era, said she knew Sharapova would be desperate for a win but insisted she was relaxed and having fun at Melbourne Park.

"I think she really wants this. I can see that she wants to do well," Williams said of Sharapova, who owns five-time Grand Slam titles.

"She wants to improve her game. She wants to take it to the next level. So, you know, I have to know that she wants to win probably a lot.

"It's going to be important for me to get off to a good start, I think. With that being said, if not, I'm going to be ready to fight."

- Still number one -

Williams has made the Australian Open final five times previously and won every time, including a victory in 2007 over Sharapova.

By advancing to the decider, she ensures she will retain the world number one ranking that she has held for more than 100 weeks, regardless of the outcome of Saturday's match.

Williams had to summon her renowned fighting qualities to quash a strong challenge from 19-year-old Keys, who was not intimidated appearing in her first Slam semi-final and pushed the veteran hard.

The teenager came out swinging in a match that featured 25 aces from two of the biggest hitters in the women's game, taking the first set to a tie-break.

Williams struggled with the power of Keys' groundstrokes but showed her guile to lob the teen on several occasions when she came to the net prematurely.

After taking the first set, Williams went up a break early in the second and Keys resistance appeared to finally be crumbling as she gave away another break with a double fault to make it 4-1.

But she made a stand serving at 5-1, saving seven match points to force Williams to serve it out.

Keys managed to save one more match point off Williams' serve before the veteran ended it with an ace to advance to the final.

Williams, Sharapova to meet in Australian Open final

(1/29/15) Serena Williams weathered a barrage of big serves and heavy groundstrokes early and needed nine match points before beating Madison Keys 7-6 (5), 6-2 to set up an Australian Open final against second-seeded Maria Sharapova.

Top-ranked Williams, bothered by a cold in recent days, dominated the second set of the all-American semifinal, breaking Keys' serve twice.

The 19-year-old Keys, playing in her first Grand Slam semifinal, saved seven match points on serve in a penultimate game that lasted more than 11 minutes. Williams kept her cool, wasting one match point on her serve before closing with an ace to reach her 23rd major final.

''She pushed me really hard the first set ... and I had to really dig deep mentally to get through that,'' Williams said, pausing to cough. ''It was a little frustrating, I had like nine or 10 match points and couldn't close it out. That doesn't happen so much. She played like she didn't have anything to lose.''

Sharapova, who beat No. 10-seeded Ekaterina Makarova 6-3, 6-2 in an all-Russian semifinal earlier Thursday to reach her fourth Australian Open final, has lost her last 15 head-to-head matches to Williams. Her only two wins in their 18 career meetings were at Wimbledon and the tour-ending championship in 2004.

''I think my confidence should be pretty high going into a final of a Grand Slam no matter who I'm facing and whether I've had a terrible record, to say the least, against someone,'' Sharapova said. ''It doesn't matter. I got there for a reason. I belong in that spot. I will do everything I can to get the title.''

Williams, an 18-time major winner, is back in the final here for the first time since winning her fifth Australian title in 2010.

And her semifinal win ensured she will retain the top ranking, regardless of the outcome of the final.

The 33-year-old American said she was nervous at the start, and it showed. Keys broke her serve to open and dictated many of the longer rallies with her heavy ground strokes, forcing Williams to defend more than usual.

Keys, who beat Venus Williams in the quarterfinals to reach a Grand Slam semifinal for the first time, had control until she was broken in the sixth game.

She held in the 12th game, closing with an ace to force a tiebreaker, but quickly fell behind 4-1 with Serena firing two aces. She saved two set points with aces but had no chance of extending the tiebreaker when Williams hit another unreturnable serve, and started jumping for joy behind the baseline.

Williams broke early in the second set and raced to a 5-1 lead before Keys held, denying victory for one more game the woman who inspired her to take up tennis.

Sharapova needed 10 minutes to hold in her opening service game, fending off two break points, in the earlier semifinals. She responded to the only service break against her in the first set by winning six straight games and seizing control of the match from the 10th-seeded Makarova, who had only taken one set off her in five previous matches.

Sharapova won the Australia Open title in 2008 but was comprehensively beaten in the championship matches in 2007, by then unseeded Williams, and in 2012 by Victoria Azarenka.

The five-time major winner opened the 2015 season in confident style by winning the Brisbane International title but had a close call in the second round here, having to save match points against No. 150-ranked Russian qualifier Alexandra Panova. Since then, she hasn't faced a set point.

''It's been a strange road for me to get to the finals, but I'm happy,'' said Sharapova, who is now into her 10th Grand Slam final. ''Came from behind in a few, really behind in one - saving match points. I felt like I was given a second chance. I just wanted to take my chances.''

Sharapova eases into fourth Melbourne final

(1/29/15) Maria Sharapova overcame some tricky wind conditions to advance to her fourth Australian Open final with a 6-3 6-2 victory over Russian compatriot Ekaterina Makarova on Thursday.

The 2008 champion, whose last Melbourne Park final came three years ago, will now meet the winner of the all-American clash between top seed Serena Williams and Madison Keys later on Rod Laver Arena.

"It's so special," the second seed said in a courtside interview.

"When you start off the tournament, you take it a match at the time and it was strange road, but I'm here and I'm pleased to be in the final.

"Obviously, Serena will be coming in as the favourite in that match but Madison has been playing some of the best tennis of her career."

Sharapova, who saved two match points in her second round clash with Alexandra Panova and has barely been troubled since, used her experience and powerful ground strokes to dominate an opponent playing in her first Australian Open semi-final.

Makarova, who also reached the last four at the 2014 U.S. Open, had not dropped a set all tournament and her easy win over third seed Simona Halep in the quarter-finals gave her plenty of confidence going into the contest despite her 5-0 losing record against Sharapova.

She began strongly as Sharapova had trouble with her ball toss in the swirling wind, serving two double faults, and held two break points in an opening game that lasted 10 minutes before the five-time grand slam champion recovered.

The 27-year-old Sharapova immediately broke Makarova and then held to establish a 3-0 lead with the 10th seed yelling at herself as they went to the change of ends.

Makarova managed to break in the seventh game as Sharapova again had trouble with her ball toss before the second seed put her foot down and won eight of the next nine points to clinch the set in 48 minutes.

Sharapova refused to let up in the second set, while Makarova's serve faltered and forehand misfired as she failed to put any depth on her shots, allowing her compatriot to dictate the points.

The 26-year-old earned two more break points in the sixth game and finally forced Sharapova on the defensive but her forehand again let her down when the court was open and she lost yet another opportunity to get back into the match.

Sharapova then wrapped it with a strong service game to clinch her place in the final in 87 minutes.

Serena, Sharapova on course for Australian Open showdown

(1/28/15) Top seed Serena Williams remains on a collision course with arch-rival Maria Sharapova after rampaging into the Australian Open semi-finals.

The 18-time Grand Slam champion was at her brutal best on Wednesday, crushing last year's finalist Dominika Cibulkova in straight sets to set up an all-American last four showdown on Thursday with unseeded teenager Madison Keys.

The other semi-final clash on Thursday is an all-Russian affair between second seed Sharapova, who owns five Grand Slam titles, and Ekaterina Makarova, seeded 10th.

Both star players have hit top form as the tournament progresses and are hot favourites to advance to Saturday's final.

Williams, 33, is contesting her 26th Slam semi-final after pummelling Cibulkova 6-2, 6-2, while it is 19-year-old Keys' first experience of the final four in a major.

The world number 35 showed her talent with a 6-3, 4-6, 6-4 quarter-final win to end Venus Williams' stirring return to the Grand Slam big time but aggravated a long-standing thigh injury during the bruising encounter.

Serena Williams tipped Keys as a future Slam champion but will be conceding nothing on court to an opponent who stopped her and Venus facing each other at a major for the first time since 2009.

"Obviously, this is her first semi-finals. I'm sure there's going to be many more, including Grand Slam wins, for Madison," she said of the big-serving baseliner, who is coached by Lindsay Davenport.

Williams, who has never played Keys before, is eyeing a 19th major that would put her a clear second on the all-time Open Era winners' list and ensure she retains the world number one spot.

Williams has made the Australian semis five times before and always gone on the claim the title.

- 'Great fighter'-

Sharapova, who triumphed at Melbourne Park in 2008 and has lost the final twice, goes into her semi-final with a 5-0 record over Makarova, including two quarter-finals at the Australian Open (2012 and 2013).

The 27-year-old insisted "there's no secrets" in Makarova's game but is wary of the threat from an underdog playing with no pressure.

"That's always a tricky situation because she's going to come into that match free and almost happy to be in that situation, and that's dangerous," she said.

Sharapova, who brushed aside Canadian rising star Eugenie Bouchard to make the semis, said the left-handed Makarova's serve could also be a problem.

"I haven't faced a lefty in this tournament yet. She's been using her lefty serve extremely well from what I've seen. I'll be looking out for that, work on a few things," she said.

The 26-year-old Makarova has broken into the top 20 and reached the 2014 US Open semis since she last played Sharapova and world number three Simona Halep warned that her game had matured.

"I was expecting she will hit more stronger, but she didn't. She played very soft tennis," said the Romanian, who was humiliated 6-4, 6-0 by the quietly spoken Russian in their quarter-final. "She opened the angles very well. So was a different game."

Makarova, the only semi-finalist not to drop a set on the way to the last four, was full of praise for Sharapova's never-say-die attitude as she seeks to make her first Grand Slam final.

"I never beat her, so it will be tough. Definitely she's a great fighter," she said.

The phone call that turned around Sharapova's Aussie Open

(1/27/15) One phone call was all it took for Maria Sharapova to shake off whatever it was that almost ended her Australian Open.

That call came early on in the tournament when the No. 2-ranked player came very, very close to losing in the second round to a lowly ranked qualifier. That was a bad day- she made 51 unforced errors, faced match point twice and clawed her way back to win.

And then her dad called.

''I don't want to face that phone call with my father too many times during a tournament,'' Sharapova said Tuesday after a very different sort of match.

The five-time Grand Slam winner moved one step closer to another Australian title, defeating 20-year-old Eugenie Bouchard 6-3, 6-2 in the quarterfinals, making all the big points look easy. The win sets up an all-Russian semifinal against No. 10 Ekaterina Makarova.

Asked exactly what her father, Yuri - who taught her to play the game and had coached her for many years - had said, Sharapova chuckled and gave what she called the ''nice version.''

''It was like, 'This is unacceptable,''' she said, smiling and then added that she prefers direct criticism to a glossed-over pep talk.

''I like real people and honesty,'' said the 27-year-old player who is Russian but moved to the United States at the age of 9 to train at the famed Nick Bollettieri tennis academy in Florida.

''I don't need ... people telling me, 'You're great, you'll improve in the next one.' If you played a terrible match, you played a terrible match,'' Sharapova said. ''Go out there and change whatever it takes to turn things around.''

During the first week in Melbourne, Sharapova has talked about how much she loves tennis, and competition and pushing her limits, and the power she feels when she steps onto the tennis court and the feeling of wanting to win.

It's been awhile since Sharapova won the Australian Open, and that is something she wants to change.

Sharapova, the 2008 Australian Open champion and a two-time finalist, has a 5-0 record against Makarova, her semifinal opponent, including wins in the quarterfinals here in 2012 and 2013. In four of those losses, Makarova has failed to win a set.

''It's certainly nice to know that one of us and a Russian will be in the final representing the country here,'' said Sharapova, who also said that when she plays another Russian she tries not to think about it. ''At the end of the day, both of us are trying to win that last point.''

The 26-year-old Makarova said she expected a tough match.

''I never beat her, so it will be tough,'' Makarova said. ''Definitely she's a great fighter.''

Maria's Message

(1/27/15) Before she walked off Rod Laver Arena on Tuesday, Maria Sharapova scrawled a message with a felt-tipped pen on the camera lens for tennis fans everywhere to see: ''Fly high, sing your own song.''

But don't search for any deep meaning in that.

The tradition of asking tennis players to sign the camera lens after winning at certain tournaments, gets a bit dull, said the No. 2-ranked player.

''Sometimes I don't even know what I'm writing,'' Sharapova said after beating Eugenie Bouchard to advance to the semifinals.

''You're given a pen,'' she said. ''I feel bored by writing my signature for some many years, so sometimes I change it up.''

Bouchard falls to Sharapova in Aussie Open quarters

(1/27/15) Maria Sharapova moved closer to another Australian Open title, set to face a fellow Russian in the semifinals who has never beaten her.

Sharapova made all the big points look easy Tuesday in defeating 20-year-old Eugenie Bouchard 6-3, 6-2 — her fourth consecutive win over the Canadian — and advance to a semifinal against Ekaterina Makarova, who earlier beat third-seeded Simona Halep 6-4, 6-0.

"I had to produce a really good performance against Genie," Sharapova said. "She’s been playing so confidently and aggressively."

The last time Sharapova and Bouchard met — in the semifinals at the French Open last year — Bouchard won the first set before Sharapova came back to take the next two. Sharapova then won the title at Roland Garros.

This time, Bouchard, who made the finals of Wimbledon and two other Grand Slam semis last year, didn’t come close to taking a set, looking flat from the outset while being broken in her opening service game. The Genie Army, a group of young Australian men who croon songs about the Canadian player, was left to sing another day.

Sharapova, the 2008 Australian Open champion, has a 5-0 record against Makarova, including wins in the quarterfinals here in 2012 and 2013. In four of those losses, Makarova failed to win a set.

"She likes playing here," Sharapova said of Makarova. "She uses that left-handed serve really well. It’s always tricky playing a lefty and your compatriot, as well, but one of us will be in the final and that makes me happy."

It will be Makarova’s second consecutive Grand Slam semifinal. She made her first major semi at last year’s U.S. Open, losing to Serena Williams after beating Bouchard in the fourth round.

"I’m so comfortable here, it’s all the atmosphere and maybe memories from New York that I bring here," said Makarova.

The other women’s semifinalists will be determined on Wednesday when No. 1-ranked Williams plays last year’s finalist, Dominika Cibulkova, and Venus Williams, playing in her first Grand Slam quarterfinal in nearly five years, takes on 19-year-old American Madison Keys.

If the Williams sisters play each other in the semifinals, it would be their first meeting in a Grand Slam tournament since the Wimbledon final in 2009 — won by Serena.

Halep, last year’s French Open runner-up, was under pressure from Makarova’s array of strong forehands to all areas of the court. Serving at 5-3 in the first set, the Romanian saved two set points, but Makarova clinched the opener on the third when Halep netted a backhand.

Makarova broke Halep’s serve to open the second set, helped by a double-fault. The Russian player then saved three break points in the next game to lead 2-0 and then broke the Romanian player again before shutting out Halep the rest of the way.

The 26-year-old Makarova has had her best Grand Slam results at Melbourne Park, advancing to fourth round twice as well as those quarterfinal losses to Sharapova. Last year, she lost to eventual champion Li Na in the fourth round.

"I love this court, I’m so happy I came through," said Makarova, who said she ate the same breakfast she’s been having all tournament — yoghurt and toast — before Tuesday’s match.

Halep said her nerves got to her.

"I was just I was a little bit stressed, I don’t know why," the 23-year-old Halep said. "I had experience from last year to play quarterfinals, so it doesn’t mean that I felt pressure. I just I didn’t feel the game, the ball. It was a very bad day for me."

MULTILINGUAL MARIA

(1/25/15) Behind a steely facade, Maria Sharapova sometimes scolds herself in different languages.

Earlier in the tournament, No. 2-ranked Sharapova was complimented by an on-court interviewer for having a poker face while she plays.

But on Sunday, the interviewer posed a follow-up question and asked Sharapova what goes through her mind when she plays a bad point.

''It's really bad,'' Sharapova said after winning her fourth-round match to set up a quarterfinal against No. 7 Eugenie Bouchard.

''I look really calm but inside I'm like, 'What are you doing!' I'm yelling in a couple languages,'' she said with a laugh.

''It's not pretty. Maybe it looks calm on the outside but I'm boiling (inside),'' she said.

Sharapova surges as rivals sweat

(1/25/15) Resurgent second seed Maria Sharapova's Australian Open campaign kicked into overdrive on Sunday as young guns Eugenie Bouchard and Simona Halep scraped into the quarter-finals.

Five-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova demolished China's Peng Shuai to set up a glamour final eight showdown with Canada's Bouchard, whose form continues to blow hot and cold as she chases a maiden major.

Third seed Halep of Romania ground out a tough straights win over unseeded Belgian Yanina Wickmayer and will face dangerous Russian 10th seed Ekaterina Makarova, who continued to glide through almost unnoticed.

But it was a fired-up Sharapova, wounded and determined to make a point after almost bombing out in the early rounds, who stamped her authority on the bottom half of the draw.

The 27-year-old routed 21st seed Peng 6-3, 6-0, looking tense and aggressive as she wore down some early resistance from China's top-ranked player to storm into the quarters at Melbourne Park for the eighth time.

The Russian, who won the Australian title in 2008, can snatch the world number one ranking off arch-rival Serena Williams if she repeats the feat this year.

She has defeated Bouchard in their previous three meetings but was wary of the threat the 20-year-old seventh seed poses, recalling their most recent meeting in the French Open semi-finals last year.

"It was a really tough three setter. She's been playing incredibly well -- confident aggressive tennis," she said of the player touted as her heir apparent as the world's most marketable female athlete.

"She's a big competitor. An aggressive player that likes to take the ball early and dictate points."

- 'Perfect doesn't exist'-

Bouchard, who idolised Sharapova as a child and shares her unrelenting drive, vowed to hit the practice courts after an alarming mid-match slump against unseeded Romanian Irina-Camelia Begu.

The rising star book-ended her match with scintillating tennis in the first and last sets but relaxed in the second.

"I let my level drop. It's disappointing for me because I want to play so well and I want to be perfect," she said, pledging to avoid making the same mistake against Sharapova.

"I definitely want to keep playing my game no matter what. Really kind of take it to her, go for my shots. That's what I want to do on the court. And it's more fun when I play that way too."

Halep also faced a torrid time in her 6-4, 6-2 victory over world number 80 Wickmayer.

The 23-year-old Romanian, a quarter-finalist in 2014, dug deep for a win, putting the result down to experience gained last year when she also reached the final at Roland Garros and the semis at Wimbledon.

Halep raged at herself when the match did not go according to plan after she made a strong start, shouting and gesticulating after mistakes.

"Some moments of the match you are frustrated, but it's normal. I have to accept my mistakes," she said. "I just want to be perfect on court, but it's not possible -- perfect doesn't exist."

In contrast, Makarova was positively serene against unseeded German Julia Goerges, barely breaking a sweat as she defeated the world number 73 6-3, 6-2 to make the quarters for the third time in four years.

The 26-year-old, a US Open semi-finalist last year, has progressed virtually unnoticed, with none of the pressure that comes from being under the spotlight, a situation Sharapova said would not last.

"She's a player that's always gone a little bit under the radar, but has produced some really good results in her career, especially at the US Open and here," Sharapova said.

"I don't think she should shy away from that."

Student Bouchard ready to be tested by Sharapova

(1/25/15) Eugenie Bouchard will spend Monday 'cramming' for one of the toughest exams of her fledgling career when she faces second seed Maria Sharapova in the Australian Open quarter-finals.

The Canadian advanced to the last eight at Melbourne Park on Sunday following a 6-1 5-7 6-2 victory over Romania's Irina-Camelia Begu in the first match on Rod Laver Arena before Sharapova took to the court and dispatched China's Peng Shuai next up.

Bouchard, seeded seventh, was pleased to have got through her seesaw battle with the Romanian and while she knew that one practice was not going to fix some of the mistakes she made on Sunday, it would help her confidence to work out some kinks.

"I believe in cramming," Bouchard said with a grin. "Obviously, yeah, one practice can't do much. But it's just about going out there, having a good feeling, hitting the ball, and trying to get ready for the next match."

Last year Bouchard was a finalist at Wimbledon, a semi-finalist at Melbourne Park and she also made the last four at Roland Garros, where she lost to Sharapova.

She is the most high profile player in a small group of young challengers to the established order of women's tennis.

The 20-year-old was aggressive from the start on Sunday against Begu but her intensity dropped as the Romanian threw caution to the wind and forced a third set.

Bouchard said it was a lesson learned.

"I'll try to make sure it doesn't happen next time," Bouchard said. "I'm happy that I could regroup and play a bit better tennis in the third.

"I want to build on that for the next match and I want to try to impose myself as much as I can.

"I'm not going to be passive like I was today."

The loss to the Russian last year at Roland Garros had also been a valuable lesson, she added.

"I didn't feel like I was playing great tennis the whole time ... but that's what it's about: trying to win and trying to always play better, get through it, even if you're not playing your best," Bouchard said.

"I think I was close. It was just a tough battle.

"But I think I've progressed a lot since then ... and I am going to really kind of take it to her, go for my shots."

Sharapova to face Bouchard in Aussie quarters

(1/25/15) Maria Sharapova and Eugenie Bouchard will meet in the Australian Open quarterfinals after advancing with contrasting wins on Sunday.

Second-seeded Sharapova was broken once in the first set before winning the last eight games of her 6-3, 6-0 fourth-round victory over No. 21-seeded Peng Shuai.

Seventh-seeded Bouchard, who reached the semifinals or better at the first three Grand Slam tournaments last year, won nine of the first 10 games against Irina-Camelia Begu, but lost seven of the next nine to be pushed to a third set for the first time in the tournament.

After serving a double-fault on set point to end the second, Bouchard took a short break before returning to complete a 6-1, 5-7, 6-2 win over No. 42-ranked Begu, who had taken out No. 9-seeded Angelique Kerber in the first round.

"I gave myself a good, long hard look in the mirror," Bouchard explained of her brief absence from Rod Laver Arena. "I said, ‘Genie, this is unacceptable.’ I really kind of kicked myself in the butt a little bit."

After three straight-sets wins, Bouchard joked that she went three sets for a couple of reasons.

"Clearly I need more practice!" she said, then turned to the section of fans known as the Genie Army who support her in Australia. "It’s not horrible playing longer on this court. I just wanted to do that for you guys, and for them to practice more songs."

Five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova has a 3-0 career record against Bouchard, including a comeback semifinal win at the French Open last year. She had a rougher road to the quarterfinals in Melbourne Park, though, having to save match points in her second-round win over Russian qualifier Alexandra Panova. Sharapova lost in the fourth round at Melbourne Park last year, when Bouchard reached the semifinals in her tournament debut.

"I feel like something or someone gave me another chance," Sharapova said. "Last year I lost in the fourth round here, getting to the quarters is really special."

Sharapova said Bouchard was the most consistent player at the Grand Slams in 2014, and she had to be at her best to beat the 20-year-old Canadian.

"She’s playing really well, confident tennis. So aggressive," Sharapova said. "I have a tough match ahead of me, but I always look forward to that."

In the other quarter of the draw, No. 10 Ekaterina Makarova had a 6-3, 6-2 win over Julia Goerges to reach the last eight, where she’ll play the winner of a Sunday night match between No. 3 Simona Halep and Yanina Wickmayer.

Normal service returns for sharp Sharapova

(1/23/15) Maria Sharapova proved her second round scare against Alexandra Panova was no more than a blip as she destroyed Zarina Diyas 6-1 6-1 to charge into the Australian Open fourth round on Friday.

The statuesque second seed was forced to save match points against fellow Russian Panova on Wednesday but roared back into form against the hapless Kazakh, who was completely out-gunned in the baseline duels.

"I think I rebounded really well. I had a good hit yesterday," the five-times grand slam champion told reporters.

"Just kind of thought a little bit about what I wanted to try to achieve tonight no matter who I played.

"Of course, I focused a little bit on myself more than anything else.

"Just tried to be a bit more aggressive, concentrate. I thought I did a good job of focusing well."

Sharapova blasted 22 winners against the 31st seed and sealed the match with an ace in a tick over an hour.

The Russian will next play Peng Shuai for a place in the quarter-finals, with the 21st-seeded Chinese taking on the mantle of retired champion Li Na with a second trip to the last 16 in Melbourne.

"I think she's always a tough player to play against because she's really solid," Sharapova said.

"She's quite powerful. I know she's gone through a few injuries in her career. Having that start-stop type of career is never easy, because sometimes you don't feel like you can actually get a routine and a groove.

"I think she's someone that actually gets better by playing matches, when she gets a good feeling of her strokes, because so much depends on her groundstrokes and the fluidity of how she hits."

Poker Face

(1/23/15) Some players cheer themselves on after great shots or vent frustration at the bad ones. Not Maria Sharapova.

The No. 2-ranked Sharapova keeps a poker face, which was on display Friday as she cruised to a 6-1, 6-1 win over Zarina Diyas in the third round. The match lasted a mere 61 minutes.

Afterwards, on-court interviewer Rennae Stubbs, a retired Australian player, joked that she wanted Sharapova on her poker team.

''That would be a terrible decision, Rennae, because I'm terrible at poker,'' Sharapova laughed.

''The only thing I've ever played was blackjack. And I'm terrible at that, too,'' she added.

The five-time Grand Slam winner faces China's Peng Shuai on Sunday in the fourth round. The No. 21-ranked player from China plays with two hands on both forehand and backhand, yielding flat, deep shots.

''She's a bit of an untraditional player with two hands on both sides. That's a little tricky,'' Sharapova said. ''Yeah, I look forward to a good match-up.''

Tennis On Youtube

(1/21/15) When Maria Sharapova needs some intel on an unfamiliar opponent, she turns to YouTube.

''Especially if I'm unfamiliar with a girl I'm facing,'' the No. 2-ranked Sharapova said. ''I don't watch too much. But, yeah, it's nice to have.''

However, she's not as partial to watching videos of herself.

''I really dislike doing that,'' Sharapova said. ''But it's quite educational, at least that's what the coaches tell me.''

Seeing herself on video can offer insights to her game that she might not have realized. But after her performance Wednesday, which included 51 unforced errors, Sharapova said her focus for the next round will not be her opponent.

''After today's match, I really just want to focus on what I have to do.''

Sharapova's boyfriend offers insight

(1/21/15) Maria Sharapova's boyfriend described the five-time major winner as a great fighter, which he meant as a compliment.

One of tennis' power couples, Sharapova and No. 10 Grigor Dimitrov are discreet about their relationship but the up-and-coming Bulgarian star offered an opinion on what makes her such a tough player.

''You can't name one thing in particular with her,'' said Dimitrov, a Wimbledon semifinalist. ''I think she's been fighting throughout all those years, through everything that is in her way, jumped all the hurdles and all the obstacles.''

''By far the greatest fighter ever,'' he said.

Sharapova showed her grit in a narrow escape Wednesday, saving two match points before beating Alexandra Panova in their second-round match.

''Days like that define who you are,'' said Dimitrov, who also advanced to the third round Wednesday.

Sharapova narrowly advances at Australian Open

(1/21/15) Maria Sharapova saved two match points in a narrow escape against No. 150-ranked Alexandra Panova at the Australian Open on Wednesday, advancing to the third round with a 6-1, 4-6, 7-5 win.

Second-seeded Sharapova made 51 unforced errors as she went for the lines, saving some of her high-risk winners for when she needed them most.

She faced two match points in the 10th game of the third set, ripping big forehand winners on both points against Panova, a qualifier who entered the Australian Open without a single match win at five previous majors.

Sharapova, who won the 2008 Australian Open and has five Grand Slam titles, struggled with her serve in the second and third sets as the match extended to 2 hours, 32 minutes in a temperatures topping 33 Celsius (91F).

"I’m just happy to get through — I was one point away twice today from being out of the tournament," said Sharapova, who started the season by winning the Brisbane International title. "I was not playing my best tennis today.

"I think she played a pretty inspired match. She came out here with not much to lose and swinging freely and going for her shots."

Sharapova is the only Grand Slam champion in contention in her half of the draw.

In earlier second-round matches, No. 10 Ekaterina Makarova beat Roberta Vinci 6-2, 6-4, No. 21 Peng Shuai had a 6-1, 6-1 win over Magdalena Rybarikova and Carina Witthoeft beat Christina McHale 6-3, 6-0.

On the men’s side, Andy Murray didn’t let the parochial crowds in Margaret Court Arena bother him as he beat Australian Marinko Matosevic 6-1, 6-3, 6-2.

Matosevic’s first-round opponent, Alexander Kudryavtsev, accused boisterous Australian fans of behaving like "animals" after losing in five sets to the Melbourne resident.

After Wednesday’s match, Murray laughed as he said: "It was a fun atmosphere to play today. Even if not everyone was supporting me."

Seventh-seeded Tomas Berdych advanced with a 7-6 (0), 6-2, 6-2 win over Austrian qualifier Jurgen Melzer.

Berdych, a Wimbledon finalist in 2010, lost to eventual champion Stan Wawrinka in the semifinals last year at Melbourne Park, where he has reached the quarterfinals or better ever since 2011.

Ruthless Sharapova fires Australian Open warning shot

(1/19/15) Second seed Maria Sharapova launched her Australian Open campaign in emphatic fashion on Monday, crushing Petra Martic of Croatia in straight sets to send an ominous warning to her rivals.

The Russian five-time Grand Slam champion can regain the coveted number one ranking from arch-rival Serena Williams if she wins a second title at Melbourne Park and was all business as she downed Martic 6-4, 6-1.

The 27-year-old said she was benefiting from a strong lead-in to the season-opening Grand Slam, when she won the Brisbane International.

"I made a few too many unforced errors but overall I'm glad I got through," Sharapova said. "She was a tough opponent and was really inspired.

"She can play. She's got some big weapons.... I knew I had to be really strong from the beginning."

On a day when eight of the women's seeds were eliminated, including fifth-ranked Ana Ivanovic, Sharapova said she went into her night match on centre court wary of world number 184 Martic.

"There were quite a few upsets today. Of course I was very well aware of that.... I certainly didn't want to be one of them," she said.

The Russian added that she was feeling "fresh" after overcoming a nagging shoulder injury last year and winning the French Open.

There were promising signs her hot run of form in Brisbane was continuing at Melbourne Park as she fired down two early aces and won around 90 percent of points on her first serve in the opening exchanges.

Sharapova broke Martic in the fifth game and then again in the seventh, threatening to run away with the match until mistakes at crucial points, including two double faults late in the first set, allowed the Croat to hang on.

Sharapova, the Australian Open champion in 2008, had the chance to serve out the first set at 5-2 but Martic rallied and it finally ended 6-4 in the Russian's favour.

The world number two's intensity and volume increased as the match progressed and she psyched herself up with cries of "C'mon Maria".

She decisively seized the momentum in the second game of the next set when Martic fended off two break points but succumbed to a third.

The Croatian never recovered and the rest of the match was a one-sided affair as Sharapova snuffed out her opponent's resistance, relentlessly exploiting Martic's popgun second serve.

She will face compatriot Alexandra Panova in the second round.

Sharapova crashes Martic's birthday celebrations

(1/19/15) Maria Sharapova ruined Petra Martic's 24th birthday on Monday by recording a 6-4 6-1 victory to advance to the second round of the Australian Open.

Sharapova ran hot and cold in the first set, taking a 5-2 lead only for the Croatian to battle back to 5-4 and holding a break point to get the match back on serve before Sharapova held and then broke to seal the set in 43 minutes.

The Russian five-times grand slam champion faced some staunch resistance from the 184th-ranked Croatian in the second set despite the one-sided scoreline, but was mostly able to convert the crucial points when they mattered.

Sharapova will now meet compatriot Alexandra Panova in the second round after she beat Romania's Sorana Cirstea 7-5 6-0.

Shy Sharapova loves karaoke, art and architecture

(1/19/15) Despite being the highest paid sportswoman on the planet and one of tennis' most recognisable faces, Maria Sharapova insists she is shy and doesn't need expensive things to make her happy.

But the massively wealthy world number two, who has topped the Forbes list of richest women athletes for 10 years, also confesses to loving art and architecture. She also enjoys karaoke, belting out Cher hits.

"I'm quite shy, actually, in the beginning," the US-based Russian told The Age newspaper in Melbourne as she prepares to launch her Australian Open campaign.

"I'm quite an easy person. I don't need a lot of big or expensive things to make me happy."

Despite having homes in Florida and California, where the paparazzi thrive, and being the face of everything from German cars to French mineral water, the 27-year-old said she is able to live a relatively obscure life.

For this, she is grateful.

"No matter what people define me as, and say that I am quite well-known, I'm able to live a very normal, easy life," said Sharapova, whose partner is world number 11 Grigor Dimitrov.

"I'm lucky enough not to have a lot of cameras following me around.

"I live in a country where I think actors and musicians are a little bit more of a bigger deal than maybe athletes are –- which I'm very thankful for.

"At the end of the day I can wake up and not feel like I have to put on red lipstick. I don't know if I'd ever be able to manage that!

"I just want to go get my cup of coffee and I'm able to do it. I mean, I don't wear pyjamas (out), but I don't have to, like, have the full gear on."

- Art and architecture -

While tennis remains her number one passion and what drives her -- she is determined to unseat arch-rival Serena Williams as world number one -- Sharapova is a keen art and architecture fan.

Her Manhattan Beach home is a private gallery, Fairfax said, with the Russian nominating her Californian friend Chris Gwaltney and edgy Briton Tracey Emin as her favourite artists.

"I love architecture and modern art, so I actually enjoy building projects and looking at beautiful pieces and adding them to my collection," she said.

"I have a lot of beautiful white walls and concrete walls, and I love different textures and, I don't know, I like looking at something that just puts a smile on your face, makes you happy.

"People think 'oh that's so strange' and don't really understand, but that's what art is about, I guess.

"I really love art. Every time I go to a city I always try to find my way to the cool galleries."

The savvy five-time Grand Slam champion can afford the best on offer, having become a major force in the business world.

On top of her numerous sponsorships, she has a Nike apparel line called the Maria Sharapova Collection that is worn by a number of other players.

Sharapova is also the owner of Supergoop, a premium brand of sunscreen, and Sugarpova, a candy line now sold in more than 20 global markets.

While the glamorous blonde has the world at her feet, she also enjoys simple pleasures, like singing karaoke.

"My voice is not that bad, actually! I love singing Cher," she said.

"I know it sounds crazy, but I have quite a good time singing Cher."

Sharapova enjoying boyfriend Dimitrov's emergence

(1/19/15) Maria Sharapova has been dating fellow tennis star Grigor Dimitrov for two years now and the glamorous Russian says she has enjoyed watching the talented Bulgarian grow into a top player.

The pair hooked up in 2013 after Sharapova called off her engagement to basketball player Sasha Vujacic and they reportedly share a home in California.

World number 11 Dimitrov, 23, is widely seen as one of the new guard able to win a Grand Slam and his 27-year-old girlfriend -- a five-time major champion -- said all was well in their relationship.

"It's just obviously nice to have each other, and even though we have our respective careers and we train, to kind of have the other's support is always nice," she told The Age newspaper in Melbourne.

"I think that he's grown so much in the few years that I've even been with him in terms of his focus and commitment to the sport.

"Obviously, I've always kind of watched his career grow from the junior days, and to be able to see him stride in the top direction really puts a smile on my face."

Dimitrov began his Australian Open campaign in decisive fashion Monday, brushing aside German Dustin Brown 6-2, 6-3, 6-2 in just 69 minutes.

Sharapova gets her tournament underway later Monday against Croatia's Petra Martic.

MARIA TO FOLLOW

(1/18/15) Maria Sharapova plays qualifier Petra Martic of Czech Republic in the final match of the night at Rod Laver Arena, hoping she'll be able to improve on her 2014 appearance here when she lost in the fourth round. She went all the way in her next Grand Slam, winning the French Open for the second time to increase her career major titles to five. The 2008 Australian Open winner won the Brisbane International in her only tune-up tournament, beating Ana Ivanovic, but isn't placing a lot of emphasis on that victory. ''You can't be overly negative; you can't be overly positive,'' Sharapova says. ''I wanted to start off well. I thought I did many things well. But I'm not going into next week throwing flowers at myself or anything.'' Sharapova has a chance to return to No. 1, supplanting Serena Williams, after the Australian Open this year, but needs to at least advance to the final.

Sharapova backs super-coaches in women's tennis

(1/17/15) Maria Sharapova has backed the super-coach trend that will see two of her rivals tapping into the knowledge of grand slam champions at the Australian Open.

Sixth seeded Pole Agnieszka Radwanska has taken on 18-times grand slam title winner Martina Navratilova, while up-and-coming American Madison Keys has former world number one and three-time major winner Lindsay Davenport as a mentor.

The appointments follow the development of a number of high-profile partnerships in the men's game, with Roger Federer, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray all taking on multiple former grand slam winners.

Sharapova has swapped a few coaches in recent years but has been working with Dutchman Sven Groeneveld since late 2013, a career coach who has mentored a number of top players but had no notable success as a player.

"Well, I think from experience-wise, there's no better person that can help you in certain situations as a coach, as a motivator, as someone that just has been there, done that," Sharapova told reporters at Melbourne Park on Saturday.

"I think it's great to see. I think it's always nice when you've been through a career and you have the opportunity or you have the desire to share it with other players, to share your knowledge and experience.

"I think it's great."

In contrast to last year's tournament, the re-energized Russian enters the year's first grand slam in peak condition and great form after winning the warmup Brisbane International with a hard-fought victory over former world number one Ana Ivanovic in the final.

With a career grand slam of major titles and a sweet-making business, the 27-year-old was asked whether she might rather stay home and drink wine rather than grind hard on the tour.

She dismissed the idea.

"I'm starting from scratch. I'm hungry. I'm determined to do better," said 2008 champion Sharapova, who was dumped from the last 16 by eventual finalist Dominika Cibulkova last year after missing the back end of the previous season due to injury.

"I lost in the fourth round here. That's not a result I want. I want to do much better. I'm here to try to win the title.

"I don't know if I'd be drinking wine. Maybe a sangria actually.

"But when you're holding the trophy, God, you can have as many sangrias as you want and you're in it. So that sounds a lot better."

LOVING THE CHOICE

(1/17/15) Maria Sharapova isn't sure what she enjoys more - playing tennis and winning tournaments or being a couch potato - but she appreciates having the ability to choose.

Sharapova has been hampered in the past by shoulder injuries and surgeries. Last year at Melbourne Park, she lost in the fourth round and then revealed she had a hip complaint.

This year's she's healthy, and appreciating it, though also considering the tempting alternatives.

''The best thing is that I'm here,'' she said Saturday. ''I have the opportunity to go out and try to win this tournament.

''It is sometimes nice to think that I could be on the couch watching on TV. I don't know if I'd actually be watching ... I don't know if I'd be drinking wine. Maybe a sangria actually.''

Serena seeded to face Wozniacki in Open quarters

(1/16/15) World number one Serena Williams faces a potential rematch of her US Open final against Caroline Wozniacki in the quarter-finals of the Australian Open following Friday's draw.

Williams, who is chasing her 19th Grand Slam title in Melbourne, beat Wozniacki in straight sets in New York last year.

The American meets Belgian Alison van Uytvanck in the first round, while second seed Maria Sharapova first faces a qualifier in the tournament beginning on Monday.

Fourth seed and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who is playing in the Sydney International final later Friday, is seeded to face Agnieszka Radwanska in the other quarter-final in the top half of the draw.

Sharapova is projected to face rising Canadian Eugenie Bouchard, while third seed Simona Halep could meet Ana Ivanovic in the other last eight clash in the bottom half of the women's draw.

The most interesting first-round match up will be between two-time Australian Open champion but unseeded Victoria Azarenka and American Sloane Stephens, a semi-finalist in Melbourne two years ago.

Women's singles

Serena Williams (USA x1) v Alison Van Uytvanck (BEL)

Vera Zvonareva (RUS) v Qualifier

Olivia Rogowska (AUS) v Nicole Gibbs (USA)

Jana Cepelova (SVK) v Elina Svitolina (UKR x26)

Garbine Muguruza (ESP x24) v Marina Erakovic (NZL)

Daniela Hantuchova (SVK) v Zheng Saisai (CHN)

Kimiko Date-Krumm (JPN) v Qualifier

Timea Bacsinszky (SUI) v Jelena Jankovic (SRB x15)

Dominika Cibulkova (SVK x11) v Kirsten Flipkens (BEL)

Tsvetana Pironkova (BUL) v Heather Watson (GBR)

Romina Oprandi (SUI) v Qualifier

Zhang Shuai (CHN) v Alize Cornet (FRA x19)

Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (CZE x25) v Timea Babos (HUN)

Zheng Jie (CHN) v Kai-Chen Chang (TPE)

Sloane Stephens (USA) v Victoria Azarenka (BLR)

Taylor Townsend (USA) v Caroline Wozniacki (DEN x8)

Petra Kvitova (CZE x4) v Qualifier

Donna Vekic (CRO) v Mona Barthel (GER)

Lesia Tsurenko (UKR) v Madison Keys (USA)

Yvonne Meusburger (AUT) v Casey Dellacqua (AUS x29)

Samantha Stosur (AUS x20) v Monica Niculescu (ROM)

Francesca Schiavone (ITA) v Coco Vandeweghe (USA)

Irina Falconi (USA) v Kaia Kanepi (EST)

Madison Brengle (USA) v Andrea Petkovic (GER x13)

Flavia Pennetta (ITA x12) v Camila Giorgi (ITA)

Tereza Smitkova (CZE) v Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (CRO)

Lauren Davis (USA) v Aleksandra Krunic (SRB)

Maria-Teresa Torro-Flor (ESP) v Venus Williams (USA x18)

Varvara Lepchenko (USA x30) v Vitalia Diatchenko (RUS)

Shelby Rogers (USA) v Ajla Tomljanovic (AUS)

Alla Kudryavtseva (RUS) v Johanna Larsson (SWE)

Kurumi Nara (JPN) v Agnieszka Radwanska (POL x6)

Ana Ivanovic (SRB x5) v Qualifier

Polona Hercog (SLO) v Wang Qiang (CHN)

Storm Sanders (AUS) v Klara Koukalova (CZE)

Julia Goerges (GER) v Belinda Bencic (SUI x32)

Karolina Pliskova (CZE x22) v Qualifier

Alison Riske (USA) v Oceane Dodin (FRA)

Roberta Vinci (ITA) v Bojana Jovanovski (SRB)

An-Sophie Mestach (BEL) v Ekaterina Makarova (RUS x10)

Sara Errani (ITA x14) v Grace Min (USA)

Silvia Soler-Espinosa (ESP) v Annika Beck (GER)

Qualifier v Lara Arruabarrena (ESP)

Yanina Wickmayer (BEL) v Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS x23)

Sabine Lisicki (GER x28) v Kristina Mladenovic (FRA)

Duan Ying-Ying (CHN) v Bethanie Mattek-Sands (USA)

Jarmila Gajdosova (AUS) v Alexandra Dulgheru (ROM)

Karin Knapp (ITA) v Simona Halep (ROM x3)

Eugenie Bouchard (CAN x7) v Anna-Lena Friedsam (GER)

Kiki Bertens (NED) v Daria Gavrilova (AUS)

Stefanie Voegele (SUI) v Pauline Parmentier (FRA)

Caroline Garcia (FRA) v Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS x27)

Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP x17) v Carina Witthoeft (GER)

Qualifier v Christina McHale (USA)

Elena Vesnina (RUS) v Katerina Siniakova (CZE)

Irina-Camelia Begu (ROM) v Angelique Kerber (GER x9)

Lucie Safarova (CZE x16) v Yaroslava Shvedova (KAZ)

Monica Puig (PUR) v Arina Rodionova (AUS)

Ana Konjuh (CRO) v Magdalena Rybarikova (SVK)

Qualifier v Peng Shuai (CHN x21)

Zarina Diyas (KAZ x31) v Qualifier

Anna Schmiedlova (SVK) v Chanelle Scheepers (RSA)

Qualifier v Sorana Cirstea (ROM)

Qualifier v Maria Sharapova (RUS x2)

Djokovic, S. Williams top seeds at Australian Open

(1/14/15) World number ones Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams were named the top seeds on Wednesday for next week's Australian Open, but two-time champion Victoria Azarenka did not make the top 32.

Djokovic is bidding for a fifth title at Melbourne Park after crashing in the quarter-finals last year to eventual champion Stan Wawrinka, while Williams is gunning for a sixth Australian crown.

Evergreen Roger Federer, who has a record 17 Grand Slam titles, is the second seed ahead of injury-plagued Rafael Nadal, Wawrinka and Japan's Kei Nishikori.

Maria Sharapova, who won the Brisbane International last weekend, takes the number two seeding among the women, ahead of Simona Halep, Petra Kvitova and Ana Ivanovic.

Last year's champion Li Na has retired.

Azarenka ended 2014 ranked 32 in the world, but a first-round loss at the Brisbane International saw her drop to 41, outside the cut-off for seedings at Melbourne Park.

The Belarussian won back-to-back Australian Open titles in 2012 and 2013, but battled a string of fitness and personal issues last year.

Men: 1. Novak Djokovic (SRB), 2. Roger Federer (SUI), 3. Rafael Nadal (ESP), 4. Stan Wawrinka (SUI), 5. Kei Nishikori (JPN), 6. Andy Murray (GBR), 7. Tomas Berdych (CZE), 8. Milos Raonic (CAN), 9. David Ferrer (ESP), 10. Grigor Dimitrov (BUL), 11. Ernests Gulbis (LAT), 12. Feliciano Lopez (ESP), 13. Roberto Bautista Agut (ESP), 14. Kevin Anderson (RSA), 15. Tommy Robredo (ESP), 16. Fabio Fognini (ITA), 17. Gael Monfils (FRA), 18. Gilles Simon (FRA), 19. John Isner (USA), 20. David Goffin (BEL), 21. Alexandr Dolgopolov (UKR), 22. Philipp Kohlschreiber (GER), 23. Ivo Karlovic (CRO), 24. Richard Gasquet (FRA), 25. Julien Benneteau (FRA), 26. Leonardo Mayer (ARG), 27. Pablo Cuevas (URU), 28. Lukas Rosol (CZE), 29. Jeremy Chardy (FRA), 30. Santiago Giraldo (COL), 31. Fernando Verdasco (ESP), 32. Martin Klizan (SVK)

Women: 1. Serena Williams (USA), 2. Maria Sharapova (RUS), 3. Simona Halep (ROM), 4. Petra Kvitova (CZE), 5. Ana Ivanovic (SRB), 6. Agnieszka Radwanska (POL), 7. Eugenie Bouchard (CAN), 8. Caroline Wozniacki (DEN), 9. Angelique Kerber (GER), 10. Ekaterina Makarova (RUS), 11. Dominika Cibulkova (SVK), 12. Flavia Pennetta (ITA), 13. Andrea Petkovic (GER), 14. Sara Errani (ITA), 15. Jelena Jankovic (SRB), 16. Lucie Safarova (CZE), 17. Carla Suarez Navarro (ESP), 18. Venus Williams (USA), 19. Alize Cornet (FRA), 20. Samantha Stosur (AUS), 21. Peng Shuai (CHN), 22. Karolina Pliskova (CZE), 23. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (RUS), 24. Garbine Muguruza (ESP), 25. Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (CZE), 26. Elina Svitolina (UKR), 27. Svetlana Kuznetsova (RUS), 28. Sabine Lisicki (GER), 29. Casey Dellacqua (AUS), 30. Varvara Lepchenko (USA), 31. Zarina Diyas (KAZ), 32. Belinda Bencic (SUI)

Sharapova to spearhead Russia in Fed Cup

(1/13/15) World number two Maria Sharapova will spearhead Russia in their Fed Cup opening round match against Poland in Krakow from February 7-8, national Olympic team manager Vladimir Kamelzon said Tuesday.

Four-time champions Russia are trying to bounce back from a disappointing 2014 season, when they lost 4-0 to Australia in their opening round clash.

Kamelzon added that in addition to five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova, Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, 23rd in the WTA rankings, and four-time Grand Slam title winner Svetlana Kuznetsova, ranked 27, will also play, along with world number 83 Vita Diatchenko.

"Sharapova's participation is guaranteed," Kamelzon told the R-Sport Agency.

"Kuznetsova and Pavlyuchenkova will likely play the doubles.

"Their participation will give all of them the right to play at the Olympics in Rio. We've formed a strong squad and our goal is to win this match."

It will be the first meeting between the two nations in Fed Cup.

Sharapova wins Brisbane title

(1/11/15) Maria Sharapova claimed her 34th career title with a victory at the Brisbane International on Saturday, hours after Roger Federer moved within one win of a triple-zero milestone.

Top-seeded Sharapova had a 6-7 (4), 6-3, 6-3 win over Ana Ivanovic in the women's final, letting a 4-1 lead and two set points slip in the first before coming back with early breaks in the second and third sets to secure the title.

It was an ideal warm-up for the first major of the season, and gave Sharapova the chance to overhaul Serena Williams for top spot in the rankings depending on results at the Australian Open, starting Jan. 19.

''I played four good matches against very different types of opponents. Couldn't have asked for better preparation,'' Sharapova said, playing down the importance of the rankings. ''Now that I won a tournament, maybe I have a better chance of going higher in the rankings. Right now I am No. 2; the next spot is 1.''

Sharapova, Ivanovic to clash in Brisbane final

(1/10/15) Former world No. 1s Maria Sharapova and Ana Ivanovic will do battle in Saturday's final at the season- opening $1 million Brisbane International tennis event.

The final berths were secured when the top-seeded Sharapova defeated rising Ukrainian Elina Svitolina 6-1, 6-3 and the second-seeded Ivanovic held off game American Varvara Lepchenko 7-6 (7-2), 6-4 at this Australian Open tune-up on the hardcourts at Queensland Tennis Centre.

Sharapova dropped just nine games in her three matches to get to the final and was ruthless against Svitolina, the 2010 junior French Open titlist.

"I expected her to play well. I think I did a lot of things good to try to take away her game," Sharapova said.

"In the end, it became a little bit more difficult. She became more free, went for her shots a little bit, a few unforced errors from my end, but overall I'm happy I stuck with it and finished the last point."

When the reigning French Open champion Sharapova and Ivanovic meet on Saturday, it will mark their 14th encounter on the WTA, with the Russian leading the lifetime series 9-4. They split four meetings last season.

Sharapova is 33-22 in her career finals, including a perfect 4-0 mark last year.

Her fellow 27-year-old Ivanovic is 15-7 in her career title tilts, including 4-2 last year.

Sharapova beat Ivanovic in the 2008 Aussie Open final.

Sharapova advances to semifinals at Brisbane

(1/8/15) Maria Sharapova moved into the Brisbane International semifinals with a 6-1, 6-3 win over Carla Suarez Navarro on Thursday, weathering a challenging opening few games before taking the momentum away from her Spanish rival.

Top-seeded Sharapova dropped her opening service game and then needed eight breakpoints before converting for a 2-1 lead. From there, it was straight-forward progress.

The reigning French Open champion has dropped just five games across her opening two matches of the season and next faces Ukraine’s Elina Svitolina, who came from a set and a break down to beat third-seeded Angelique Kerber of Germany 4-6, 7-5, 6-3.

Third-seeded Milos Raonic moved into the men’s quarterfinals with a 6-3, 6-4 second-round win over Mikhail Kukushkin of Kazakhstan. Roger Federer was scheduled to play a night match.

Sharapova opens season with easy win

(1/6/15) Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova were playing in tournaments on opposite sides of Australia, their form veering in opposite directions.

The second-ranked Sharapova opened her 2015 season by winning nine straight games in a 6-0, 6-1 win over Yaroslava Shvedova on Tuesday in the second round of the Brisbane International. The Russian had a bye in the first round at the season-opening WTA event in the sub-tropical east coast city, where Serena Williams won the title in 2014 but skipped this year in favor of the Hopman Cup in Perth, Western Australia state.

A day after joking about the ''miracle coffee'' she needed to perk her up during her opening match at the Hopman Cup, top-ranked Williams slumped to a 6-2, 6-1 loss to Eugenie Bouchard of Canada. The Canadians clinched the Group A match against the United States when Vasek Pospisil beat John Isner 6-3, 7-6 (4) in the men's singles.

Williams asked for and was served a coffee after losing her first set of the tournament 6-0 to Flavia Pennetta on Monday, and credited the espresso with her rapid return to form and comfortable win that set the U.S. on course for a 3-0 victory over Italy. There was no such comeback against Bouchard in a match that lasted only 50 minutes.

''Maybe she needed another coffee,'' said Bouchard, who had never previously beaten Williams. ''I know she didn't play her best. I'm happy I just stayed with it and held my nerve. It's a good way to start the year - gives me some confidence.''

Williams, who arrived in Perth in Saturday, again appeared lethargic and later complained of fatigue.

''It's weird. I can't get my body to move. I feel like I've got no energy,'' Williams said. ''It's a little frustrating because I know I can play 2,000 times better.

''I've just got to get my feet moving. I have to figure it out.''

The Czech Republic beat Italy 3-0 in the other match.

Sharapova needed little more than an hour to oust Shvedova, a qualifier from Kazakhstan. Sharapova wrapped up the first set in 23 minutes and led 3-0 in the second before Shvedova held serve, raising her arm in mock triumph. Shvedova had a break-point opportunity in the next game, but couldn't put away an overhead and Sharapova responded with a backhand winner down the line.

''It certainly felt good to start, after not playing a match for a couple of months,'' said Sharapova, who is into the quarterfinals in her first competitive tournament since the season-ending WTA Finals in Singapore in October. ''I wanted to start off sharp and try to do the right things ... and I think I did a good job of that.

''There were moments where I saved a few important break points, which was crucial. That gave me good confidence.''

Third-seeded Angelique Kerber advanced earlier Tuesday with a 6-3, 7-5 win over Daria Gavrilova. Varvara Lepchenko progressed with a 6-4, 6-4 win over fellow American Madison Keys.

WTA sets up $525M-plus, 10-year media rights deal

(12/9/14) The WTA agreed to a media rights contract it says will be worth more than $525 million over 10 seasons from 2017 to 2026, with plans to produce all 2,000 or so singles matches on the women's tennis tour each year.

The deal, announced Tuesday, keeps the WTA's international television rights with its current broadcast distribution partner, PERFORM, but expands the scope of the relationship. Their current agreement runs from 2013-16.

WTA Chairman and CEO Stacey Allaster called the new deal ''a game-changer,'' and said it will ''give fans more access to the players they want to watch.''

Under the existing contract with PERFORM, Allaster said, only about a third of the singles matches at WTA events were produced for broadcast around the world.

''What league in North America only broadcasts a third of their games?'' Allaster said in a telephone interview.

Now the tour and PERFORM are forming WTA Media, which will produce all main-draw matches in singles, along with the semifinals and finals in doubles, at every tour event, plus develop content for the web and magazine shows for TV.

Allaster said the new deal includes guaranteed annual TV rights fees of $33 million from PERFORM, nearly double the $17 million per year currently. It also includes what she said was ''eight figures'' a year in ''production investment.''

''Their investment at this level makes a very significant statement about the value they see in the WTA,'' Allaster said about PERFORM. ''This comes at a time when we look at the horizon and we will have a changing of the guard of our current top stars, which shows the value and depth of our rising stars.''

The new package adds rights to the WTA's international tournaments; the previous contract covered only higher-level premier events.

In a statement, PERFORM's joint-CEO, Simon Denyer, said his group believes in the ''exceptional sport entertainment value of the WTA.''

Sharapova tormented by shot-clock in speedy IPTL play

(11/29/14) Maria Sharapova expressed mock disgust Saturday at the inaugural International Premier Tennis League tournament's beeping shot-clock, part of a novel experiment designed to speed up tennis and make it more fun to watch.

The world number two likened the 20-second clock, which beeps loudly when players take too long winding up with their serve, to a bedside alarm clock.

"I feel like pressing 'snooze' all the time," the Russian star said, giggling with reporters when asked what she disliked most about the new IPTL format.

The reigning French Open champion and five-time Grand Slam singles winner ended her two-day stint in Manila on a losing note, both in the women's singles and in mixed doubles.

After securing her Manila Mavericks team's only win against the UAE Royals on Friday by beating Kristina Mladenovic, Sharapova sprayed double faults and unforced errors across the court Saturday to bow 3-6 to world number five Ana Ivanovic.

Sharapova also lost both her mixed doubles matches with teammate and world number six Andy Murray on Friday and Saturday.

The shot-clock is among various innovations made by the IPTL, aimed at speeding up the game to appeal to viewers with shorter attention spans.

The team-based format calls for ties consisting of five one-set matches, with no advantages and no let. The first to six games wins.

At 5-5, players go into a five-minute shootout instead of the traditional tiebreak.

Players receiving a serve can also call a "happiness power point" once per set, meaning the point will count double.

The new tournament also features skimpily-clad female cheerleaders dancing to loud music during timeouts. Its organisers are touting it as the "future" of the sport.

Other players on the IPTL tour had mixed reactions to the shot-clock.

"We're used to playing in quiet conditions since we were kids so every little noise kind of disturbs us," veteran Carlos Moya, Sharapova's Manila Mavericks teammate, told reporters.

Doubles specialist Sania Mirza of the Indian Aces team said she tends to serve fast anyway and rarely gets to the last five seconds, when the clock starts beeping loudly.

"It's going to be distracting, but it keeps us disciplined," she added.

Indian Aces playing coach Fabrice Santoro said all four teams in the IPTL circuit had swiftly found out they enjoyed using the "power point" feature.

"Very quickly we found out that it was important to do it at 30-40," he added.

Sharapova said she only committed to play two IPTL matches this year, which also includes December stops in Singapore, New Delhi and Dubai, so she can resume preparations for the regular 2015 tennis tour.

"For the singles players it's a bit of off-season so we're using it as a little bit of preparation," she said.

After narrowly missing out on a chance to return to the top of the women's rankings at the end of the season after recovering from a shoulder injury, the Russian said her main focus next year would be to stay healthy.

"I came into the season without many expectations and I'm actually quite happy," she said, stressing she had started the year ranked fourth in the world.

"I was in a position many times of the year to fall out of the top 10 and finished the year number two, so it's been quite a successful year and next year I set myself much bigger goals."

Sharapova has previously said getting more Grand Slams would be her priority over reclaiming the number one ranking, currently held by 18-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams.

New league offers a new look for tennis

(11/26/14) There's no rest for Roger. Back near the top of the rankings, and fresh from his long-awaited Davis Cup triumph with Switzerland, Roger Federer is getting ready for the International Premier Tennis League that gets under way on Friday.

Joining Federer in the franchise-based, short-format competition will be the top-ranked players in men's and women's tennis, with Novak Djokovic and Serena Williams also signed up to play.

The IPTL will launch with a tournament at Manila this week. Singapore, New Delhi and Dubai are the other stops for the $ 1 million event that runs till Dec. 13.

Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras are among the retired greats who'll feature in the tournament that will be contested by four teams - the Manila Mavericks, Singapore Slammers, Indian Aces and United Arab Emirates Royals.

''It is a revolutionary team tennis event breaking through the boundaries of traditional tennis formats,'' IPTL founder and former doubles star Mahesh Bhupathi said ahead of the tournament, which he hopes to convert to an eight-team league by 2020. ''But we need to be sustainable and we don't want to be too aggressive - we want to make sure that along the lines other people also see it as a viable business model.''

The format includes men's and women's singles, men's doubles, mixed doubles and legends singles matches. Essentially, it's an exhibition with a competitive streak.

Each fixture will consist of five one-set matches, which could be decided by a four-minute shootout at 5-5 rather than a traditional tiebreaker. There will be no advantage scores and the outcome will be decided by aggregating games won from all five matches rather than the match results.

There will also be 'power points' which will give players a chance to double up on a point in each match by nominated it before receiving serve. Other additions include time-outs.

Williams, who won the season-ending WTA title in Singapore last month, said ''I'm looking forward to coming back to Singapore and playing for the Singapore Slammers. I hope you'll ... enjoy a new format of tennis.''

No. 9-ranked Marin Cilic said playing in Asia was part of the appeal.

''When I'm in Asia, I always have good experiences and I always feel welcome,'' Cilic said. ''Asian fans are very faithful and I appreciate that a lot.''

Federer is an advocate of shorter formats in the game. He'll also be playing former No. 1 Lleyton Hewitt in another shortened, faster form of the game in Sydney ahead of the Australian Open.

Players fought long and hard for more time off to rest and recuperate between seasons, and the official off-season now extends for more than a month on the men's and women's tours. So participation of the star players in the IPTL has raised some questions about scheduling and fatigue management.

The 33-year-old Federer helped Switzerland clinch its first Davis Cup title last weekend in France, and the 17-time major winner will start his 2015 at the Brisbane International on Jan. 5, a key warm-up tournament to the Australian Open.

ATP president Chris Kermode last month described the IPTL as ''just a series of glorified exhibitions.''

''I actually don't have a problem with it,'' he told reporters in Shanghai. ''It isn't the ATP's business what the players did in the off-season, even if they criticize the duration of the tour and then jet away to play exhibition events when the curtain falls on the calendar.''

The IPTL is another addition to a growing list of franchise-based leagues run out of India following the massive success of cricket's Twenty20 Indian Premier League.

There is an Indian Soccer League involving players such as Nicolas Anelka, Alessandro Del Piero, Robert Pires and Luis Garcia, as well as similar competitions in field hockey and kabadd

----------------------

Top players in the IPTL:

Manila Mavericks: Andy Murray, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, Maria Sharapova, Carlos Moya.

Singapore Slammers: Serena Williams, Tomas Berdych, Lleyton Hewitt, Patrick Rafter.

Indian Aces: Roger Federer, Ana Ivanovic, Pete Sampras, Sania Mirza.

UAE Royals: Novak Djokovic, Marin Cilic, Caroline Wozniaki, Goran Ivanisevic.

No regrets for Sharapova after meltdown ends her season

(10/24/14) Maria Sharapova's final match of the year was a bittersweet moment for the Russian ace. She beat Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska 7-5 6-7(4) 6-2 in an enthralling match at the WTA Finals that encapsulated the best and worst of her game.

Her worst came in the second set when she threw away her last chance of winning the tournament and finishing the year ranked number one in the world, a feat that has eluded her throughout her illustrious career.

Needing to win in straight sets to reach the semi-finals, she blew three match points and a 5-1 lead with a series of catastrophic errors, dumping shots into the net and spraying others wide of the lines.

She conceded the set on a double-fault, and with it the chance to go any further in the lucrative end-of-season event.

But Sharapova saved her best for last. With seemingly little to play for after an exhausting week, she summoned up the energy for the final set and fought back to win, celebrating her victory like she'd won the championship.

"That's the philosophy that I have," she told a news conference in Singapore's Indoor Stadium.

"It would've been very easy for me to get down on myself. I had so many chances being up, having match point, and just saying you know what? I've lost two matches. Just so easy to just let it go but I didn't.

"I got the job done. I know I'm not moving forward, but I'm proud of that effort and to finish the year off on this way."

Sharapova said she had no regrets at missing out on the semi-finals or her chance at finishing number one after a year in which she won the French Open for a second time.

More importantly, she said, her body held up for the whole year, a rarity for a woman who has been plagued by shoulder problems.

"I'm happy to be sitting here and saying that I've added another Grand Slam to my resume, that I've won great titles, I had a great clay court season, and a lot of good wins," she said.

For Sharapova, her exit from the WTA Finals did bring some relief as it meant an early start to her off-season break. She said she planned to take a quick trip to Japan for a business commitment then back to her home in Florida.

She plans to catch up with her boyfriend, Grigor Dimitrov, but has no plans to even think about tennis, let alone get back on the practice court.

"I'm very good at it, too. I'm a pro. I don't even travel with my racquets. It's such a nice feeling," she said.

"I'll be signing my racquets tonight and, I don't know, throwing them in the bay or give them to charity."

Sharapova out of WTA Finals despite winning

(10/24/14) Serena Williams made the semifinals of the WTA Finals and earned the year-end No. 1 ranking without hitting a ball on Friday.

Williams’ fortune was at the expense of Ana Ivanovic and Maria Sharapova. Ivanovic had a shot at reaching the semis, and Sharapova had a slimmer chance at the top ranking. Both won dramatic three-setters, but they needed to win in two, and were eliminated.

By the end of the final day of group games, Saturday’s semifinals were set: Williams will meet Caroline Wozniacki, and Simona Halep will take on Agnieszka Radwanska.

Besides Sharapova and Ivanovic, Petra Kvitova also had her destiny in her own hands and failed to take the opportunity to progress.

Sharapova needed to win in straight sets to advance, and had to win the title if she was to topple Williams from the top of the rankings.

Sharapova inexplicably collapsed from a set and 5-1 up, missing three match points and losing the second set in a tiebreak to Radwanska. The Russian ultimately prevailed 7-5, 6-7 (4), 6-2 in over three hours but that was not enough, while Radwanska qualified for the semis despite a 1-2 group-stage record.

Radwanska was helped by Wozniacki beating Kvitova 6-2, 6-3. Kvitova would have progressed had she won.

Ivanovic had to beat Halep in straight sets to advance and knock out Williams. That looked unlikely when Halep came out to serve for the first set at 5-2, yet Ivanovic won four successive games and saved a set point in the tiebreak to win it 7-6 (7).

Ivanovic showed further resilience when she broke to get back on serve at 4-3 in the second set yet Halep won the next two games to take the frame, making the final set only for pride and prizemoney. Ivanovic won 7-6 (7), 3-6, 6-3.

Williams took the year-end top ranking for the fourth time, beside 2002, 2009 and 2013.

Since the rankings began in 1975, only five players have held the No. 1 spot at year end four times or more. The others were Steffi Graf (eight times), Martina Navratilova (seven), Chris Evert (five) and Lindsay Davenport (four).

Sharapova, the 2004 champion and two-time runner-up, was left to rue a collapse from a dominant position in the second set against Radwanska, who won five straight games. The Russian said she became too hasty as she tried to close out the match.

"A little impatient, her doing a good job of retrieving balls — that is her strength — and going for a little bit more than I should have," Sharapova said in explaining what went wrong in the second set.

"I know I’m not moving forward but I’m proud of that effort, and to finish the year in this way."

Wozniacki was already assured of a semifinal berth when she stepped out against Kvitova, while the Czech had to win, yet it was the Danish player who was on top throughout, and finished the group stage as the only player with a perfect 3-0 record.

Wozniacki has previously held the No. 1 ranking yet questions have always lingered about her true status as she has never won a Grand Slam tournament or WTA Finals. She has played this week like someone who wants to silence the doubters.

"I believe in myself and I believe in my skills," Wozniacki said. "I’ve been playing well, so I believed I could beat anyone."

That level of belief may not be quite as high against Williams, with the American boasting a 9-1 head-to-head record, including victory in the U.S. Open final.

"My matchup against her so far hasn’t been great," Wozniacki said. "I won once and lost like 10 times, or nine, I don’t know. I don’t even count anymore.

"But it’s a new tournament. It’s a new week. I’ve been playing well really. Again, I believe that if I play like I did today, doesn’t matter who’s on the other side. I can win."

Halep’s defeat against Ivanovic takes only a small amount of the polish off her previous match when she dropped only two games against Williams. The Romanian next meets Radwanska, with the pair having split their two meetings this year, although Halep trails 4-2 overall.

"She runs a lot on court, and I have to run as well tomorrow," Halep said. "I have to be aggressive, very aggressive, because she’s an intelligent player, she knows how to open the angles. But I will try everything."

Ivanovic finishes the year with the most wins of any player on tour at 58, with four titles.

"It’s mixed emotions because I feel like it was such a great match tonight, yet it’s such a low not to be able to qualify for the semifinals," Ivanovic said. "On a positive note I won two matches, finished the season with a victory. It’s been an amazing year for me."

Kvitova also exits, but the Wimbledon champion has only a short break. In two weeks she will lead the Czech Republic in the Fed Cup final against Germany.

Sharapova blow-up hits world number one hopes

(10/23/14) Maria Sharapova's hopes of ending a year as world number one for the first time in her career faded dramatically Thursday when she crashed in straight sets to Petra Kvitova at the WTA Finals.

The Russian superstar needed a win to boost her chances of overtaking top-ranked Serena Williams but she blew up in spectacular fashion as Kvitova won 6-3, 6-2 in 75 minutes in Singapore.

It was the second upset in quick succession at the season finale after Simona Halep stunned Williams 6-0, 6-2 on Wednesday, the 18-time Grand Slam-winner's worst defeat in 16 years.

To finish the year as world number one, second-ranked Sharapova, 27, now needs to win the end-of-season championship and hope Williams doesn't reach the final.

But her first loss to Kvitova since 2011 left her campaign hanging by a thread as she sits bottom of White Group with two defeats and one round-robin match left against Agnieszka Radwanska.

"Of course I had a long match, over three hours a day ago, but I don't feel tired," said Sharapova, who went down in three sets to Caroline Wozniacki in her opening match.

"I'm happy to be here, I'm happy to be part of this event. It's easy to sit here and say, 'Yeah, I'm tired'. I lost two matches. But that's not the way I feel or the way that I choose to speak.

"I still have a match ahead of me, and I will do my best to finish it on a good note. That's the only thing I can ask of myself."

It was a very different story for the resurgent Wozniacki, who beat Radwanska 7-5, 6-3 to near a spot in the semi-finals.

Sharapova won the first two games against Kvitova but then went to pieces as the Wimbledon champion won the next five straight and took the first set 6-3.

Another run of five games put Kvitova on the verge of victory before Sharapova finally earned a break of her own, and then saved two match points as she clung on in a 10-minute hold of serve at 5-1 down.

However, her resistance was broken when on the third match point, Kvitova blasted a magical looping forehand which landed on the baseline and beyond the crestfallen Russian.

Wozniacki took more than three hours to beat Sharapova on Tuesday and another long match looked likely when she fought with Radwanska in a tight opening set which featured five breaks of serve.

But the super-fit former world number one, who is training for the New York marathon, raced through the second set to step towards her first semi-final at the year-ender since 2009.

"I knew from the start that this wasn't going to be an easy match," Wozniacki said.

"I came out there a little bit nervous, but you know, I just did my best out there," added the world number eight.

Kvitova ends three-year losing streak against Sharapova

(10/23/14) Maria Sharapova suffered her second straight defeat at the WTA Finals on Thursday, losing to Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova 6-2 6-3.

It was a comprehensive defeat for the Russian, who had won her last five matches against the left-handed Kvitova, dating back over three years.

The last time they met, earlier this month, Sharapova won the final of the China Open, but she was unable to keep up with her younger Czech opponent on Thursday.

"I didn't feel as sharp as I did in the previous matches against her," Sharapova said.

"She served really well. Not fast, but found her spots really well. Found the corners. I think she had a lot of quick points in her service games.

"I just don't feel that I reacted as well in her bigger shots. She's someone that likes to play aggressive and hit the ball, and very deep as well.

"She countered my shots extremely well and I was just never ready for the next ball. That made it quite difficult for me."

The 27-year-old Sharapova looked weary at times against Kvitova but rejected the notion she was tired after her three and a quarter hour loss to Caroline Wozniacki in her previous match.

"I had a long match, over three hours a day ago, but I don't feel tired. I'm happy to be here. I'm happy to be part of this event," she said.

"It's easy to sit here and say, yeah, I'm tired. I lost two matches. But that's not the way I feel or the way that I choose to speak. I still have a match ahead of me, and I will do my best to finish it on a good note.

"That's the only thing I can ask of myself."

For Kvitova, it was a win that revived her hopes of winning her second WTA Finals title.

The 24-year-old lost her opening match to Agnieszka Radwanska but can still make the semi-finals if she wins her final group match against Wozniacki on Friday.

"I was really disappointed when I lost against Aga. It was a match probably I really didn't know what I was doing. I was so tired and sick of the tennis for the moment," she said.

"So I didn't practice today at all and I just really relaxed and cleaned my mind a little bit. I knew that I have a game to beat Maria. I played in the final of Beijing and I knew what I should play.

"I served better than in Beijing for sure. So everything what I did today was really good, and I'm glad that I beat her and I have still a chance to go in semi-final."

Wozniacki defeats Sharapova in WTA Finals

(10/21/14) Maria Sharapova’s chances of claiming the season-ending No. 1 ranking were hurt Tuesday after a 7-6 (4), 6-7 (5), 6-2 loss to Caroline Wozniacki at the WTA Finals.

The match included 12 breaks of serve.

Wozniacki beat Sharapova for the second straight time. The Dane also won in the fourth round of this year’s U.S. Open.

Sharapova needs to at least reach the final in Singapore to have a chance of overtaking Serena Williams and finishing the season with the top ranking for the first time.

In Tuesday’s other White Group match, Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova will face Agnieszka Radwanska.

Bouchard to play Serena in WTA final round-robin

(10/18/14) Serena Williams will play two of the tour’s young rising stars in the round-robin stage of this year’s WTA finals in Singapore.

The draw Saturday placed top-seeded Williams in the Red Group with 23-year-old Simona Halep and 20-year-old Eugenie Bouchard as well as the more experienced Ana Ivanovic, who has beaten the American only once in eight matches.

"I don’t care who I play, to be perfectly honest with you. You can put me against anybody at this point, I’m ready," said the top-ranked Williams, whose appearance in Singapore was in doubt after she pulled out of the China Open tournament earlier this month with a knee injury. "I really can’t wait for my match. I wish I had a match tomorrow."

The tournament starts Monday at the 10,000-capacity Singapore Indoor Stadium.

The 33-year-old Williams won this year’s U.S. Open and has won the past two WTA finals.

The White Group sees second-seeded Maria Sharapova, the French Open champion, joined by Wimbledon winner Petra Kvitova, Caroline Wozniacki and Agnieszka Radwanska.

"I’m quite happy with my group," said Sharapova, who is coming into the tournament after winning the China Open.

"I think every match will be a challenge. There are some players that I’ve lost to this year, and some players that I beat, so it’s a little bit of everything. I hope to start on a good note."

Denmark’s Wozniacki has had a resurgent season, climbing back inside the world’s top 10 and reaching her second US Open final before losing to Williams.

"I’m just excited to be here. It’s tough competitors I’m against. I’m looking forward to the challenge and getting some great matches."

Third-ranked Halep is in search of her first major title after making several semifinals this year.

"It’s not an easy draw," said the Romanian. "But everyone here is strong and a great player. I’ll enjoy my matches and try my best to win"

The draw was made at a shopping mall.

Year end No 1 would be 'incredible' - Sharapova

(10/6/14) Maria Sharapova said Sunday it would be an "incredible achievement" if she ended the season as the world number one as she moves into second place after clinching the China Open title.

The fourth seed in Beijing did not compete in the tournament last year as she was sidelined with a right shoulder injury which forced her out for the second half of 2013.

But the Russian has staged an incredible comeback since her injury nightmare, and will jump two places to second in the rankings after Sunday's hard-fought 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 victory over Petra Kvitova.

The French Open champion is within reach of current world number one Serena Williams, who has doubts cast over the rest of her season after she withdrew from the Beijing tournament with a left knee injury.

"I've been fortunate enough and very lucky to be number one in the world before in my career," Sharapova said after her victory in China.

"I'm very happy to be in the situation today, knowing that I have the opportunity to do that again, to try to get the number one spot."

Sharapova claimed her fourth title of the year in Beijing, with her previous victories coming in Stuttgart and Madrid in the lead-up to her fifth Grand Slam at Roland Garros.

The 27-year-old attained the top spot for the first time in August 2005 and has held it for a total of 21 non-consecutive weeks.

But she recognises that becoming the top women's top player again -- following a long injury layoff -- would represent a remarkable comeback.

"Of course, it's an incredible achievement if I could do it, considering where I started the year," she said.

Sharapova insisted she will not cram more tournaments into her schedule to build up points before the end of the season.

Her next event will be the WTA Finals in Singapore, the end-of-season finale involving the world's top eight women players, where she could rise to number one in the world.

"In the meantime I know I've had a great year -- and I'm going to go into the last tournament that I have just wanting to elevate my performance, use this week as a great stepping stone in the right direction, and finish it off well," she said.

Sharapova will be named number two when the WTA adjusts its rankings on Monday.

Sharapova tops Kvitova in 3 sets, wins China Open

(10/6/14) Maria Sharapova outlasted Petra Kvitova 6-4, 2-6, 6-3 in a hard-hitting, back-and-forth duel to win the China Open on Sunday and return to No. 2 in the rankings.

The fourth-seeded Sharapova overcame 10 double-faults and a number of untimely errors to defeat Kvitova in a rematch of the 2011 Wimbledon final, won by the Czech left-hander.

Sharapova broke Kvitova to go up 3-0 and then 4-2 in the third set, but made consecutive errors in the next game to give Kvitova break point to get back on serve. The Russian saved it with a hard, deep shot to the corner that Kvitova dumped in the net, then tracked down a short ball that clipped the tape and hit a sharply angled backhand winner to make it 5-2.

"It’s not easy playing against Petra. You don’t always quite get a good rhythm. She goes for a lot of shots, you know, very deep," Sharapova said. "I was kind of happy that I was able to lift my game again in the third and come out with a win."

After missing the end of last season with an injured shoulder, Sharapova is now wrapping up one of her most successful years on tour. She captured her fifth Grand Slam title at the French Open in June, and with her win in Beijing she now has four titles in the year — her most in a single season since 2006.

With the win, she’ll also jump past Simona Halep and Kvitova from fourth to second in the rankings, within striking distance of top-ranked Serena Williams.

At this time last year, Sharapova was looking into different treatment options for her shoulder, not sure when she’d return to the court.

"It was mentally a tough time because I was just in the middle of Europe trying to find a solution, yet everyone was still playing," she said.

"It’s definitely great to be a year later in a situation where this is my fourth title of the year, you know, a Grand Slam this year. A lot to put in perspective. You look back and think about how you kind of struggled, but you kept going."

Kvitova, the reigning Wimbledon champion, fell short of earning her second title in as many weeks following her victory last weekend at the Wuhan Open.

Playing her ninth match in 13 days, she seemed to struggle with her energy levels as the match wore on and was more mistake-prone than usual, making 44 unforced errors. Her serve is usually a weapon, but she only had one ace to seven double-faults.

"The small difference is just who really going little bit forward more than the other. We both tried to play very aggressively, very fast. I did little bit more mistakes, I think," Kvitova said.

Sharapova Wins in Beijing

(10/4/14) French Open and Wimbledon champions Maria Sharapova and Petra Kvitova will battle for the China Open title after they both powered through their semi-final matches Saturday.

Meanwhile, world number one Novak Djokovic continued his brilliant 100 percent record in Beijing, overpowering Andy Murray to set up a men's final against Tomas Berdych.

Kvitova remains on course for a second consecutive women's title in China after she defeated Samantha Stosur 6-3, 5-7, 6-2 in her match.

The world number three appears to have taken to Beijing the form she showed winning the Wuhan Open last Saturday.

But the Czech player's victory came after she survived a scare against Stosur, with the Australian taking the second set as she broke serve in the final game.

The 2011 US Open winner and former world number four appeared to be capitalising on a lack of rhythm in Kvitova's play after the game was halted because of rain, meaning the court had to be dried and the roof closed.

But the third seed in Beijing fought back in the third set, saving three break points in the second game before breaking in the fifth and seventh to make her first final in Beijing.

"You know, when we had the 30 minute break, it's difficult," Kvitova said.

"I won the first set and I was playing very good. Then they stopped me."

Sharapova stormed through the first set in her match with Ana Ivanovic, before the Serbian world number nine staged a brave fightback which culminated in a dramatic final game.

The pair traded breaks in the first two games of the second set, before Ivanovic lost serve again, giving Sharapova a 5-4 advantage as she served for the match.

Both players were then locked in a tussle, which saw four break points for Ivanovic and an equal number of match points for Sharapova.

But the Russian fourth seed in Beijing came through the battle of nerves and sealed a 6-0, 6-4 victory in just under 90 minutes.

Ivanovic said she did not play at her usual standard during the game.

"It was not about the last challenge. It was just very tough match for me today. I felt really flat on the court," she said.

"I was trying to come back in that second set. That point was very important. But still I had to do lot of work. I didn't feel at my best today."

Both Sharapova and Kvitova will be hoping to clinch their fourth title of the year in Beijing. Sharapova has won the last four meetings between the pair.

Kvitova, Sharapova post wins; Wozniacki exits Beijing

(10/1/14) Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and French Open titlist Maria Sharapova notched wins, while former world No. 1 Carolina Wozniacki was sent packing Wednesday at the $5.4 million China Open.

The hot third-seeded left-handed Czech star Kvitova, fresh off her title in Wuhan, China, last week, handled China's own Peng Shuai 6-4, 6-2 in a second- round affair, while the fourth-seeded former No. 1 stalwart and 2012 Beijing runner-up Sharapova topped Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro 6-1, 7-6 (7-3) in third-round play on the hardcourts at Beijing Olympic Green Tennis Center.

In other second-round action, former U.S. Open champ Samantha Stosur of Australia dismissed the sixth-seeded 2014 U.S. Open runner-up Wozniacki 6-4, 7-6 (11-9) and France's Alize Cornet leveled American Lauren Davis 6-2, 6-1 in rainy Beijing. Wozniacki was the China Open champ in 2010.

A third-round match between seventh-seeded German lefty Angelique Kerber and Russian Svetlana Kuznetsova was postponed until Thursday, when several other stars will take to the courts for third-round bouts. The two-time Grand Slam champion Kuznetsova is a two-time China Open winner and two-time runner- up.

Current world No. 1 and two-time China Open champ Serena Williams will face 13th-seeded Czech Lucie Safarova, while second-seeded French Open runner-up Simona Halep will take on 15th-seeded German and 2011 Beijing runner-up Andrea Petkovic, Kvitova will lock horns with 16th-seeded former No. 1 Venus Williams, and ninth-seeded former top-ranked star Ana Ivanovic will be opposed by last year's Wimbledon runner-up Sabine Lisicki on Day 6.

Serena, who captured her 18th Grand Slam singles title at the U.S. Open last month, beat Jelena Jankovic for last year's Beijing title and also captured this event in 2004.

Sharapova, Venus into 2nd round of China Open

(9/28/14) Maria Sharapova and Venus Williams moved into the second round at the China Open on Sunday with straight-set victories.

The fourth-seeded Sharapova overcame six double-faults to defeat Estonian Kaia Kanepi 6-4, 6-1, while the 16th-seeded Williams came back from a 3-0 deficit in the opening set to defeat Britain’s Heather Watson 6-3, 6-1.

Sharapova, the reigning French Open champion, said despite the double-faults she thought she served well against the 46th-ranked Kanepi, a five-time Grand Slam quarterfinalist.

"I thought I played a difficult opponent, someone that I’ve had trouble against in the past," she said. "I’m usually somebody that goes for my serve. If I make more errors, I feel more confident knowing that I’m going for it rather than just making my opponent hit a ball."

Williams started off slowly against Watson, but captured 12 of the last 13 games for a routine victory.

"She brought a lot of balls back I don’t think I was expecting," Williams said of going down an early break in the match. "The first games she didn’t miss a serve for six points."

Williams, who recently returned to the top 20 in the rankings for the first time in over a year, could next face France’s Caroline Garcia, who beat her in three tight sets at the Wuhan Open last week. Garcia plays China’s Zhang Shuai in the first round.

In other first-round matches on the women’s side, Australian Samantha Stosur beat Francesca Schiavone of Italy 6-4, 6-2 to set up a second-round clash with the in-form Caroline Wozniacki, who reached the finals of the U.S. Open earlier this month.

Other winners included No. 12-seeded Ekaterina Makarova of Russia, who beat Spain’s Garbine Muguruza 6-7 (8), 6-4, 6-4, and No. 15-seeded Andrea Petkovic of Germany, who took out Romanian qualifier Monica Niculescu 2-6, 7-6 (8), 6-4.

Sharapova crashes out of Wuhan Open

(9/24/14) Fourth seed Maria Sharapova crashed out of the $2.4 million WTA Wuhan Open in two sets Wednesday, while Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova and world number seven Caroline Wozniacki made the quarter-finals.

Sharapova was defeated by Timea Bacsinszky in a tight game, losing the first set at the tie break and the second 7-5 -- a result which broke the hearts of the local crowd who were supporting the Russian world number four.

"There were a lot of, you know, times in the match where I did everything right for the first few balls and then didn't execute in the points," Sharapova said.

"I think I always allowed her to get another ball back and to make me play another ball.

"Then obviously that didn't help me, because I was making more mistakes."

The tournament has already suffered the loss of a string of seeds, including world number one Serena Williams, and local hero Li Na announced her retirement days before it started.

Switzerland's Bacsinszky will play her quarter-final match against Wozniacki, who made a flying start as she overcame her opponent Australian Casey Dellacqua.

The eighth-seeded Dane did not lose a game in the first set and eventually won 6-0, 6-3.

Czech third seed Kvitova defeated compatriot Karolina Pliskova 6-3, 2-6, 6-4 to seal her place in the last eight.

Afterwards, she commented on the upsets throughout the tournament, which will have four seeded players in the quarter-finals.

"I saw Maria's match today. She tried very hard. Unfortunately she lost, but it's the tennis," the world number three said.

"At this time a lot of girls are playing so well, and the level, it's so close, and just a few points make the difference."

World number eight Angelique Kerber, the seventh seed in Wuhan, lost only two games in her match with Barbora Zahlavova Strycova of the Czech Republic, crushing her opponent 6-1, 6-1.

"I played a very good match. It was tough, because Barbora is a great player and she played very well," Kerber said.

"I'm happy about my performance today," the German added.

- Second set shock -

Eugenie Bouchard was the last of the seeded players to take her place in the last eight. The Canadian sixth seed disposed of American Alison Riske in convincing style with a 6-2, 6-3 victory in the evening match.

French players Caroline Garcia and Alize Cornet also made it through to the quarter-finals.

Cornet took the first set against Belgian Kirsten Flipkens at the tie-break before she was given a shock in the second, in which she won only one game.

But the world number 22 appeared more dominant in the third set, finally sealing victory with a scoreline of 7-6 (7/4), 1-6, 6-3.

"I think that Kirsten played much better in the second set," Cornet said.

"Already at the end of the first set she was playing better, and it was good that I took this first set."

Cornet described the final games of the match as a "huge fight", adding: "I was just fighting and trying my best. At the end it worked out."

Garcia continued her fine run at Wuhan with victory over Coco Vandeweghe.

The 20-year-old rising star, who claimed the scalp of world number six Caroline Radwanska in the second round, defeated the American 6-3, 6-2 to make it through to the quarter-finals.

Garcia will meet Kvitova in the quarters, while Cornet will face Bouchard.

Spaniard Garbine Muguruza, another player who performed heroics in the second round, suffered a miserable afternoon after she withdraw from her third-round match with gastritis before a ball was hit.

Muguruza had defeated second seed Simona Halep in the second round.

Her opponent, Ukraine's Elina Svitolina, will meet Kerber in the quarters.

The Wuhan Open in the central province of Hubei features the world's top 20 women players and reaches its climax on Saturday.

Radwanska crashes, Sharapova through in Wuhan

(9/22/14) World number six Agnieszka Radwanska was dumped out of the $2.4 million WTA Wuhan Open on Monday by a determined Caroline Garcia of France, while Maria Sharapova won her first match of the inaugural tournament.

Fourth seed Russian Sharapova defeated compatriot Svetlana Kuznetsova in the evening match, while any hope of a Chinese singles victory was extinguished when US Open semi-finalist Peng Shuai crashed out to Germany's Mona Barthel.

Radwanska was looking to book her place in the end-of-season championships in Singapore with a strong showing in Wuhan, but was defeated by a stunning fightback from Garcia, who was a set down in the second-round match.

Garcia, who had claimed the scalp of Venus Williams in the first round, took the second and third sets at the tie-break in her two hour and 42 minute duel with Radwanska.

The 20-year-old rising star, who is ranked 49th by the WTA, punched the air and jumped with delight after claiming victory.

"I knew I was still close even when I lost the first set, and that I could maybe win the second and third," Garcia told AFP.

"I always tried to believe in it."

Poland's Radwanska said she still hoped to make next month's WTA Championships in Singapore with a good performance at the China Open in Beijing, which follows the Wuhan tournament, but was reeling from her exit in Wuhan.

"I think it was a tough match from beginning to the end. I think it was a very tight game," the former world number two told AFP.

"Definitely I could have done better in the moments that I should have really stepped forward."

World number four Sharapova took two hours nine minutes to dispose of Kuznetsova and take her place in the third round.

Kuznetsova, who is ranked 25th, claimed the opening set 6-3, but Sharapova then took command, winning the remaining sets 6-2, 6-2.

"I was very happy with the way I played the second and third set," Sharapova said.

"I wasn't waiting for her to give me the match. I really stepped up, and that was really important."

Meanwhile, Peng Shuai failed to reproduce the heroics which saw her reach the last four at Flushing Meadows.

After losing the fist set to Barthel 6-2, the 28-year-old staged a brief fightback midway through the second set, only for the German to force a tie-break which she comfortably won.

Her loss means no Chinese player made it through the first round of the tournament, which is held in the home city of recently-retired two-time Grand Slam winner Li Na.

Elsewhere at Wuhan, Alize Cornet of France set up a meeting with world number one Serena Williams in the second round following her two-set victory over Romina Oprandi of Switzerland in her first match.

Cornet, who arrived in Wuhan with her confidence high after reaching the final at the WTA Guangzhou Open on Saturday, took the game with ease at 6-2, 6-1.

She has already beaten Williams twice this year, handing the American power-hitter her earliest defeat at Wimbledon for nine years in June, and also winning at Dubai in February.

Doubles specialist Sara Errani beat British rising hope Heather Watson 7-5, 6-4 in their opening singles match.

The Italian will face Alison Riske of the USA at the next stage.

Germany's Sabine Lisicki defeated Czech world number 15 Lucie Safarova in three sets, 7-5, 2-6, 6-3, while tenth seed Jelena Jankovic beat Christina McHale of the USA 6-4, 6-4 in their first-round match.

Australian world number 20 Samantha Stosur continued her miserable run of form, crashing out of her second competition in China at the first stage in a week.

The 2011 US Open winner and former world number four lost to Karolina Pliskova from the Czech Republic 6-4, 6-4 after going out early on at the WTA Guangzhou Open as top seed last Tuesday.

The Wuhan Open in China's central province of Hubei features the world's top 20 women players.

The rain came too late for Maria Sharapova

(9/1/14) The rain came too late for Maria Sharapova.

Bounced from the U.S. Open just before a downpour Sunday, Sharapova's news conference kept getting interrupted by screeching weather warnings going off on reporters' cellphones.

''Is that the flood warning?'' Sharapova asked.

''Darn it. If I was only there a little longer,'' she said to laughter.

The fifth-seeded Sharapova didn't get a break because of the weather in her 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 loss to 10th-seeded Caroline Wozniacki, but other players did. The heavy rain and lightning forced the first suspension of play so far in the tournament.

Wozniacki advances to U.S. Open quarterfinals

(9/1/14) Caroline Wozniacki trusts her stamina so much that she plans to return to New York in two months to run a marathon.

Maria Sharapova, usually the one wearing down opponents in the third set, sure couldn’t keep up on a steamy Sunday at the U.S. Open. Wozniacki won 6-4, 2-6, 6-2 in 2 hours, 37 minutes to get back to her first Grand Slam quarterfinal in more than two years — and get back in the headlines for reasons other than her personal life.

"The season for me has been a little bit up and down," she said in quite an understatement, "and it’s so nice to kind of start feeling like I’m playing the way I want to."

Because of the heat, the players received a 10-minute break before the final set; Sharapova returned to the court late, arguing with the chair umpire after receiving a time violation warning. Perhaps sensing that she was fresher than the five-time major champion, Wozniacki later complained that Sharapova was dawdling between points.

Her tardiness seemed to swing the Arthur Ashe Stadium crowd’s support squarely in Wozniacki’s favour. When the 10th-seeded Dane broke Sharapova at love to go up 3-1 in the final set, she got a standing ovation from the fans and waved her arms to egg them on. Sharapova had appeared to hit a winner three times on that game’s final point only for Wozniacki to somehow chase down the ball. Finally, Sharapova put a volley into the net.

Wozniacki mixed in just enough aggression with her signature defence to keep the pressure on Sharapova in the final set.

"She’s very good at getting a lot of balls back and making you hit another one," Sharapova said. "In the end, I went for a little too much."

She insisted the conditions didn’t bother her. Sharapova had been 17-6 in three-set matches this year, including her come-from-behind second-round victory here.

The fifth-seeded Sharapova’s loss leaves No. 1 Serena Williams as the only woman remaining of the top six.

After a sloppy first set with 21 unforced errors, Sharapova was painting the lines in the second. Wozniacki seemed to spend most of the set watching in dismay as one of Sharapova’s 22 winners whizzed by.

Wozniacki said she told herself before the third set to go for her shots.

"If I’m going to lose," she recalled thinking, "at least I’m going to do it with dignity."

She closed out the match by breaking Sharapova’s serve again with a backhand winner. About a half-hour later, thunderstorms halted play with second-seeded Roger Federer down a break in the first set to Marcel Granollers.

Federer acknowledged the two-hour delay helped him regroup. While Granollers won the first set, Federer dominated the rest of the way, winning 4-6, 6-1, 6-1, 6-1.

Unlike the women’s draw, the men’s side didn’t lose a top-10 player until Sunday, when fourth-seeded David Ferrer was upset by Gilles Simon in the third round 6-3, 3-6, 6-1, 6-3. Sixth-seeded Tomas Berdych swept 62nd-ranked Teymuraz Gabashvili 6-3, 6-2, 6-4.

Dominic Thiem, 20, made his first Grand Slam round of 16 with a 6-4, 6-2, 6-3 win over 19th-seeded Feliciano Lopez.

Wozniacki will next face 13th-seeded Sara Errani, who ended the run of qualifier Mirjana Lucic-Baroni with a 6-3, 2-6, 6-0 victory.

As a 19-year-old, Wozniacki made the 2009 U.S. Open final, losing to Kim Clijsters, and reached No. 1 in the world the next year. But she hadn’t been back to a Grand Slam quarterfinal since the 2012 Australian Open.

In the meantime, she was best known for getting engaged to star golfer Rory McIlroy — then getting dumped in late May after wedding invitations had gone out.

Wozniacki lost in the first round at the French Open soon thereafter and was upset in the fourth round at Wimbledon. She had been playing much better since, though, winning her first title in nine months at Istanbul then dropping a pair of three-set matches to Williams.

Wozniacki also announced a month ago that she planned to run the New York City Marathon on Nov. 2 for charity, somehow squeezing in training during a busy fall season. Seems to be working out well mentally and physically on the tennis court.

"Kind of clears my head," she said of the extra running. "I feel more free when I go on court."

Wozniacki plans to stick around New York after the U.S. Open to attend Fashion Week — including her pal Williams’ show — and get in some running in Central Park. The marathon prep has gone on hiatus the last few days, though.

As Wozniacki deadpanned, "I have a pretty big tournament here that I kind of want to try and win."

Sharapova and Wozniacki to clash in U.S. Open fourth round

(8/31/14) Another top 10 seed in the U.S. Open women's draw is set to fall on Sunday when Maria Sharapova (fifth) faces Caroline Wozniacki (10th) on center court in the fourth round.

Roger Federer then faces unseeded Spaniard Marcel Granollers in the third round to cap daytime play on Arthur Ashe Stadium.

Sharapova and Wozniacki barely raised a sweat as they breezed through their third-round matches.

Russian Sharapova, a five-time grand slam champion who won the French Open in June, has a 5-2 head-to-head edge against Wozniacki, but both of the Dane’s victories came on hard-court surfaces.

Sharapova won the 2006 U.S. Open while Wozniacki got to the 2009 final before losing to Kim Clijsters.

Seeds are now in short supply in the women's draw, with only five of the top 10 left in the tournament.

Federer had his hands full at times in his third-round match against big-serving Australian Sam Groth but Granollers will present a different kind of challenge.

The Spaniard, whose best results this year have come on clay, won a five-setter against Ivo Karlovic in the second round, overcoming 31 aces by the Croatian.

In clashes between seeded players away from center court, Gael Monfils (20th) takes on Richard Gasquet (12th) in an all-French showdown, while Croatian Marin Cilic (14th) faces South African Kevin Anderson (18th).

Sharapova gets past Lisicki in 2 sets at US Open

(8/30/14) Maria Sharapova reached the U.S. Open's fourth round by taking five of the last six games after her opponent, Sabine Lisicki, was warned by the chair umpire about receiving coaching help.

Avoiding the sort of surprise that saw half of the top eight seeded women lose already, No. 5 Sharapova eliminated No. 26 Lisicki 6-2, 6-4 in a hard-hitting match that began Friday night and ended past midnight Saturday.

''She's a very dangerous and tricky opponent, and she's capable of playing really well at the Slams and always raising her level against the top players,'' Sharapova said. ''That was something I was very well aware of. I thought I stepped up to the challenge.''

Five-time major champion Sharapova trailed 3-1 in the second set. But she turned things around as 2013 Wimbledon runner-up Lisicki went back and forth with chair umpire Carlos Ramos over whether she was getting instructions from her entourage.

I didn't know what he meant,'' Lisicki said. ''I didn't see anything. I wanted to know what it was that he saw, because I haven't seen it.''

Still, Sharapova did not wrap things up easily against Lisicki, who at a hard-court tournament in Stanford, California, last month hit the fastest recorded serve in the history of the WTA, reaching 131 mph (211 kph).

Sharapova got broken while serving for the victory at 5-3, then needed three match points to close it with her sixth break of Lisicki.

''A very aggressive, big server,'' said Sharapova, who will play 2009 U.S. Open finalist Caroline Wozniacki for a spot in the quarterfinals. ''I just tried to concentrate on my return. I wasn't serving as well as I wanted to.''

The point of the match came with Lisicki serving and already ahead 2-1 in the second set. She raced this way and that along the baseline, scrambling for a forehand retrieval, then to the other side for a backhand to extend the point, before returning to her forehand side for a desperation defensive lob.

Eschewing an overhead, Sharapova let the ball drop but badly missed a forehand that landed way out.

That saved a break point and Lisicki held to go ahead 3-1.

But that's when Ramos was beginning to engage Lisicki in a discussion about whether her coach was sending her signals.

In WTA tournaments, coaches are allowed to head down to the court between games and help players during matches. But coaches are not allowed to give tips to their players in Grand Slam matches.

''Let's talk at the changeover,'' Ramos told Lisicki, and when she sat on the sideline at 3-2 in the second set, the conversation resumed.

''I know what I saw,'' Ramos told her.

He suggested to Lisicki that she tell the folks in her guest box not to offer suggestions.

Before serving in the next game, Lisicki wandered toward the stands, carrying balls on her racket, and said something toward her guest box, then shrugged her shoulders. Moments later, on break point, Lisicki sailed a swinging forehand volley well out, allowing Sharapova to pull even at 3-all.

Asked at her news conference what she told her group before that game, Lisicki said: ''That he thought they were coaching, just so they were aware.''

Sharapova may soon snub Mother Russia

(8/29/14) Maria Sharapova will soon be an outlaw unless she flies to Moscow to comply with Vladimir Putin’s new law requiring all 10 million Russians with dual citizenship to register with the Kremlin.

The 6-foot-2 blonde, who played her third round match in the US Open on Friday, won’t have to meet the law’s Oct. 4 deadline because she is out of the country, but she’ll have to register on the next visit to her homeland.

The law was enacted after Russia invaded Crimea and the US imposed sanctions on Putin and some of his cronies.

“This is Putin’s way of telling the expats, ‘We’re keeping track of you even if you aren’t here. You can’t escape us,’?” said one former Russian. “It’s the first step in getting Russians living abroad to pay more taxes.”

It is doubtful that Sharapova, and all the wealthy Russian hockey players in the NHL, and all the Russian fashion models in New York, will want to be interrogated by the Kremlin about their assets and bank accounts.

“This will convince a lot of Russians to give up their dual citizenship,” said my source. “They will dump their Russian passports.”

Sharapova, who lives in Florida, has played for the Russian Olympic team and was a prominent supporter of her homeland at the Winter Olympics in Sochi. Without a Russian passport, she could only go home by applying for a visa.

Anne Vyalitsyna — better known as just Anne V — is in the same boat as Sharapova. The Russian swimsuit model, who dated Adam Levine and Mets pitcher Matt Harvey, proudly showed her American passport on her Instagram account in March.

One Russian who happily complied was Kira Dikhtyar, the model who appeared with Naomi Campbell on the TV show “The Face” last spring. Moscow paparazzi recently followed her as she trotted in high heels to the registrar’s office.

Sharapova rallies to advance at U.S. Open

(8/27/14) Maria Sharapova rallied from a set down to overcome a shaky serve and advance at the U.S. Open.

The five-time major champion beat 95th-ranked Alexandra Dulgheru 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 in the second round Wednesday. She had nine double-faults and 46 unforced errors, but her conditioning was the difference.

Dulgheru had played just twice since mid-July, and she was dragging as the match approached two hours late in the second set. Dulgheru has never been past the third round at a Grand Slam tournament and fell to 3-14 against top-10 opponents.

The fifth-seeded Sharapova won her second French Open title in June but hasn’t looked all that sharp since. She avoided another upset on the women’s side Wednesday after fourth-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska and 21st-seeded Sloane Stephens lost earlier.

Will Sharapova foe take TO?

(8/26/14) If Maria Sharapova's opponent Wednesday at the U.S. Open takes a medical timeout, the five-time major champion wouldn't mind seeing that come at a cost.

Sharapova was asked after her first-round victory at Flushing Meadows what tennis rule she would like to change if she ran the sport, and - tongue-in-cheek - she mentioned charging for breaks players are allowed to take to get a visit from a doctor during a match.

''I think we'd all see who really uses them and who doesn't,'' said 2006 U.S. Open champion Sharapova, who faces Alexandra Dulgheru in Arthur Ashe Stadium in the second round. ''I don't know what we put on it - maybe like $2,500 or something. Yeah, I think we should do that. That would be fun.''

Ivanovic embracing the moment at US Open

(8/26/14) Former world number one Ana Ivanovic is riding a new wave of success, and this time she's ready to enjoy it.

The Serbian was only 20 when she won the French Open in 2008, and the sudden stardom was almost too much.

"It was very hard to handle all the attention because I was very shy at the time," she said. "I didn't feel comfortable in my own skin. I was very introverted. I like to spend my time with the books. That's who I was."

Ivanovic struggled to maintain her level of success. Unable to establish herself as a consistent Grand Slam threat, she fell as low as 65th in the world in July of 2010.

"All of a sudden, there was so many requests and so many other things that came with it," she said. "No one prepared me for that. Obviously it took me some time to get used to that and to actually embrace it and enjoy it."

Ivanovic said 2013 was a turning point for her. Without a title since 2011, she had become frustrated with her inability to translate her hard work into success in tournaments.

"It's hard to love it then," she said. "But you have to find some way or goal to work towards.

"Last year has been amazing change for me. I learned a lot about myself, about my goals, who I am as a person and who I want to be.

"This is what I had to discover -- what was my goal -- and not so much be obsessed about what other people's vision of my life or career should be."

In 2014 she has reaped the rewards of her new focus, with a quarter-final appearance at the Australian Open that included a fourth-round upset of Serena Williams.

Her three titles this year include the first grasscourt victory of her career, and she has reached finals on three different surfaces.

Ivanovic arrived at the US Open back in the top 10 for the first time in more than five years. Seeded eighth, Ivanovic opened her campaign with a crisp 6-3, 6-0 victory over young American Alison Riske.

In the past, the bustling Big Apple and its rowdiest of Grand Slams offered just the kind of atmosphere to send Ivanovic into her shell.

"That's why it's only since few years I started loving New York, because that's about that," she said. "It's about emotions, crowds, and embracing that moment."

Sharapova hands old friend U.S. Open tennis lesson

(8/26/14) Maria Sharapova found no room for sentiment on Monday to give her old friend Maria Kirilenko a tennis lesson and roll to a 6-4 6-0 win and into the second round of the U.S. Open.

Returning to Arthur Ashe stadium for the first time in two years after she missed last year's tournament with injury, a ruthless Sharapova made it crystal clear she was not going to let friendship stand in her way of a second title at Flushing Meadows.

She made an unsteady start to the year's final grand slam falling behind 2-4 in the opening set, before she switched into top gear storming through the next 10 games.

"We spent a lot of time in the juniors away from the courts practicing a lot together, competing against each other," Sharapova said of her long-standing relationship with Kirilenko. "We certainly have a big history together.

"But when you go out on the court, it's always that fine line between; of course you want to be the winner, you have to face that person as a competitor, not someone that you've known for years and developed a friendship with.

"It's always a tricky balance, I guess."

The similarities between the two Russian right handers is striking.

Both are tall, though Sharapova still stands about six inches (15 cms) taller than Kirilenko, they are both 27 and made their professional debuts within months of each other in 2001.

Their careers, however, have taken vastly disparate paths.

Kirilenko has won six career titles while Sharapova has won half that many already this season including the French Open.

With 32 titles Sharapova, a former-world number one and five-time grand slam winner has banked over $30 million in prize money, Kirilenko $6.7 million.

After missing last year's U.S. Open, Sharapova reveled in her return, soaking up the atmosphere on the massive Arthur Ashe center court.

"It's just full of energy," the fifth seeded Russian said. "They're loud and passionate. You just feel the sports lovers are there.

"I think you feel the goosebumps when you go out on a night match on Arthur Ashe."

While Sharapova's slow start offered the briefest moment of suspense, the form book offered not a hint of a possible upset.

In 44 previous grand slam appearances Sharapova had lost in the first round only three times, two of those coming in her rookie season.

She has won 41 of her last 42 first round matches at slams; her solitary loss in that time coming at the 2010 Australian Open to Kirilenko.

But there would be no upset on Monday for Kirilenko, who has been hampered by knee and wrist injuries this year and won two matches in six tournaments.

"I thought there was a few times where I could have broken her in the beginning of the match," said Sharapova, who will next meet Romania's Alexandra Dulgheru.

"But I think she started off playing well and solid.

"Despite not taking those opportunities in a couple of her service games, I felt pretty good, especially towards the end of the match."

Sharapova set to shine in New York

(8/25/14) Sharapova won the title in 2006 but missed last year's US Open with a shoulder injury. The reigning French Open champion will take on fellow Russian Maria Kirilenko on Monday night.

Kirilenko, 27, is a former top-10 player who is currently ranked 113th and has endured an injury-plagued season.

Sharapova, who has won five of her seven career meetings with Kirilenko, said it was nevertheless a potentially awkward match-up.

"You never know because I think it's also an opportunity for someone like that to come in and have no expectations because they haven't really played a match and (they can) go out and swing away," she said.

"Sometimes that’s a very dangerous opponent."

The glamorous Sharapova has long been a favorite of the New York crowds, whose boisterous behavior is part of the fabric of the US Open.

Fifth-seeded Raonic thrives on the hectic atmosphere at the final Grand Slam of the year.

"I like the rowdiness here particularly," said Raonic, who was warily looking forward to a meeting with Japanese qualifier Taro Daniel on Monday.

"Especially being the first match for me and he's already played three matches, it's going to be about finding myself in that first match, figuring out what I need to do, and sort of finding my range and keeping it very simple and not really trying to do much," Raonic said.

Betsey Johnson had no clue who Maria Sharapova was

(8/21/14) (Photo) Betsey Johnson had no idea who Maria Sharapova was at Fashion Targets Breast Cancer, hosted by the tennis star and the CFDA, at the New Museum on Wednesday.

The eccentric designer was heard asking, “Who is that?” when an organizer grabbed her to take a photo with Sharapova.

“I thought it was gonna be Serena Williams. I know her,” Johnson said after posing for the snap.

She was secretive about her September Fashion Week show, but did reveal the invite “is hysterical.”

Serena seeded No. 1 for U.S. Open, Genie No. 7

(8/20/14) Top-ranked Serena Williams is seeded No. 1 as she seeks her third straight U.S. Open title.

The U.S. Tennis Association followed this week’s WTA rankings in announcing the seedings Wednesday.

French Open runner-up Simona Halep is seeded second after reaching a career-best ranking this month. She has never advanced past the fourth round at the U.S. Open.

Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova is seeded No. 3 with third-ranked Li Na out because of a knee injury. Agnieszka Radwanska moves up to No. 4.

Five-time major champ Maria Sharapova is seeded fifth, meaning there’s a chance she could face Williams in the quarterfinals. The runner-up the last two years, Victoria Azarenka, is seeded 16th after an injury-plagued season.

Venus Williams is seeded 19th.

Canadian Eugenie Bouchard is the seventh seed.

The draw is Thursday, and the tournament starts Monday.

Ivanovic ousts Sharapova in three-set thriller

(8/17/14) Ana Ivanovic overcame illness and nerves as she outlasted French Open champ Maria Sharapova 6-2, 5-7, 7-5 to reach the final of the WTA Tour's Cincinnati event.

The former world number one will face off for the title, at the last major tune-up prior to the US Open, when she plays Serena Williams on Sunday.

The American top seed Williams moved within one win of a second pre-Open hardcourt title as she beat Caroline Wozniacki 2-6, 6-2, 6-4.

Ivanovic led by a set and 5-2 but fell victim to nerves as the scrambling Sharapova, a five-time grand slam champion and fellow former number one, fought back. Sharapova levelled the sets at one each as she clinched the second set with an ace.

Ivanovic had to be seen by the doctor in the third set. The Serb suddenly stopped at 15-all in the second game. She went to the sidelines and lay down for a few moments to receive treatment and then the match continued.

Sharapova's frustration level appeared to grow as the Russian struggled to get a grip on a game which produced seven double-faults in the third set.

"It was just a matter of a couple points," Sharapova said. "There were certainly a lot of ups and downs. I wasn't happy with that."

Ivanovic saved a pair of Sharapova match points and finally held for five-all.

Ivanovic broke two games later to secure the emotional win with a backhand cross-court winner on second match point.

- Sharapova 'a fighter' -

"Up a set and 5-2, I got tight," said Ivanovic. "I was not moving my feet. She's a great champion and she used her opportunities.

"It was very important for me to get my composure back in the third set.

"My emotions were all over the place. There were a lot of breaks in the final set. Maria is a fighter and never gives up. But I stayed calm.

"It was hot and humid and I felt sick in the second set. But the tablets I got from the doctor worked and I feel better now."

Ivanovic and Williams will play for the fourth time this season, with the Serb earning a win at the Australian Open.

"It will be a very tough one, but first comes recovery," said Ivanovic. "It is fun to play her and test yourself against the best. It will be a quick turnaround."

Williams, who claimed her 61st career WTA title at Stanford two weeks ago, is playing a third tournament in a row for the first time since late 2007. She improved her 2014 match record to 37-6 with the win over Wozniacki.

The 32-year-old said that she needed a set to find her game after a slow start.

"I got off to a little bit of a slow start, but I was definitely in it," said Williams, who followed up her win in Stanford by reaching the semi-finals last week at Montreal, where she lost to her sister Venus. "I had to get out there and grind out everything."

Wozniacki came to the match after beating two top 10 players in a row for first time since the 2010 WTA Finals.

Despite the defeat, Wozniacki is ready for one last US Open tune-up next week in New Haven.

"I've had a lot of matches these couple of weeks," said the 24-year-old Dane. "But I'm good with playing New Haven. I'm going to use it as even better preparation."

Sharapova rallies to beat spirited Halep

(8/15/14) Maria Sharapova won a re-match of her French Open title victory over Simona Halep, rallying for a 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 win to reach the semi-finals of the Cincinnati Masters.

The reigning Roland Garros holder will play Ana Ivanovic after the Serb ninth seed defeated Ukrainian teenager Elina Svitolina 6-2, 6-3 in less than an hour on Friday night.

Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam champion, has won eight of 11 meetings with her former world number one opponent. Ivanovic claimed their last meeting in the third round at Rome in May.

Sharapova had to make a great escape against world number two Halep, who has burst into WTA prominence over the past year. Sharapova won her fifth match against Halep without a loss.

Sharapova also claimed her 13th match at the pre-US Open event and took the title in 2011.

The Russian, who tends to play well under pressure, recovered after a tight opening set to finally secure the victory -- her 38th of 2014 -- after two and a half hours.

"It was a pretty poor first set from my end, a lot of unforced errors," said Sharapova. "I think it was some of the lowest first serve percentages I've had for a while.

"Nothing really was going my way. So I definitely needed to do a few things differently to be a bit more consistent but maintain that aggressiveness that works against her.

"The court is like a battlefield. It's my job. It's where I'm supposed to perform."

SHARAPOVA TOPS FORBES LIST OF TOP-EARNING FEMALE ATHLETES

(8/15/14) For a 10th straight year, Maria Sharapova topped the Forbes list as the top-earning female athlete on the planet.

According to Forbes, the 27-year-old Sharapova pocketed $24.4 million on and off the court over the last 12 months.

Sure, some other women have earned more prize money, but when it comes to off- court earnings ... Maria's in a league of her own.

Hip and shoulder injuries sidelined the Russian superstar for the second half of last year, holding back her on-court winnings to a modest (for Shaza) $2.4 million, but they did little to detract from her off-court moneys.

Sharapova's tennis, charisma and photogenic quality have made her one of the most sought after names in all of sport and the face of brands ranging from Nike to Porsche. In June, fresh off her second career French Open title, Avon came calling and became the latest addition to her ever-expanding endorsement portfolio. Avon has Sharapova on-board as the face of its new fragrance for men and women, Avon Luck, in a deal worth more than $1 million a year.

And proving that she's more than just a pretty face, over the past few years, the five-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova has also tapped into entrepreneurship, launching her own brand of candy, Sugarpova, and more recently claiming a stake in a skincare company, Supergoop, where she will promote sunscreen and anti-aging goods.

Tennis dominated Forbes' female athletes list once again, with Li Na ($23.6 million), Serena Williams ($22 million), Victoria Azarenka ($11.1 million), Caroline Wozniacki ($10.8 million), Agnieszka Radwanska ($6.8 million) and Ana Ivanovic ($6.4 million) joining the former world No. 1 Sharapova in the exclusive top 10.

Suarez Navarro shocks Sharapova in Montreal

(8/7/14) French Open champion Maria Sharapova's preparations for the US Open suffered a setback Thursday as she was ousted from the WTA hardcourt tournament in Montreal by Carla Suarez Navarro.

The 14th-seeded Spaniard, ranked 16th in the world, shrugged off two rain delays and emerged with a 6-2, 4-6, 6-2 triumph over the fourth-seeded Russian, a former world number one who was playing her first tournament since a surprise fourth-round exit at Wimbledon.

Suarez Navarro put on a crisp shot-making display as she cruised through the first set.

Sharapova, who had also started slowly but managed to rally against second-round opponent Garbine Muguruza, battled back from a 4-2 deficit in the second to force the decisive third set, but she had no answer for Suarez Navarro in the third.

"It was a tough match," Sharapova said. "I thought my opponent played a really good match.

"I couldn't find my rhythm from the beginning. Always had my back against the wall throughout the whole match. Always came back from behind.

"Even though I felt like I started feeling a little bit better, it wasn't enough in the end."

Sharapova's wayward backhand on match point was her 49th unforced error of the contest. She converted just six of her 19 break point opportunities.

Sharapova said her inability to reliably put her first serve in play was a factor in the defeat, but not her only problem.

"Obviously you think a lot more about the second serve, which is a lot more difficult," she said.

"I was struggling with just not that today, but a lot of unforced errors from the baseline as well. Couldn't commit on the return. So I think it was a little bit of everything."

Sharapova said she wouldn't blame two rain delays for her inability to find her rhythm.

"I think I've been on the tour for way too long," she said. "I know what to expect and to know that anything can be thrown at you, whether it's another delay, weather, or something else. That's part of the game. That's never bothered me."

Now Sharapova has just over two weeks to hone her hardcourt game before the start of the year's last Grand Slam, the US Open at Flushing Meadows on August 25.

"There's quite a bit of time until then," Sharapova said, stressing that it's just a matter of fine-tuning a few things.

"It's never just 20 percent of something," she said of what she must improve. "It's 1 percent or 2 percent of many things that can ultimately change the result."

Power and order restored as Sharapova advances in Montreal

(8/7/14) Fourth seed Maria Sharapova rallied for a 4-6 6-3 6-1 second-round win over Spain's Garbine Muguruza as order and power was restored to the Rogers Cup in Montreal on Wednesday.

A day after the tournament was left without power and its star attraction when rising Canadian star and Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard suffered a shock opening-match loss, the event enjoyed a return to normalcy as the electricity was back on and Sharapova moved onto the third round.

"It's been a few weeks since I've been in that competitive atmosphere," said Sharapova, back in action for the first time since her fourth round loss at Wimbledon. "It's always quite different, no matter how much you train, you try to prepare for that.

"Once you step on the court, you feel a little bit more from the crowd, the energy. You get inspired by everything. But you're ultimately a bit rusty."

The French Open champion certainly was far from sharp in her return as the promising young Spaniard took advantage of several errors by the Russian to grab the opening set.

But Sharapova, a three-time winner this season, was able to convert on the big points to stay on track for a first ever title on the Canadian hard courts.

"I didn't feel good, I made a lot of errors in the first set," said Sharapova. "When you're able to finish stronger than your start, that's always a positive because you give yourself an opportunity to keep playing in the tournament.

"When you're in that position, there's always another chance to work in another match to improve and get better."

Sixth seeded German Angelique Kerber, who has four runner-up finishes this season, had no trouble taming Caroline Garcia easing past the Frenchwoman 6-4 6-1.

Kerber has had a solid start to her North American hard court campaign after reaching the final in Stanford last week but has in four visits to Canada has never advanced past the third round.

Eleventh seed Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark, the 2010 Canadian champion, thrashed Czech Klara Koukalova 6-1 6-2 while qualifier Heather Watson provided an early upset when the Briton shocked 10th seeded and Australian Open finalist Dominika Cibulkova of Russia 6-2 6-7 (3) 7-6 (5).

Five women to watch in Rogers Cup Montreal

(8/1/14) The Rogers Cup begins with qualifying Saturday and the first round begins Monday at Uniprix Stadium in Montreal. Here are five players to watch:

Serena Williams: A winner of this tournament in two of the past three years, Williams is coming off a disappointing Wimbledon loss to Alize Cornet in the round of 32. Williams has had a difficult time of late, but last year’s U.S. Open champion is always a threat to win, especially on hard courts.

Petra Kvitova: The fourth-ranked player in the world beat Eugenie Bouchard quite handily in the Wimbledon final. Kvitova is set to be the third seed at the Rogers Cup as she hunts for her first hard-court title in 2014.

Maria Sharapova: The French Open champion is trying to win her first U.S. Open since 2006. Montreal is the next step on that path, as Sharapova will be the fifth seed in a tournament she has never won.

Eugenie Bouchard: Playing some of the best tennis of her life, the 20-year-old returns to her hometown with the chance to add to her already-impressive resume. Bouchard withdrew from the Citi Open in Washington, but more because she wanted to rest up for this tournament than because of injury.

Caroline Wozniacki: After her breakup with golfer Rory McIlroy, Wozniacki lost her first match at the French Open but has since won a tournament, July’s Istanbul Cup. Wozniacki, the champion of this event in 2010, has come closer to winning the hard-court U.S. Open than any other Grand Slam.

ESPY Awards 2014 Winner

(7/18/14) Best female tennis player: Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova Can't Help But Tower Over Floyd Mayweather at the 2014 ESPY Awards

(7/16/14) (Pic1, Pic2) Floyd Mayweather certainly isn't used to being the less imposing figure in the ring.

But what's a 5-foot-8-inch-tall boxer to do next to all 6 feet and 2 inches of leggy blond glory that is tennis champ Maria Sharapova?!

The all-star athletes teamed up tonight at the 2014 ESPY Awards to present Best Game (ultimately won by Auburn vs. Alabama in the Iron Bowl) and the height difference, made even bigger because Sharapova was rocking heels, could not be ignored.

Maria certainly didn't bother to ignore it! She even snuck behind Floyd, leaned over and rested her arms on his shoulders at one point.

The undefeated fighter took it in stride and kept smiling the whole time-—-but who knows what was happening behind the aviator shades he kept on throughout?!

But Sharapova deserved to have a moment of her own, since Mayweather got quite the introduction from host Drake, albeit one at the famously flamboyant boxer's espense.

"Floyd told us that he had to be introduced in a very specific way..." Drake began as trumpets played to herald the fighter's arrival. And then, switching to a British accent, he read from a piece of parchment, "Lords and ladies, please welcome six-time ESPY Award winner, two-time Ring magazine Fighter of the Year and the highest paid athlete in the world..."

It went on. And when he was done, Drake tacked on, "and from tennis or whatever, Maria Sharapova."

Watch the whole hilarious exchange right here!

Forget Wimbledon! Maria Sharapova suns herself in Mexico

(7/7/14) (Photo) Maria Sharapova is taking her Wimbledon loss very well.

On Wednesday, the 27-year-old tennis star look relaxed in a gray two-piece bathing suit and sunglasses as she sipped a drink in Los Cabos, Mexico.

She was joined by tennis star boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov.

Despite losing her match, Us Weekly reports she stuck around to watch Dimitrov play.

“Watching Wimbledon with this chic comes highly recommended,” tweeted Sharapova in a selfie with Chelsea Handler.

Sweet and sour for Sharapova at Wimbledon

(7/1/14) Maria Sharapova found the sour taste of defeat at Wimbledon lingered longer than expected as she had to deal with renewed questions about her decision to launch a range of sweets.

Sharapova, who won Wimbledon in 2004, brought out the 'Sugarpova' range of candy in 2012 and opened a pop-up shop in Wimbledon High Street last month to publicise and sell the treats for the two-week duration of the tournament.

The 27-year-old Russian, the world's wealthiest female athlete, has had to deal with criticism from nutritionists who claim she shouldn't be endorsing a food regarded as unhealthy at a time when obesity is on the rise.

And, after dealing with questions about her surprise 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 6-4 loss against Angelique Kerber in the fourth round, the reigning French Open champion was given another grilling on the issue by one health-conscious reporter during her post-match press conference.

"(There's been) criticism but great sales afterwards," Sharapova said.

"It's kind of like the best day (of sales was) after the criticisms. If you want to provide some more..."

She then seized a chance to plug the product: "I kind of go back and forth between my favourites.

"At the moment it's called Quirky. It's a licorice type, marshmallow middle with a strawberry flavour. You should give it a try.

"You can smile more often, by the way!"

I can still be queen of Wimbledon, vows ousted Sharapova

(7/1/14) Maria Sharapova refused to give up on her hopes of winning another Wimbledon title in the aftermath of her latest shock exit from the All England Club.

Sharapova's miserable recent record continued as inspired German ninth seed Angelique Kerber handed her a 7-6 (7/4), 4-6, 6-4 loss in the fourth round on Tuesday.

The 27-year-old Russian has now failed to get beyond the last 16 at Wimbledon in seven of her last eight appearances, losing four times in the last 16 and three times in the second round.

It is 10 years since Sharapova famously shocked Serena Williams as a fresh-faced 17-year-old in the 2004 final.

She reached the semi-finals for the next two years, but since then Sharapova's only remotely successful Wimbledon campaign came in 2011 when she made the final for the second time.

Even that ended in the bitter disappointment of an unexpected loss against Petra Kvitova.

The five-time Grand Slam champion's exit this year was even more frustrating as she arrived fresh from winning the French Open.

"Despite the results and the fact that I've lost here and haven't had good results, I still love playing on grass. I think my game suits the surface extremely well," Sharapova said.

"It's always tough to say that you love playing out there after losing a match, but I really do.

"Considering I didn't play any matches, I thought I felt much better on it than I did the previous couple of years."

While Sharapova is confident of future success, she conceded that, with five-time champion Serena Williams and second seed Li Na among the big names to have fallen before the fourth round, she had blown a golden opportunity.

"I always consider myself one of the favourites because I've won Grand Slams before; been No. 1 in the world," she said.

"It's absolutely normal for people to have high expectations of me doing well in Grand Slam stages. I certainly do as well.

"Today could have gone either way, and it didn't go my way. There were a few little key moments in each set actually that I can learn from."

Sharapova remains by far the most recognisable female sports star and her numerous lucrative endorsements have made her a multi-millionaire

Losing to Kerber won't change any of that, but a fierce competitor lurks beneath Sharapova's glamour girl image and she is determined to make amends for this frustrating setback in the year's last major at the US Open.

"There's things I can learn from this match. You're only as good as your last tournament. So I've got to get back on the horse and work hard, keep doing it and keep working," she said.

While Sharapova was sanguine about her loss, she gave far shorter shrift to enquires about whether she would stick around to watch boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov play Andy Murray in the quarter-finals on Wednesday.

"I haven't had time to think about that as I just finished my match," she said.

But, determined to depart on an upbeat note, Sharapova insisted last year's Wimbledon second round defeat against Michelle Larcher de Brito was a far more significant setback than Tuesday's exit.

"Obviously it's a tough result today, but otherwise I'm in a much better position compared to last year," she added.

"Last year I was sitting here with an injured shoulder not really sure what I was going to do and I didn't really have a coach at that time. So looking at a bigger perspective, I'm in a much better place.

"I've actually had a really rejuvenating trip, to be honest."

Sharapova beaten by Kerber in thriller

(7/1/14) Maria Sharapova joined the list of big-name casualties in the Wimbledon women's singles when she was beaten 7-6(4) 4-6 6-4 in the last 16 by Germany's Angelique Kerber on Tuesday.

The below-par Russian fought off six match points in the final set as she tried to keep alive her hopes of a second Wimbledon title to go with her 2004 triumph, but finally succumbed in a nerve-jangling finale.

Both players had been out of action since Saturday, after bad weather meant their fourth-round clash was postponed on Monday, and it was Kerber who was quicker into her stride, leading throughout the first set.

Sharapova found her range to break back at 4-5 but some poor errors allowed the 26-year-old Kerber to win the last three points of the opening set tiebreak.

The Russian hit back to level the match and seemed to be favourite to book a quarter-final place but Kerber, defending for all her worth to keep the more powerful Sharapova at bay, moved into a 5-2 lead in the decider.

Sharapova saved a match point at 2-5 and Kerber's nerve failed her at 5-3 as she served a double-fault on the way to dropping her serve.

The real drama was saved until the end though as Sharapova saved five more match points and looked poised to complete a remarkable comeback.

Kerber would not be denied though and was celebrating when Sharapova fired a backhand long.

The German will have to recover quickly as she faces Canada's Eugenie Bouchard for a place in the semis on Wednesday.

Sharapova returns to court

(6/30/14) Maria Sharapova finally will play her fourth-round Wimbledon match Tuesday, no matter what sort of weather there is.

The fifth-seeded Sharapova, who won the first of her five Grand Slam titles at the All England Club in 2004, and ninth-seeded Angelique Kerber of Germany never got the chance to set foot on Court No. 1 on Monday. Rain delays slowed earlier matches, and then organizers decided there might not be enough natural light to complete Sharapova vs. Kerber if they started at about 8 p.m.

There will be no such issues Tuesday, because the match was scheduled to be the first on Centre Court, the only place at the tournament with a retractable roof and artificial lights.

Sharapova owns a 4-1 career record against Kerber, who is trying to reach her second Wimbledon quarterfinal. The winner will face No. 13 Eugenie Bouchard of Canada, who won her fourth-round match Monday - on Centre Court.

Sharapova primed for Wimbledon after Williams exit

(6/29/14) The shock losses suffered by top two seeds Serena Williams and Li Na have left Maria Sharapova with a smooth passage and the Russian is primed to win her second Wimbledon title, 10 years after winning her first as a 17-year-old.

Sharapova has dropped just seven games in her three matches thus far and the imperious Russian will be confident of winning her sixth grand slam in the absence of her nemesis Williams.

The 27-year-old is on the wrong end of a 16-2 head-to-head record against the American with her only two triumphs coming in 2004, the first of which saw her crowned Wimbledon champion.

Williams crashed out 6-1 3-6 4-6 against France's Alize Cornet in the third round on Saturday, her earliest exit at Wimbledon since losing in the same round in 2005.

Her defeat came a day after Chinese two-times grand slam winner Na was dumped out 6-7(5) 6-7(5) by the Czech Republic's Barbora Zahlavova Strycova.

Their defeats have opened the door for a host of women, but the top of that list is Sharapova.

Players have long talked about the difficulty of adapting to the grasscourts of Wimbledon so soon after a long claycourt season and nobody has backed up winning the French Open with Wimbledon triumph since Williams in 2002.

Sharapova's form, however, suggests she can match that achievement and win her sixth grand slam in the process.

"Well, this is only my second time trying to do that. Of course, the transition, it's no secret, it's very difficult," she said after reeling off 11 consecutive games to beat Alison Riske 6-3 6-0 in the third round on Saturday.

"But I'm quite happy with the way I've gone about things so far.

"You never know what to expect. Each match poses its different challenges. I'm happy I've gone further than last year, erasing those memories and trying to form new ones.

"A Grand Slam stage, when you're playing for two weeks, seven matches within those two weeks, you're always kind of rolling with each round.

"Once you get to another (grand slam), one of the toughest things is you start from scratch, you start from the first match.

"Mentally that's always, you know, a bit more difficult because you achieve some great success, then you get on the train, come here, and right away the mentality switches that I've got to start from the first round.

"That's always a quick switch that you need to make mentally. That transition has always been quite tough for me," added Sharapova who plays German ninth seed Angelique Kerber in the round of 16.

BOUCHARD CHALLENGE

Higher seeds remain but Sharapova's biggest challenge is likely to come in the shape of rising star Eugenie Bouchard, a semi-finalist in the last two grand slams at the Australian and French Open.

The aggressive 20-year-old Canadian faces Williams' conqueror Cornet in the next round with a potential quarter-final against Sharapova the prize.

"I wouldn't consider myself deep into Wimbledon at this stage," Bouchard said after beating Germany's Andrea Petkovic on Saturday.

"I'm into the second week, which is great. But, you know, I want to go so much further. At the same time I'm focused on one match at a time.

"But, of course, Wimbledon is probably the most prestigious tournament in the world. It's a special place to be here and I would love to stay a really long time."

Romania's third seed Simona Halep, runner-up to the Sharapova at the French Open, and Polish fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska are expected to make extended runs in the championship.

They face Kazakhstan's Zarina Diyas and Russian Ekaterina Makarova in the round of 16 respectively.

Elsewhere German 2011 champion Petra Kvitova plays China's Shuai Peng, Czech Lucie Safarova is against compatriot Tereza Smitkova, and Danish former world number one Caroline Wozniacki faces Zahlavova Strycova.

The other round of 16 encounter will pit 2008 French Open winner Ana Ivanovic or 2013 Wimbledon runner-up Sabine Lisicki against America's Madison Keys or Kazakhstan's Yaroslava Shvedova after both of their third round matches were disrupted by bad light on Saturday.

Singapore to host expanded WTA Finals in October

(6/29/14) The WTA’s season-ending tennis championships will move to Singapore in October for at least five years, and WTA founder Billie Jean King will be the event’s official ambassador.

The WTA said Sunday that the expanded WTA Finals tournament will be held from Oct. 17-26 and include the top singles and doubles players from 2014 as well as competition among up-and-coming tour players and veterans.

Singapore will be the ninth city to host the WTA Finals since 1972. Most recently they were held in Doha, Qatar from 2008-2010 and Istanbul, Turkey from 2011 to last year.

King made the announcement near the All England Club, where she won a record 20 overall titles.

Contented Sharapova strides into fourth round

(6/28/14) A cheerful Maria Sharapova hit top gear under a closed Center Court roof at Wimbledon, comfortably winning 11 games on the trot to keep her bid for a second title on track, 10 years after she won her first.

The 27-year-old Russian, whose notorious shriek drowned out the patter of the rain on the court's sail-like roof, said she was pleased with her performance after defeating American Alison Riske 6-3 6-0 to advance to the fourth round.

"I'm quite happy with the way I've gone about things so far," she told reporters after her match.

"I'm happy I've gone further than last year, erasing those memories and trying to form new ones," she added, referring to her shock second-round exit last year.

The fifth seed, bidding for a rare French Open-Wimbledon double, said her transition from clay to grass was going according to plan, but it was not just her game that was making her happy.

Asked whether she could credit her personal life - she is dating fellow tennis player Grigor Dimitrov - with her current form, she said having a balance helped.

"It's definitely nice to feel like you're mentally happy out there when you're on the court," she said.

Dimitrov, the 11th-seeded seed Bulgarian, who has been nicknamed "Mr Sharapova", also made it to the fourth round after overcoming dangerous Ukrainian Alexandr Dologopolov in five sets.

Watched by David Beckham in the Royal Box, Sharapova showed her class in the hour and 10-minute match against Riske, producing scorching passing shots against the net-charging American.

The world's highest-earning sportswoman, who has now lost only seven games in three matches, will face either German ninth seed Angelique Kerber or Belgian Kirsten Flipkens in the next round.

Tennis is not Sharapova's only project in Wimbledon. Over the two weeks of the tournament she has opened a "pop up" shop for her candy brand Sugarpova, just up the road from the All England Club.

"It makes me happy, makes me smile. I enjoy seeing my fans for a little bit of time there, see who pops in," she said.

Ruthless Sharapova continues smooth progress

(6/26/14) Maria Sharapova put in a business-like performance to cast aside qualifier Timea Bacsinszky 6-2 6-1 in only an hour on her way to the third round at Wimbledon.

The fifth seed showed the sort of ruthless precision that won her the French Open title this month. She broke Bacsinszky's serve five times on Thursday, forcing her Swiss opponent to scramble left and right to retrieve powerful groundstrokes.

Sharapova, the world's highest-earning sportswoman, moved with economical ease on Court One and has completed two rounds for the loss of only four games.

The 27-year-old Russian, bidding for a second Wimbledon title 10 years after her first, meets American world No.44 Alison Riske in Saturday's third round.

Dimitrov thrives on Sharapova work ethic

(6/25/14) Grigor Dimitrov praised the work ethic of superstar girlfriend Maria Sharapova on Wednesday but stopped short of shining a light on his relationship with sport's richest woman.

Dimitrov and Sharapova, who have been dating for 18 months, are Wimbledon's most high-profile power couple.

But the Bulgarian 11th seed, often touted as a Grand Slam champion in the making, is far happier talking about the influence of veteran Australian coach Roger Rasheed than the impact of Sharapova.

"Well, we're competing in the same sport, but not in the same category," said the 23-year-old Dimitrov.

"All I can say is that I think Maria's one of the best workers that can be out there, one of the best students of the game. She's just the best at what she does.

"I'm just different towards my preparation and how I like things to be done. I mean, I'm also a workaholic.

"I think you can learn a lot in a way. But I think in the end it's not about what I'm going to learn from her. It's about what I want to learn from myself and for the game. I'm trying to find all the ways possible on my own. Of course, it's great to have support like hers."

But do the lovebirds find a perfect balance between work and play while they are chasing Wimbledon titles?

"I think that's more of a private thing, so I don't feel comfortable commentating on that," said Dimitrov, who made the third round for the first time on Wednesday with a 6-3, 6-2, 6-4 Centre Court win over Australian teenager Luke Saville.

Dimitrov is happier to focus on his relationship with Rasheed who worked with Lleyton Hewitt, Jo-Wilfried Tsonga and Gael Monfils before teaming up with the Bulgarian in 2013.

"We've put in a tremendous amount of work throughout all the months. Especially in the off-season, when we really needed to step on the gas and create a solid base for the year ahead, I think we found a good combination on and off the court.

"We do a lot of work. A lot of weights. He's a very tough but fair man and I love to work. I mean, I love to give everything from myself every day. You know, on occasions when I can go 110% every day, it's a good base to have."

Next up for Dimitrov is Ukraine 21st seed Aklexander Dolgopolov who fired a huge 42 aces and 84 winners to beat Germany's Benjamin Becker 6-7 (4/7), 7-6 (7/0), 6-3, 6-4 on Wednesday in his second round clash.

Despite being an impressive statistic, it was still a long way off the Wimbledon aces record of 113 set by John Isner in his famous marathon win over Nicolas Mahut in 2010.

Sure-footed Sharapova avoids first round slip-up

(6/24/14) After crashing out to Portuguese qualifier Michelle Larcher de Brito on the “dangerous” Wimbledon courts last year, Maria Sharapova kept her footing to dismantle British wildcard Samantha Murray 6-1 6-0 on Tuesday.

Sharapova, bidding for a French Open and Wimbledon double after claiming the Roland Garros title this month, cut a cold figure after being wiped out in the second round last year and was one of many players to criticize the condition of the playing surface.

A year on and the Russian fifth seed barely broke a sweat in her opening match against Murray, ranked 247, dominating the rallies in a one-sided contest that lasted 58 minutes.

"I try not to dwell on what happened in the past," Sharapova told reporters after the match. "This is a new day. It's not a new tournament, but it's a new opportunity."

Sharapova admitted she is still getting used to the lush, green lawns in southwest London after a successful claycourt season.

"Each court is quite different," Sharapova said. "On the Aorangi courts I think two meters of the baseline is pretty much claycourt right now, which is quite different.

"When you go out and play on a show court, the grass is new. That's why I think it's so important to really take care in those first few days when the grass is fresh."

Sharapova shot to stardom in 2004 when she beat Serena Williams to win the Wimbledon title aged 17. A second Wimbledon title, however, has proved frustratingly elusive.

Though now something of an experienced campaigner at the age of 27, Sharapaova says she still has much the same approach as when she won Wimbledon as a fresh-faced teenager.

"Not many things have changed," she said. "The mentality changes a little bit ... now you know your way around."

SHARAPOVA STARTS

(6/23/14) Maria Sharapova won Wimbledon in 2004 at age 17 but is still waiting for a second title at the grass-court major. She is coming off her fifth Grand Slam title, at the French Open, and starts off at the All England Club on Court 1 against Samantha Murray of Britain. Murray, a wild-card entry ranked 247th, has never won a set in tour-level, main-draw action. ''I don't know much about her,'' Sharapova said. ''I will try to find some videos, do a little scouting.''

Watch Rizzle Kicks' New Video For 'Tell Her' Starring Maria Sharapova

(6/23/14) (Video) Rizzle Kicks have unveiled their new video for upcoming single ‘Tell Her’, staring none other than tennis legend Maria Sharapova.

The boys have teamed up with Evian to create a tennis-themed film which sees them vying for attention from the French Open star.

Speaking of the collaboration, Rizzle Kicks said: “We were both really excited about the opportunity to do something different and work with evian® especially as it meant we got to work with our long time crush Maria Sharapova.”

While Sharapova was equally as thrilled to be working with the London boys, saying: “Music is one of my passions and what great fun to star in my first music video!"

"The video is really playful; and that is what Live young is all about," she added.

Sharapova in bed for Russia match

(6/23/14) Serena Williams said she was watching at least one or two games per day.

"Excited for the US. Obviously I'm rooting for the US," the five-times Wimbledon winner said.

"I thought the fight that the US male team has was just really great."

Meanwhile Maria Sharapova said she had been tucked up in bed before Russia's opening match kicked off, though her entourage has been glued to the screens.

"Every one of my team members is from a different nation, so I've been able to watch their games. Germany, Holland, Japan," said the 2004 champion.

But don't ask Sharapova for her opinions on Russia's players.

"I'm no expert in football. I'll tell you that straight off," she said.

While the players are watching the World Cup, there is no such luck for Wimbledon fans.

An All England Club spokesman said the last time they showed football on the big screens was in 1996 -- "so very consistent since then".

England, hosting the European Championships, reached the semi-finals that year as the nation -- plus even the Jensen brothers -- was gripped with football fervour.

Not so this year, when England have gone crashing out before even completing their group games.

Dave Jackson, 33, who came over from Belfast to join the queue for Wimbledon tickets on Sunday night, said the line was "so much busier" than 2010, when the last World Cup was on and England reached the second round.

"Before, it would have been tennis fans," he said.

Sharapova spurred by Wimbledon anniversary

(6/21/14) Maria Sharapova says the 10th anniversary of her famous Wimbledon final triumph against Serena Williams has given her an added incentive to finally regain the title this year.

Sharapova was aged just 17 when she sprang one of the great Wimbledon shocks to become the third youngest women's champion after Lottie Dod and Martina Hingis.

If she was a virtual unknown in 2004, the Russian is now the world's most widely-recognised and richest sportswoman, with her net worth said to be $150 million and her annual earnings around $27 million.

Sharapova, 27, has remained a dominant power on the court as well, completing her career Grand Slam of all four major titles by winning the French Open in 2012 and then returning to triumph again in Paris last month.

The prospect of marking the anniversary of her first Grand Slam title with more glory on the lush lawns of south-west London is exactly the motivation Sharapova needs as the ferocious competitor searches for her next challenge following victory at Roland Garros.

"Once I think about it actually, the memory is quite fresh in my mind. I don't think about that victory very often. Just sometimes when I need a little pick me up or when I look back at my achievements," Sharapova told reporters at Wimbledon on Saturday.

"When I do think about it, it seems so fresh and it seems like it almost happened yesterday. It's been 10 years and I'm here, yeah, still competing at a high level and still have the motivation.

"I certainly had that drive when I was 17 years old, and I'm proud that I still have that going into this age group, you call it. Still going out and competing and loving what I do so much."

Asked if she could ever have imagined her career following such a successful path on the day she won at Wimbledon, Sharapova added: "When you win such a major at 17 years old, you have no choice but to try to back that up with another victory, or else you're going to be carrying those expectations from yourself and also from the outside world.

"Winning another one, it wasn't just a one-time success. I think I was ultimately more proud as a teenager to back that up with a win in New York on one of the biggest stages under a lot of pressure.

"That was a big moment through those years. To add three more to that, yeah, I'm very grateful for that."

Sharapova is seeded to face her old rival Serena in the quarter-finals this year and, while that would bring back some happy memories for the Russian, it could also give her some sleepless nights, given she has lost their last 15 meetings dating back to 2004.

For now, world number five Sharapova, who faces British wild card Samantha Murray in the first round, is just focused on advancing through the first week of the tournament.

"I don't like to come into this tournament thinking, 'I just won a Grand Slam'. I like to challenge myself and be hungry," she added.

"Always when I think about winning so many matches or having a great season, I don't know, I get a little bored in my mind. I want to challenge myself when I go out on the court.

"I don't want to think about what happened two weeks ago. I want to start from scratch."

A decade on, insatiable Sharapova seeks Wimbledon No.2

(6/18/14) When a 17-year-old Maria Sharapova lit up Wimbledon 10 years ago to win the title it was the launch pad to her becoming the world's wealthiest sportswoman and an international tennis brand.

Yet despite the millions of dollars earned in prize money, endorsements and now a confectionary brand, the 27-year-old Russian's hunger for victory remains insatiable.

After winning the French Open for a second time earlier this month, taking her grand slam haul to five, she is chasing a rare "Channel Double" last achieved by a woman in 2002 when Serena Williams proved unbeatable on clay and grass.

Sharapova stunned Serena Williams on Wimbledon's Centre Court in 2004 to take the title, and the fact that they are the favourites at this Wimbledon speaks volumes for the enduring quality and determination of both players.

American Williams, who has bagged 17 grand slam titles, has struggled to live up to the sensational heights she scaled last year when she claimed the French and U.S. Opens and won 78 of the 82 matches she contested.

It seemed certain that she would go on to move in front of fellow Americans Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova (both 18) on the all-time list of major singles triumphs but, as her 33rd birthday looms, time is maybe running out.

She has already lost as many matches this year as she did in the whole of 2013 and suffered a surprise second-round defeat at the French Open, although that could have been a blessing as the world No.1 will arrive at Wimbledon refreshed.

ABSENT CHAMPION

As a five-times champion she is most likely to open proceedings on Centre Court on Tuesday in the absence of last year's winner Marion Bartoli, who will be watching from the commentary box having retired last year.

Another former champion, Chris Evert, believes that Williams will begin the tournament under pressure, after disappointing runs in the first two grand slams of the year, but providing she survives the early rounds will take some stopping.

"If she can get through the first week, that's going to be the big thing," Evert, who will be working for broadcaster ESPN during the tournament, said in a conference call.

"Once she gets the ball rolling, gets more comfortable on the grass, she'll be unbeatable."

Sharapova, seeded five, will hope to avoid a potential quarter-final with Williams because, despite her fearless persona on court against every other player in the world, the Russian has a timid record against the American, losing her last 15 matches against her, a sequence dating back 10 years.

"If she can do a double, the French and Wimbledon, that would be the greatest year she'll ever have in her life," Evert said, when assessing Sharapova's chances.

For a player who once despised clay courts, Sharapova now looks completely at home on the dirt and a little awkward on grass, as was the case last year when she was bundled out in the second round by Portuguese qualifier Michelle Larcher de Brito.

"Remember all the slipping and sliding, the problems she had last year," Evert said. "Footing is a big problem with her."

YOUNG GUNS

While most money will be on Williams and Sharapova, the women's draw has plenty of depth this year with the likes of world number two and three-times quarter-finalist Li Na, French Open runner-up Simona Halep, Serbian duo Ana Ivanovic and Jelena Jankovic and young guns such as Canada's Eugenie Bouchard beginning to make inroads.

"She likes grass. She likes to step in and take the ball early. She has power. I think she's one to watch," Evert said of the attack-minded Bouchard, whose style has many similarities to Sharapova's when she broke through in 2004.

Halep, seeded three at Wimbledon, retired hurt in the second round of the Den Bosch Open on Wednesday with an upper back problem but said she expected to be fit for Wimbledon.

Ivanovic won her first grasscourt title in Birmingham last week, further proof that she is close to returning to the levels she reached when winning the French Open in 2008.

After struggling with the pressures of the Tour when she was younger, she is now savouring every match.

"I'm a happier person. I don't judge myself by the results. I judge myself as a person and also the values and things that I have," said the 26-year-old world No.11.

Jankovic, 29, has never made it past the fourth round in singles at Wimbledon, though she won the mixed doubles title in 2007 with Jamie Murray and she admits it is a surface that puzzles her.

"It's just a couple of weeks a year that we get to play on it so like I said I'm trying to make the best out of it and hopefully this year will be better than the previous years," she said at Eastbourne this week where she lost to big-hitting American Madison Keys.

Twice Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka may find Wimbledon a little too early in her comeback from a foot injury, while former Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova suffered an injury scare at Eastbourne, pulling out with a hamstring problem.

Behind the Scenes | Maria Sharapova and Avon Luck Fragrance

(6/12/14) Behind the Scenes | Maria Sharapova and Avon Luck Fragrance: video.

Sharapova signs with Avon for new fragrance

(6/11/14) New French Open champion Maria Sharapova has something else to celebrate: a new fragrance.

The tennis ace is the face of Avon Luck, for men and women. It's her first partnership with the beauty brand, but not her first perfume; she launched an eponymous one with Parlux nearly 10 years ago.

Avon Luck will be launched in Europe in September and then will be rolled out in North America and Asia after that.

Sharapova says Avon Luck will encourage people to ''savor and truly enjoy our triumphs,'' which is what she's been doing lately. She won her fifth Grand Slam title with her French Open victory over Simona Halep last Saturday.

Maria Sharapova Looks Like a Giant in the Incredible Shrinking Dress

(6/10/14) (Photo) We can't tell if this is a case of camera angles, depth perception or the fact that Maria Sharapova is an exceptionally tall woman, but in this photo her black gold mini looks like it's intended for a child.

In fairness to the tennis star, this Jay Ahr creation does feel like a tennis dress gone very, very sexy. The flared skirt is similar to ones we've see this fashion lover rock on the court, and the structured top has a very athletic feel, but the real vibe we get is baby in a skirt-attached bathing suit!

Length (or lack thereof) aside, that's the real issue with this ensemble. It's too girly on the bottom for the hot, hot heat on top. It's like the blonde beauty is dressing out of two sides of her brain. One the international sex symbol for the stuffiest of sports and the other a sweet little dress lover who wanted to wear a gold party dress for her big day.

Their forces combined make Maria look like a very confused giant, albeit a gorgeous one.

After French win, Sharapova now eyes Wimbledon

(6/9/14) With red clay still staining her shoes and socks, Maria Sharapova is already getting ready for the toughest transition in tennis.

Sharapova won her second French Open title in three years on Saturday, beating Simona Halep 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-4 in the final at Roland Garros. It’s her fifth Grand Slam title overall and it comes 10 years after her first, which she won on the grass of Wimbledon.

"Doesn’t matter," Sharapova said, already thinking ahead to the next few weeks. "Wimbledon is right around the corner, and that’s what I’ll be working for."

Clay is the slowest surface on the tennis circuit, and the one that used to give Sharapova the most trouble. Before her shoulder surgery in 2008, she had won each of the other three major titles once, but she struggled on the clay in Paris, once famously referring to herself as a "cow on ice" when playing on the surface.

But now 27 and the owner of two French Open titles, those days are behind her. Sharapova is 20-1 over the last three years at Roland Garros, and has won 20 straight three-set matches on the surface.

None of that matters now, though, because it’s time to turn her attention to Wimbledon, the site of her first major title and the focus of her hopes for a sixth.

"I don’t care what my results were in the past. You start from a clean slate," Sharapova said, looking ahead to the tournament that starts on June 23 at the All England Club in southwest London.

"That’s how I go into a Grand Slam. I don’t think that I’ve won it before, because when you have the mentality that you’ve won it, then it gets boring. You have to go out there hungry and want to compete for more."

Although Sharapova won again in Paris this year, it was far from her best tennis. She still struggles with her serve, and had 12 double-faults against Halep. She had nine doubles in the semifinals, and eight in the quarterfinals.

But she still manages to find a way to win, even dropping sets like she did in each of her four last matches at Roland Garros.

"My mentality is that the match is not over after the first set, no matter if I win it or lose it," Sharapova said. "If I’m doing good and if I’m playing the right way and I won the first set, I need to continue that. I cannot think too far ahead. The same way with being down and losing a set."

Against Halep, Sharapova was two points from victory in the tiebreaker, but the fourth-seeded Romanian won four straight points to even the match.

That didn’t get Sharapova down.

"She’s an extraordinary competitor," said 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici, Halep’s manager and the only Romanian woman to win a Grand Slam title. "I put her in the same category as (Rafael) Nadal or Serena Williams, players who give nothing away, who fight, who want it so much, and who play their best tennis when it matters."

The next time it will matter this much will be at Wimbledon, and Sharapova will have a new set of shoes and socks at the ready. Just like 10 years ago.

"Even though you always remember those incredible moments of holding that trophy," Sharapova said, "you got to try to erase that from your mind, because you got to create new ones."

Queen of endurance Sharapova wins in it three ... hours

(6/8/14) Maria Sharapova had given warning that she was ready for a three hour French Open final - and she was true to her word, stopping the clock at three hours two minutes to lift the trophy.

After her three previous rounds also went to three sets, it seemed almost inevitable that Saturday's match would go the distance, especially as wily Romanian Simona Halep was well capable of making the Russian run as they traded baseline shots.

"It's the most emotional victory for me. The toughest one physically that I've come across in a final, especially a grand slam. There is not too many finals that you get past three hours," she told reporters after beating Halep 6-4 6-7(5) 6-4.

Showing her never-say-die attitude, she has now won 27 of her last 28 matches on clay decided in three sets, including 20 straight wins. Her last three set loss came at Roland Garros in 2010 against Justine Henin.

As if she had known the script already, she said after her three-set semi-final victory over Canada's Eugenie Bouchard: "Well, I would love to win those matches in two sets, but I always feel like I put in the work to be ready to play whatever it takes.

"If it takes three hours to win the match in three sets, I will be ready for that."

Saturday's final was the longest women's shoot-out in Paris since 1996, when Steffi Graf beat Arantxa Sanchez-Vicario 10-8 in the final set at three hours and four minutes.

All this comes after Sharapova missed part of last season with a shoulder injury and 10 years after she bagged the first of her five majors at Wimbledon at the age of 17.

"It's incredible to be sitting here 10 years after my first grand slam win, and to think that I now have five," she said.

"At that stage you're 17-years-old, and of course you think it was a great tournament, obviously. Can I do that again? Can I win more majors? You always have those question marks."

At times there were serious questions on the Philippe Chatrier court, including 12 double faults, and losing four points in a row to lose the second set tiebreak when she had held a 5-3 lead - acknowledging that "mentally, that's extremely challenging".

"So much adversity is thrown at you, and I'm just proud I came through and I adjusted in all different situations and I end up with this," she smiled, pointing to the trophy.

Saturday's win does not diminish the hunger for more, however long it takes.

With Wimbledon up next as the tour makes its brief swing onto grass, there is always the chance of regaining her title 10 years after she beat Serena Williams.

"I don't care what my results were in the past, you start from a clean slate that's how I go into a grand slam," she said.

"You have to go out there hungry and want to compete for more. Even though you always remember those incredible moments of holding that trophy, you got to try to erase that from your mind because you got to create new ones."

French Open champion Maria Sharapova

(6/7/14) Factbox on Russia's Maria Sharapova, who won her second French Open singles title on Saturday with a 6-4 6-7 6-4 win over Romania's Simona Halep

- - - -

Born: April 19, 1987 in Nyagan, Russia

GRAND SLAM TITLES:

Five: Wimbledon (2004); U.S. Open (2006); Australian Open (2008); French Open (2012, 2014)

MAKING HER NAME

Born in Siberia, moves to Black Sea coastal resort of Sochi aged two.

Moves to Florida in 1996 to train at Nick Bollettieri's Tennis Academy in Bradenton. Sharapova's father Yuri moves to U.S. with her but mother, Yelena, has to stay in Russia due to visa restrictions.

Turns professional in 2001.

TENNIS CAREER

Wins first tour title at Tokyo in 2003. Finishes inside top-50 for first time.

Becomes first Russian woman to win Wimbledon in 2004 aged 17, beating defending champion Serena Williams 6-1 6-4 in the final.

In August 2005 becomes first Russian woman to reach the top of the world rankings.

Wins her second grand slam after defeating second seed Justine Henin 6-4 6-4 in the 2006 U.S. Open final.

Beats Ana Ivanovic of Serbia 7-5 6-3 in 2008 to win her third grand slam title, and first Australian Open.

Regains number one ranking by beating Petra Kvitova in their semi-finals at Roland Garros in 2012 before defeating Sara Errani 6-3 6-2 in the final to complete her collection of grand slam trophies.

Wins a silver medal in her Olympic debut at the 2012 Games in London, losing the gold-medal match against Williams 6-0 6-1.

Wins fifth grand slam title at 2014 French Open.

OTHER NOTES

Undergoes shoulder surgery in 2008 and has a nine-month injury layoff.

Misses second half of 2013 season with a shoulder injury.

Is the richest woman in sport and with more than 13 million fans, she is the most followed female athlete on Facebook.

Sharapova wins second French Open in three years

(6/7/14) Nothing came easily for Maria Sharapova in the French Open final.

Serves hit by her surgically repaired shoulder often missed the mark, resulting in 12 double-faults. Shots that would be winners against most opponents were retrieved by Simona Halep and sent right back. Leads that usually hold up vanished in a blink. On a muggy afternoon, with the temperature in the high 70s (20s Celsius), points were lung-searing struggles.

Sharapova was up to the task. In an entertaining and undulating championship match — the first women’s final at Roland Garros in 13 years to go three sets — Sharapova showed that she’s as tough as they come, particularly on the red clay that used to flummox her. She edged Halep 6-4, 6-7 (5), 6-4 Saturday to win a second French Open title in three years.

“This is the toughest Grand Slam final I’ve ever played,” Sharapova said.

It is her fifth major trophy in all. Remarkably, Sharapova owns twice as many from Paris as the one each she won at Wimbledon in 2004, the U.S. Open in 2006, and the Australian Open in 2008.

“I never thought seven, eight years ago, that I would win more Roland Garroses when I was 27 years old than any other Grand Slam,” Sharapova said after the 3-hour, 2-minute tangle that featured terrific defence and shotmaking by both women.

“It’s a tournament, when I was young and growing up, I wanted to win,” Sharapova added. “To think that I’ve won it two times is, I don’t know — so emotional right now, I can’t even talk.”

Not bad for someone who once famously described herself as feeling like a “cow on ice” when it came to playing on clay, a slow, demanding surface that requires excellent footwork. Now she knows how to move on clay, and can stretch points when needed. Since the start of 2012, Sharapova is 54-4 with seven titles on clay. She’s also won 20 consecutive clay three-setters, including four in a row this week.

“I will not forget this match,” said Halep, who wiped away tears afterward.

Sharapova broke into a huge smile while hoisting the trophy overhead, then shaking it with both hands and scanning a stadium that, improbably, has become hers. This was her third final in a row in Paris: She won the 2012 title to complete a career Grand Slam, then lost to Serena Williams in 2013.

Sharapova is 20-1 the last three years at Roland Garros — which is nothing compared to Rafael Nadal’s 65-1 career French Open mark heading into Sunday’s final Sunday against Novak Djokovic, but certainly quite impressive.

Plus, Sharapova had an operation on her right shoulder, the one she uses to swing her racket, in October 2008. That joint troubled her again in 2013, when she played one match from July to December.

She now travels with a physiotherapist, Jerome Bianchi, and told him during the post-match ceremony, “Thank you for keeping me healthy.”

This was the ninth Grand Slam final for the No. 7-seeded Sharapova, and the first for Halep, a 22-year-old Romanian seeded fourth. Supported by a dozen folks in her guest box wearing red T-shirts saying “Allez Simona,” and fans that chanted her first name, Halep acquitted herself well, showing off the scrambling baseline style that carried her to six straight-set wins until Saturday.

Each time it appeared Sharapova was ready to pull away, she was forced to do extra work.

At 4-3 in the second set, Sharapova held two break points, but Halep saved both with gutsy groundstrokes. In the tiebreaker, Sharapova got within two points of victory at 5-3, but Halep took the next four to claim the set.

That’s when Sharapova left for the locker room, taking an 8-minute break during which she changed out of her sweat-soaked outfit — and let Halep stew for a bit. Sharapova went ahead 4-2, but Halep broke back to 4-all.

It turned out that was her last stand, though. Sharapova wouldn’t lose another point, gritting her teeth and shaking her fists after breaking at love for 5-4 with a backhand winner, then holding at love by forcing a backhand error from Halep on match point.

When it ended, Sharapova dropped to her knees, caking her shins with clay, and folded her body forward, burying her face in her hands.

“I had good tactics today. I opened the angles. Also, I was hitting the ball strong,” Halep said.

But Sharapova, Halep continued, “hit the balls very strong” and “was moving really well.”

Cow on ice?

More like Queen of Clay.

Sharapova, Halep set for guts and guile battle

(6/6/14) One has nothing to lose, the other is expected to win on Saturday.

Even though Romania's Simona Halep is the higher seed, at four, Maria Sharapova is the household name, the face on the billboards and is playing in her third successive French Open final.

Halep has not dropped a set on the way to challenging for the Suzanne Lenglen Cup, and the 1,650,000 euro ($2.25 million)cheque, having never gone further than the quarter-finals of a grand slam before.

"I have nothing to lose. I will keep this in my mind always. I will try to hit very relaxed," the 22-year-old told reporters after beating Germany's Andrea Petkovic in the semis.

"I know that it will be very tough to manage the emotions, but I will try my best at that moment."

Sharapova has four grand slam titles, including the 2012 French crown, and has been number one in the world, yet she missed the second half of last season with a shoulder injury and has been pushed to three sets in each of her last three matches in Paris.

"I'm very proud, because I worked hard to get myself injury free, and I had to work through some tough losses in the beginning of the season that I didn't want to accept," the 27-year-old told reporters after beating up-and coming-Canadian Eugenie Bouchard in the last four.

"I worked through them, I worked hard, and I'm in this position giving myself a chance."

Of course, saying she has a chance is just modesty.

Having shaken off her own description of herself as a "cow on ice" unable to master the balance and timing needed to slide for points on the red dirt, the Russian has an 18-1 win-loss record on the surface this year.

She has long shown her fighting spirit ahead of what may be a battle of guts against guile with Halep. The last time she lost in three sets on the slow surface was in the third round of the French Open in 2010 against Justine Henin.

She is 3-0 up in the head-to-head over the Romanian, including recovering from a woeful start last month to overwhelm rising talent Halep 1-6 6-2 6-3 in the Madrid Open final and claim her 31st career title.

But Halep, who will rise to number three in the world when the new rankings are released on Monday, has proven over the rounds in Paris that she can adapt to the challenges with an array of shots, not just her prowling baseline style.

She has already spoken about having several match plans to get this far. She may well need them if she is to emulate her adviser and compatriot Virginia Ruzici who won the title in 1978.

"I don't know how I have to play to beat Maria," Halep said. "But I have to take that revenge. I will fight for this one."

5 things to look for in French Open women's final

(6/6/14) Five things to look for in the French Open women's final Saturday:

SHARAPOVA VS. HALEP: Maria Sharapova certainly has the edge in experience against Simona Halep, having already won four Grand Slam titles and participated in four other finals. And who would have thought Sharapova might wind up with two trophies on the red clay of Roland Garros before getting a second at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open or Australian Open? This will be the 27-year-old Sharapova's third consecutive appearance in a French Open final, having won the championship in 2012, then losing to Serena Williams a year ago. Halep, meanwhile, was 1-4 for her career at Roland Garros until these two weeks.

HALEP'S FIRST FINAL: The fourth-seeded Halep is trying to become the second woman from Romania to win a Grand Slam title (the first, 1978 French Open champion Virginia Ruzici, happens to be Halep's manager). Halep, 22, never had been past the quarterfinals at any Grand Slam tournament until now, although she's been on the rise, winning seven titles over the past two seasons and rising from No. 57 in the rankings 12 months ago. ''Her level has definitely increased in the last year,'' Sharapova said. Still, even Halep acknowledged that controlling her nerves is vital. ''It will be a tough moment for me,'' she said after beating Andrea Petkovic in the semifinals.

SERVING HIGHS AND LOWS: Sharapova reworked her service motion after having surgery on her right shoulder in 2008, and that stroke confounds her to this day. While beating Eugenie Bouchard in the semifinals, for example, Sharapova hit nine double-faults. She had eight in the quarterfinals. But when Sharapova can get that part of her game to work, it can put an opponent on her heels. Down the stretch against Bouchard, Sharapova won each of her last five service games, never facing so much as one break point in that span. ''In some moments, it let me down,'' Sharapova said, ''but in some moments, it backed me up.''

CONTRASTS: The two finalists offer all sorts of contrasts. Their heights, for one thing: Sharapova is 6-foot-2 (1.88 meters); Halep is 5-foot-6 (1.68 meters). And while there is very little that's subtle about Sharapova - from her powerful groundstrokes at the baseline to her shot-accompanying shrieks to her success-accompanying fist shakes and yells of ''Come on!'' - Halep plays a quieter style. She causes foes problems by finding tough angles, changing speeds and getting to nearly every ball. She won't out-hit Sharapova but might outmaneuver her. Halep has said in the past that her ability move around the court improved after having breast-reduction surgery five years ago - a procedure Halep said she would have undergone even if she weren't an athlete. Asked about the operation at a news conference this week, Halep said she didn't want to speak about what she called ''my personal thing.''

3 SETS?: The last French Open women's final to go the distance was in 2001, when Jennifer Capriati edged Kim Clijsters 12-10 in the third set. If that happens Saturday, Sharapova's got quite a track record: She has won 19 three-setters in a row on clay, including her last three matches in Paris, each after dropping the opening set. Halep is 8-1 this year in matches that went three sets, although she hasn't faced that sort of stress test at Roland Garros, winning every match so far in straight sets.

2012 champ Sharapova awaits Halep in French final

(6/5/14) Might be easier said than done. Still, Maria Sharapova offered a tidy aphorism to sum up the formula that's carried her to a third consecutive French Open final.

''It's not how you finish a first set,'' Sharapova said, ''it's how you finish the last set.''

Right now, no one is a better closer than she is on clay. Nearing a second championship at Roland Garros, and fifth Grand Slam trophy overall, Sharapova gritted her way to yet another comeback victory, beating 18th-seeded Eugenie Bouchard of Canada 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 in the semifinals Thursday.

''If some things are not working out, I don't just want to quit in the middle. Because when you lose the first set or a few games or you're down a break, that's not the end of the match,'' Sharapova said. ''That's the type of philosophy that I play with.''

She famously described herself years ago as feeling like a ''cow on ice'' on clay, but Sharapova now has won her past 19 matches that went to three sets on the demanding surface.

In Saturday's final, the No. 7-seeded Sharapova will face No. 4 Simona Halep, a 22-year-old Romanian who never before had been past the quarterfinals at a major. Halep turned in a much more straightforward victory than Sharapova, eliminating No. 28 Andrea Petkovic of Germany 6-2, 7-6 (4).

''I have a lot of confidence in myself now,'' said Halep, who a year ago was ranked only 57th and lost in the first round in Paris for the third time since 2010. ''I played really well here; a few good matches. But next round will be very tough. I know Maria. She's a great champion.''

She is 0-3 against Sharapova. But Halep has claimed seven titles since the start of last season - ''Impressive 12 months,'' she called it - and used her smooth movement and smart angles to win all 12 sets she's played these two weeks.

Sharapova took a more difficult route to her ninth Grand Slam final.

In the fourth round against 2011 U.S. Open champion Samantha Stosur, Sharapova trailed 6-3, 4-3, then won the last nine games.

In the quarterfinals against 20-year-old Garbine Muguruza, the woman who stunned Serena Williams last week, Sharapova trailed 6-1, 5-4, then won nine of the last 10 games.

That pattern continued against another 20-year-old, Bouchard. After dropping the first set, then standing two games from defeat at 5-all in the second, Sharapova won eight of the last 10 games.

She did it by playing aggressively in crunch time, risking more but also coming through more. After Bouchard's ability to take the ball early helped her build a 13-8 edge in winners in the first set, Sharapova had a 25-16 edge in that category over the last two, celebrating most by shaking her left fist and crying, ''Come on!''

''She kind of elevated her game a little bit,'' said Bouchard, who had been 9-0 in Grand Slam matches when winning the opening set.

This was only Bouchard's fifth major tournament, her second in a row reaching the semifinals.

Less than two years ago, Bouchard was at the junior level, winning the Wimbledon girls' title.

''She is literally just scratching the surface,'' said Nick Saviano, Bouchard's coach. ''She can play a much, much higher level as she goes along. She's going to get faster. She's going to get stronger.''

The 27-year-old Sharapova already owns a career Grand Slam, with titles at Wimbledon in 2004, the U.S. Open in 2006, the Australian Open in 2008, and the French Open two years ago. And for someone who used to have a hard time on clay, she is 53-4 with six titles on it since the start of 2012; three of those losses came against Williams, including in the 2013 French Open final.

''Sharapova does a good job of trying to stay in the moment,'' Saviano said. ''She's got a lot of experience and a lot of fight. And she's been around a long time.''

Sharapova put aside various problems she had Thursday, including nine double-faults, two that wasted set points at 5-3 in the second. She showed terrific defense and court coverage when it counted most, forcing Bouchard to hit extra shots.

Most important, at 2-1 in both the second and third sets, Bouchard raced to 40-love leads on her serve, only to have Sharapova steel herself and wind up breaking.

''I didn't feel that I was playing my best,'' Sharapova said. ''I fought, I scrambled, and I found a way to win.''

Sharapova puts Genie back in bottle in Paris

(6/5/14) It wasn't easy and at times it wasn't pretty, but Maria Sharapova turned up the heat over three sets against up-and-coming Canadian Eugenie Bouchard on Thursday to reach her third consecutive French Open final.

For a time, the woman being labelled the "next Sharapova" looked on course for victory over the current model, until the Russian's aggression and experience prevailed 4-6 7-5 6-2.

It was Sharapova's third consecutive victory from a set down - further proof that when the chips are down there are few players who can equal her for fighting spirit.

"Winning a match where I felt my opponent played extremely well, exceptional tennis and I didn't feel that I was playing my best, I fought, I scrambled, and I found a way to win. I'm happy and proud about that," the 2012 champion told reporters.

"In the third I thought I was the aggressive one. I stepped up and I was doing things that I had wanted to do, which was I feel maybe I should have done earlier."

Looking close to mirror images on court, each blonde, each dressed in shades of pink with orange trim and each working the angles with flashing groundstrokes, it was Bouchard who called the tune in the first set.

However, by her own admission, she backed off in the second and third sets and despite Sharapova's service games being peppered with double faults, it was the more experienced player who began to stamp her authority, the shrieks becoming a roar of delight as she snuffed out the 20-year-old.

Sharapova will face Romanian fourth seed Simona Halep in the final, hoping to go one better than her defeat by Serena Williams last year.

A disconsolate Bouchard, seeded 18, knew she had been within touching distance of reaching her first grand slam final off the back of her last four run in Australia.

"I thought I was really close to it at the end of the second set, but I made too many mistakes on important points and important moments," Bouchard, known as Genie, told reporters.

Sharapova, who has battled shoulder injuries during her career, has now won the last 19 three-set matches she has played on clay since losing to Justine Henin in the third round at Roland Garros in 2010.

"In these last matches I have lost the first set, but I have lost them in different ways," she said.

"You know, at the end of the day, it's not how you finish a first set. It's how you finish the last set."

Maria Sharapova makes it back to French Open final

(6/5/14) Maria Sharapova made it back into the French Open final for the third straight year, beating Eugenie Bouchard of Canada 4-6, 7-5, 6-2 Thursday.

The seventh-seeded Russian lost the first set for the third straight match, but again managed to turn things around. Sharapova has now won 19 straight three-set matches on clay.

Sharapova completed a career Grand Slam by winning the title at Roland Garros in 2012, but lost to Serena Williams in last year's final.

Bouchard, a 20-year-old Canadian seeded 18th at Roland Garros, was playing at the French Open for the only second time. Last year, she lost to Sharapova in the second round.

In the other semifinal match, fourth-seeded Simona Halep of Romania will face 28th-seeded Andrea Petkovic of Germany.

The final is Saturday.

Murray tea tweet leaves Sharapova stirred

(6/3/14) Maria Sharapova made the French Open semi-finals on Tuesday and then found herself bamboozled by a tweet sent by Andy Murray's mother comparing her to a tea bag.

The Russian star defeated rising Spaniard Garbine Muguruza 1-6, 7-5, 6-1 to reach a fourth successive Roland Garros semi-final and fifth of her career.

But before responding to questions regarding her semi-final opponent, Eugenie Bouchard, the former world number one was asked to respond to Judy Murray's abstract compliment.

"Sharapova is like a tea bag. Put her into hot water and ul find out how strong she is," tweeted Murray.

The Russian told a press conference: "Sorry. I didn't know who Judy Murray is."

She added: "I'm a big tea drinker. I don't understand what she means."

When it was explained to her, Sharapova applauded the Wimbledon champion's mother's turn of phrase.

"That's great. She's very creative. I guess she could have put it many different ways, and she chose the English version."

Picture this -- Bouchard cherishes Sharapova snap

(6/3/14) Eugenie Bouchard faces idol Maria Sharapova in the French Open semi-finals with the Canadian admitting she still has a photo of her as an eight-year-old with the Russian star.

"I have a picture with her when I was I think seven or eight years old. I guess that would be the first time. I think it was in Miami," said the bilingual Montreal resident about the photo which has been circulating on social media.

The photo shows a shy Bouchard, in a blue T-shirt and shorts, being dwarfed by a 15-year-old Sharapova who is dressed in a prim white tennis dress.

"Yeah, I mean, you know, I looked up to her for sure," said Bouchard, the first Canadian woman to reach the French Open semi-finals.

"At first I noticed like her cute dresses and things like that when I was young. She was No. 1 in the world and she's won several Grand Slams, so it's going to be a great experience for me.

"Yeah, of course as a child I looked up to her and I remember watching her in the finals of Wimbledon and, you know, thought what she was doing was so cool and I wanted to do the same thing."

Bouchard defeated Spanish 14th seed Carla Suarez Navarro 7-6 (7/4), 2-6, 7-5 to book her semi-final place against the four-time Grand Slam winner.

Sharapova advances to French Open semifinals

(6/3/14) Maria Sharapova advanced to the semifinals of the French Open for the fourth straight year, beating Garbine Muguruza of Spain 1-6, 7-5, 6-1 Tuesday.

The seventh-seeded Russian made a slow start on Court Philippe Chatrier, falling behind 4-0 before finally winning a game. She then started to land her shots, and her serves, with more consistency and won nine of the last 10 games.

Muguruza, who was playing in a Grand Slam quarterfinal for the first time in her career, eliminated defending champion Serena Williams in the second round.

Sharapova lost in the semifinals at Roland Garros in 2011, then won the title a year later to complete a career Grand Slam. She lost in last year's final to Williams.

''It was so tough losing in the final last year, being the defending champion,'' Sharapova said. ''This year, to come back, I have the extra motivation to go further, and to be back on (this) stage is a really nice feeling.''

Sharapova will face Eugenie Bouchard in the semifinals. The 18th-seeded Canadian beat Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain 7-6 (4), 2-6, 7-5.

Sharapova opened her match with a double fault, the first of eight in the match. And she lost 15 of the first 20 points.

But even though Sharapova held in the fifth game, she was broken again, this time at love, to lose the first set.

Things changed rather quickly in the second set. At 1-1, Sharapova finally broke, with some help from Muguruza.

The unseeded Spaniard, ranked 35th in the world, double-faulted twice in a row to give Sharapova her second break point of the match. The tall Russian converted when Muguruza sent a backhand long.

Although Sharapova was broken again in the set, again with a double fault, she started to hold serve more easily while giving Muguruza more trouble while receiving.

By the time the third set started, Sharapova was moving Muguruza all over the court, landing her forehands and backhands easily.

The only hiccup came in the fourth game, when Muguruza had five break points but couldn't convert any of them.

''That was one of the most important games,'' Sharapova said. ''After I won that game, I certainly gained more confidence.''

SHARAPOVA WINS NINE STRAIGHT GAMES TO TOP STOSUR AT FRENCH OPEN

(6/1/14) Maria Sharapova engineered quite a turnaround to reach the French Open quarterfinals, taking the last nine games and beating Samantha Stosur 3-6, 6-4, 6-0 Sunday.

After dropping the first set, Sharapova trailed 4-3 in the second. But she didn't allow Stosur another game, reeling off 22 of 25 points to take control.

The seventh-seeded Sharapova reached the final at Roland Garros the last two years, winning the title to complete a career Grand Slam in 2012, then finishing as the runner-up to Serena Williams in 2013.

Sharapova got off to a rough start against the 19th-seeded Stosur, who won the 2011 U.S. Open and got to the final at the 2010 French Open.

Screaming and shaking her fists after many points, Sharapova righted herself and improved to 14-2 against Stosur.

SHARAPOVA CRUISES, RADWANSKA, CIBULKOVA ELIMINATED AT FRENCH OPEN

(5/30/14) Maria Sharapova is now the overwhelming favourite at the French Open and played that way Friday after Agnieszka Radwanska became the latest women's high seed to fall at Roland Garros.

The third-seeded Radwanska followed in the footsteps of Serena Williams and Li Na, exiting with a 6-4, 6-4 loss to Croatia's Ajla Tomljanovic in the third round.

Li, the second seed and 2011 French Open champ, was knocked off in the first round and Williams, the No. 1 seed and two-time winner at Roland Garros, fell in the second round.

Radwanska's ouster leaves fourth-seeded Simona Halep as the highest-seeded player remaining in the women's draw, but Sharapova is now the clear-cut choice to claim her second French Open championship.

Sharapova, the 2012 winner and last year's runner-up to Williams, needed a mere 51 minutes to dispose of Argentina's Paula Ormaechea in a 6-0, 6-0 rout. She has dropped just 10 games in her first three matches and on Friday was simply dominating.

Ormaechea won just 17 of the 71 points played and four of those came on double faults from Sharapova. The seventh-seeded Russian blasted 23 winners to Ormaechea's one and won all 14 points on the Argentine's second serve.

Despite the front-runner status, a tough fourth-round match against former U.S. Open champ Samantha Stosur awaits Sharapova.

"My next opponent is Samantha Stosur, who's had a lot of success on these courts and loves playing on clay so that's my next challenge and I look forward to it," said Sharapova.

Stosur, the 2010 French Open runner-up, knocked off ninth-seeded Dominika Cibulkova, 6-4, 6-4.

"I'm really happy with the way I played today and I think it's the first time I won three matches in a row for a while, too," said the 19th-seeded Stosur, who last reached the fourth round of a Grand Slam at the 2012 U.S. Open. "I just love playing here. I've had some really great moments here and some of the best matches of my career actually. Hopefully I can still have a few more matches like this."

Stosur, who lost to Francesca Schiavone in the 2010 French final, continued her mastery of Cibulkova, beating the 2014 Australian Open runner-up for the fifth time in as many tries without dropping a set. She also beat the Slovakian two years ago in the quarterfinals at Roland Garros and earlier this month in the first round at the Madrid Open.

The Aussie's stay in Madrid ended with a third-round loss to Sharapova. Stosur is 2-13 lifetime against the Russian, including 0-3 on clay.

"I have beaten her before. I know what it takes," added Stosur about the next matchup with Sharapova. "I know I have to play very well against her. I know there are certain things I have to do well and if I don't, then it makes life very, very tough that day. I will go out there and certainly give it my best shot."

Cibulkova had her best Grand Slam finish earlier this year with a loss to Li in the final of the Australian Open. Her best result at the French Open was a semifinal loss to Dinara Safina in 2009, but it's been a rough spring for the four-time WTA winner as she also dropped a first-round match in Rome after her first-round exit against Stosur in Madrid.

Tomljanovic, meanwhile, is playing at Roland Garros for the first time and has now beaten three established veterans. Ranked 72nd in the world, she took out Schiavone in the first round and also knocked off Russian veteran Elena Vesnina in the second.

"After seeing the two first seeds go out, (I) feel like I can do this, too," said Tomljanovic. "I grew up with these girls that are beating (the top seeds). Obviously, you respect everyone, but you don't fear anyone. This year I've been in a few situations where I was up and didn't execute, so I wanted to make it right this time."

Next up for Tomljanovic will be Spain's Carla Suarez Navarro. The 14th seed eased past American teenager Taylor Townsend in a 6-2, 6-2 triumph.

One of the giant killers, Spain's Garbine Muguruza, followed up her stunning win over Williams with a 6-2, 6-4 victory over Slovakia's Anna Schmiedlova. Schmiedlova had previously eliminated Venus Williams on Wednesday.

Muguruza will next play the winner between Germany's Mona Barthel and Frenchwoman Pauline Parmentier.

Also Friday, eighth-seeded Angelique Kerber of Germany will play Slovakia's Daniela Hantuchova and Canada's Eugenie Bouchard will take on Sweden's Johanna Larson.

Hope burns brightly for Sharapova after Serena exit

(5/29/14) It is not something Maria Sharapova would confess to publicly, but Serena Williams's early downfall at the French Open means the statuesque Russian can now skip around Paris with an extra spring in her step.

While Williams' unexpected second-round exit has offered a spark of hope to the 50 women still left standing in Roland Garros, nowhere was that hope burning brighter than in the Sharapova camp on Wednesday.

As Sharapova's 13-million plus followers on Facebook are aware, beating the younger of the Williams sisters has proved to be the one obstacle that has been insurmountable for the 27-year-old.

It has been 10 long years since Sharapova has beaten her American rival and since that joyful day in Los Angeles in 2004, the former world number one has slumped to 15 successive defeats, including in the French Open final last year.

"You always have to follow your path and always concentrate on your work and who's ahead of you and not get worried about what's going on," Sharapova said after she reached the third round with a 7-5 6-2 win over Bulgaria's Tsvetana Pironkova.

"Obviously when you go on court you're aware of a lot of the upsets, not just in the women but in the men, as well.

"So it's great to get a win in that type of atmosphere."

Williams' demise carried extra significance for Sharapova as the 2012 Roland Garros champion had been on a quarter-final collision course with the American.

Instead of worrying and fretting over that possible showdown, Sharapova may now consider sending little-known Spaniard Garbine Muguruza, the conqueror of Williams, a thank-you note if she is to lift the French Open trophy for the second time in three years on June 7.

Sharapova reaches 3rd round at Roland Garros

(5/28/14) Maria Sharapova advanced to the third round at the French Open by beating Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria 7-5, 6-2 Wednesday.

Sharapova won the French Open title two years ago and lost to Serena Williams in last year's final.

With Williams losing earlier Wednesday, the seventh-seeded Sharapova takes over as the main favorite at Roland Garros.

Sharapova reaches 2nd round at French Open

(5/26/14) Maria Sharapova took advantage of a break in the rain — and several breaks of her opponent’s serve — to win her opening match at the French Open on Monday.

The 2012 champion was first on court in the main stadium at Roland Garros and needed little more than an hour to reach the second round by beating Ksenia Pervak 6-1, 6-2.

"It’s always nice to get out there on a day like this. It’s good to play first match, as you know," Sharapova said. "Hopefully you’ll be able to finish the match today with the weather conditions being as they are. It’s always nice to get through."

Sharapova broke Pervak five times and finished with 17 winners, while Pervak had only four.

Sharapova, seeded seventh at the French Open, completed a career Grand Slam at Roland Garros two years ago. She then lost to Serena Williams in the 2013 final.

Up next in Paris will be Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria in the second round. But she could face Williams in the quarterfinals.

"It’s tough to think about that match down the line where you have to compete in three matches before that," Sharapova said. "Obviously it’s a match that many people always look forward to when we play against each other."

Monday’s match started about 1 hour, 20 minutes late because of the wet weather. The forecast calls for more rain Monday, and for the rest of the week.

Shortly after Sharapova’s match ended, and shortly after Novak Djokovic’s match started, the rain returned and play was suspended.

Djokovic was leading Joao Sousa of Portugal 4-1 when play was halted.

Australian Open runner-up Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia also advanced, beating Virginie Razzano of France 7-5, 6-0.

Other winners include No. 12 Flavia Pennetta of Italy and No. 16 Sabine Lisicki of Germany. Pennetta beat Patricia Mayr-Achleitner of Austria 6-2, 6-2, while 2013 Wimbledon runner-up Lisicki defeated Fiona Ferro of France 6-1, 7-5.

On the men’s side, ninth-seeded Kei Nishikori was knocked out at the first step, losing to Martin Klizan of Slovakia 7-6 (4), 6-1, 6-2.

Nishikori came into the tournament after winning his first clay-court title in Barcelona last month and then reaching the final in Madrid against Rafael Nadal where he had to retire with a back injury.

Nishikori, the highest-ranked Japanese man in history, is No. 10 in the world, one spot lower than his career high.

Later Monday, eight-time champion Nadal and Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka were scheduled to play — weather permitting.

Stopping Serena wont be simple, rivals say

(5/25/14) Maria Sharapova hopes sweet Paris macarons might help, Li Na looks to a savvy coach, and Alize Cornet wants some backing from her home crowd if they are to halt the steamroller that is Serena Williams in the French Open.

The American at 32 may be well into the veteran ranks in Paris, but she believes that like a good wine she is getting better with age.

Last year's domination of the women's game when she won her second title in Paris and her 17th Grand Slam crown in New York has been followed by a patchy 2014.

Titles in Brisbane and Miami have been offset by a an early exit at the Australian Open and a succession of injuries and a loss of form that have left her short of match practice.

It was all looking ominous for the most powerful player in the women's game coming into Paris until last week in Rome when she blasted her way to the title for the loss of just one set.

Suddenly she is once again installed as the overwhelming favourite to win an 18th Grand Slam title, which would put her level with legends Chris Evert and Martina Navratilova on the all-time Open-era singles list just four shy of Steffi Graf's top mark of 22.

On the face of it Sharapova, the only women in world sport who earns more than Williams, is facing a near impossible task.

She has a long losing record to the American, including a 6-4, 6-4 pounding in last year's final when she was the defending champion.

Asked what were her favourite things to do in Paris ahead of the French Open she replied: "I eat some macarons. Beside La Duree, there are a couple of others I like to go to. But, yeah, just eat. Eat some more."

Li, the 2011 French Open winner and reigning Australian Open champion said that her coach Carlos Rodriguez, who master-minded Justine Henin's four French Open triumphs, was her sounding board.

"I think he's pretty smart," said the Chinese icon, who at 32 is the same age as Williams. "He always like to change.

"Of course you cannot do exactly the same like 2011. Every year is different."

Cornet, who has become the French number one since the sudden retirement last year of Wimbledon champion Marion Bartoli, said that playing on home turf was "very special, very different".

"The French crowd is expecting us a lot. Sometimes they are kind of judging us," she added.

"It's tough to handle the pressure because you know that if you do bad you know they are going to be tough with you; but on the other hand, you need to charm them because they are pretty tough to charm," she said.

"But when you have them in your pocket they are just behind you 100% and they can give you wings.

"That's my goal. Trying to have wings with them on the court and fly over my matches. That would be the best scenario possible."

For her part Williams said that she is comfortable with her status as French Open favourite.

"I like being seeded number one," she said. "The favourite part is definitely more pressure. But as Billie Jean King tells me, pressure is a privilege."

Early Rome defeat was a blessing for Sharapova

(5/23/14) Maria Sharapova is not the sort to take defeat lightly yet the former world number one believes her early exit at the Italian Open could be a blessing in disguise for the French Open.

The Russian, seeded seventh in Paris, won back-to-back claycourt titles in Stuttgart and Madrid but her run came to an end when Ana Ivanovic beat her in the third round in Rome.

"I think it gave me a few extra days maybe to rest," Russian Sharapova, the 2012 French Open champion and runner-up last year, told reporters.

"To get on the courts as soon you can and get as many hours on the big courts as you might get before everybody else comes.

"So in a way it's been great to have that."

Sharapova completed her career grand slam in Paris two years ago as she finally mastered a surface that baffled her on occasions in previous years.

Her wins in Stuttgart and Madrid underlined just how comfortable and confident she now feels on clay.

"I had great preparation. I had two great tournaments and had really tough matches, easier matches," she said.

"I think a lot has been thrown at me in the last few weeks in all the matches I have played, and I think that's great for, you know, coming into a big tournament like this."

The 27-year-old has seen her career interrupted by shoulder problems down the years but says the hunger to add more grand slam titles to the four she owns is still there.

"I want to achieve more and I want to win more grand Slams and I want to get back to No.1," she said.

"I think when you have that feeling of being there before and holding those trophies, they are so memorable.

"To feel that excitement, to feel that energy, that adrenaline for those moments."

Sharapova faces a tough task to reach the final with world number one Serena Williams a likely quarter-final opponent.

"I don't look too far ahead, but I'm not scared to see like who I would play later down the line," she said.

Sharapova rallies to win Madrid Open title

(5/11/14) Maria Sharapova bounced back from a poor start to defeat Simona Halep 1-6, 6-2, 6-3 Sunday and win the Madrid Open title.

Sharapova, who lost to Serena Williams in last year’s final, crumbled in the opening set when she held her serve just once.

But Halep’s serve dipped in the second set, and Sharapova started hitting pinpoint ground strokes that kept the Romanian running. The ninth-ranked Russian converted both her break points in the set to even the match.

Sharapova then pulled away in the deciding set with an early break to follow up her triumph in Stuttgart with a maiden title in Madrid.

Since the 2011 French Open, Sharapova has a 47-3 record on clay — with all three defeats coming to Williams. The top-ranked American was the two-time defending champion in Madrid but withdrew with a leg injury on Friday.

"I don’t know how I pulled it off," Sharapova said after winning her 32nd career title. "I came close last year, and I didn’t have a great first set today, but I knew it wasn’t over until the last point was played."

Sharapova looked dejected midway through the first set as she hit four double-faults, but she seemed to regain her focus at the start of the second.

As Sharapova celebrated the win, Halep slumped in her chair dejectedly despite having reached her first Masters final.

Sharapova ousts Radwanska to claim Madrid final berth

(5/10/14) Maria Sharapova recovered from a second-set wobble to dispatch third seed Agnieszka Radwanska 6-1 6-4 on Saturday and set up a Madrid Open final clash against rising talent Simona Halep.

Sharapova, a former world number one now ranked ninth who has had a poor year by her high standards, has shown glimpses of her dominant best on the clay in the Spanish capital this week with the French Open starting in Paris later this month.

Pole Radwanska, the world number three, struggled to cope with the Russian's powerful ground strokes as Sharapova, runner-up to Serena Williams in Madrid last year, took a step closer to a 31st career title.

After comfortably winning the opening set and racing into a 3-0 lead in the second, Sharapova had to deal with a spirited Radwanska fightback when she won four games in a row before prevailing to secure a meeting with Halep, the fourth seed.

The 22-year-old Romanian fought back from a set down to oust fifth-seeded Czech Petra Kvitova 6-7(4) 6-3 6-2.

Sharapova's chances of going one better than 2013 were boosted when Williams, the Madrid champion the past two years, withdrew on Friday with a thigh injury.

"I've done a really good job of transitioning from the hard to the clay and really improving physically and recovering well from match to match," Sharapova told a news conference.

"I really challenge myself to improve on clay courts because that was never my favorite surface in the beginning of my career," added the 27-year-old, French Open champion in 2012.

"I feel really good physically. I put in a lot of matches in the last few weeks but that's what I want.

"I missed four or five months of the season last year (with a shoulder injury) and I wanted to come in to this year and play as many matches as I can."

By reaching the final, Halep has already achieved her best result at a WTA premier event as she chases an eighth career title.

A girls singles champion at the French Open in 2008, she also looks to be hitting form on clay ahead of claycourt major.

"I'm very excited that I can play my biggest final tomorrow, I hope that my emotions will be down and I can play," Halep told a news conference.

"It was a very tough match today, I couldn't believe that I came back again.

"Tomorrow I expect another very tough match. Maria is a champion and she knows how to manage the finals."

Sharapova rallies to beat Na, into Madrid semis

(5/9/14) Maria Sharapova rallied to earn a spot in the semifinals of the Madrid Open on Friday, a few hours after defending champion Serena Williams withdrew from her match because of injury.

Sharapova, who lost to Williams in last year’s final, beat Li Na 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 on clay at the Magic Box.

Li was in control until she failed to convert two break points in the 11th game of the second set. Errors then began creeping into the Australian Open champion’s game as Sharapova evened the match.

After an exchange of breaks in the third set, Sharapova broke again and then held serve to win on Li’s 43rd unforced error.

Williams, the two-time defending champion, withdrew because of a left thigh injury.

Sharapova rallies to avoid early exit in Madrid

(5/6/14) Maria Sharapova avoided an early exit from the Madrid Open on Tuesday, rallying to beat Christina McHale to reach the third round.

Trailing 4-1 in the final set, Sharapova steadied her erratic service game and took command again to beat the 56th-ranked American 6-1, 4-6, 6-4 victory on clay at the Magic Box.

Earlier, Li Na continued her recent dominance of Zheng Jie by easing into the third round 6-2, 6-3 for her fourth straight victory against her fellow Chinese player. Zheng hasn’t won a set from the second-ranked Li since her last victory in 2006.

Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic also advanced with a 6-1, 6-2 win over Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia.

SHARAPOVA, IVANOVIC EASE TO FIRST-ROUND WINS AT MADRID OPEN

(5/4/14) Maria Sharapova brushed aside Klara Koukalova 6-1, 6-2 in the first round of the Madrid Open on Sunday, while Ana Ivanovic beat Madison Keys 6-1, 7-6 (4).

Sharapova, who lost to Serena Williams in last year's final, converted six of eight break points to take advantage of Koukalova's eight double faults on the Caja Magica clay court.

The eighth-seeded Sharapova will play Christina McHale of the United States in the second round.

The 11th-seeded Ivanovic ousted Keys to set up a meeting with fellow Serb Bojana Jovanovski. Ivanovic overcame her shaky serve by saving three of four break points.

Top-ranked Williams opens her title defence later against Swiss Belinda Bencic.

Sharapova clinches 3rd straight Porsche GP title

(4/27/14) Maria Sharapova won her third straight Porsche Grand Prix title on Sunday by coming from behind to defeat Ana Ivanovic 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 in the final.

Sharapova won her first tournament of the year and clinched the 30th title of her career. She is now undefeated in 13 consecutive matches on the indoor clay in Stuttgart.

Ivanovic wasted a 3-1 lead in the second set as Sharapova raised her game to stay in the high-quality match between two former top-ranked players and French Open champions. Ivanovic was seeking her third title of the year.

"I just tried to hang in there," Sharapova said. "For the first half of the match I thought it might not be my day today, but somehow I turned it around."

Ivanovic got off to a flying a start and won the first five games of the match before Sharapova started fighting back.

Ivanovic wasted a set point and could not serve out the set at her first attempt. She gifted Sharapova another game with a double-fault but finally pulled together to win the first set.

Sharapova had trouble reading Ivanovic’s varied game and change of pace. But she held on as Ivanovic began to lose her focus.

"From the first moment it was always a close match," Ivanovic said. "It was always a few close balls to decide each game, and it went on the whole match. In the second set she definitely went for those big shots, though, and she made some amazing points.

"She’s just a great player, and that’s what happens when you play against great players in big matches like this. You need to use your opportunities."

Sharapova returned late last year after missing four months following shoulder surgery.

"It was a very tough year for me," she said.

Stuttgart is the only tournament Sharapova has won three times.

Sharapova off to 3rd straight Porsche GP final

(4/26/14) Two-time defending champion Maria Sharapova cruised past Sara Errani 6-1, 6-2 on Saturday to reach her third straight Porsche Grand Prix final.

Sharapova dominated the 59-minute semifinal and will play Ana Ivanovic in the final. Sharapova extended her winning streak on Stuttgart’s indoor clay to 12 matches and is undefeated against Errani in five matches.

Ivanovic, looking for her third title of the year, beat Jelena Jankovic 6-3, 7-5 in an all-Serb match.

Errani hit a big cross-court return that kissed the line to save the first match point. But Sharapova then hit a superb backhand winner down the line to close the match.

Sharapova is looking for her 30th career title. The Russian returned late last year after missing more than four months following shoulder surgery.

Ivanovic earned her third match point when Jankovic slipped and fell. A return by Jankovic that went wide gave Ivanovic another match point which she clinched when her opponent sent another return into the net.

Ivanovic, a former No. 1 like Jankovic and Sharapova, now has a 9-3 career edge over Jankovic.

Sharapova advances to semifinals at Porsche GP

(4/25/14) Two-time defending champion Maria Sharapova needed eight match points to put away top-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska 6-4, 6-3 for a place in the Porsche Grand Prix semifinals on Friday.

Sharapova has won 11 consecutive matches on Stuttgart’s indoor clay.

Radwanska played her best tennis in the penultimate game, when she fought off six match points and finally broke Sharapova’s serve.

But Radwanska could not keep the momentum and Sharapova’s forehand winner down the line gave her two more match points. Sharapova wasted the first with a wild forehand that was both long and wide, but then nailed a forehand winner to the corner to end the match.

RADWANSKA, SHARAPOVA SET UP QUARTER-FINAL CLASH AT PORSCHE GP

(4/24/14) Defending champion Maria Sharapova defeated Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 6-4, 6-3 on Thursday to set up a Porsche Grand Prix quarterfinal clash with top-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska.

The sixth-seeded Sharapova needed little over an hour-and-a-half to defeat her fellow Russian, keeping alive her bid to win the tournament for the third year-in-a-row.

Polish world no. 3 Radwanska was rarely troubled in wrapping up her 6-3, 6-2 win over Italy's Roberta Vinci in 1 hour 19 minutes.

Fifth-seeded Jelena Jankovic faces Italy's Flavia Pennetta later Thursday for a quarterfinal place against Alisa Kleybanova, who upset the third-seeded Petra Kvitova on Wednesday.

Serbia's ninth-seeded Ana Ivanovic was to play German wild card Julia Goerges, with Germany's highest-seeded Angelique Kerber (4), facing Carla Suarez Navarro of Spain.

Svetlana Kuznetsova of Russia was scheduled to take on second-seeded Simona Halep in Thursday's late match.

Sharapova survives scare at Porsche Grand Prix

(4/22/14) Defending champion Maria Sharapova survived a first-round scare at the Porsche Grand Prix by defeating Lucie Safarova 7-6(5), 6-7(5), 7-6(2) on Tuesday.

The sixth-seeded Sharapova needed three hours, 24 minutes for her 100th clay victory, three days after her 27th birthday.

Sharapova, who is bidding to win the tournament for the third time in a row, next faces fellow Russian Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, who defeated Latvian qualifier Diana Marcinkevica 6-3, 6-2.

Jelena Jankovic, the no. 5 seed, saved four match points to come back and claim a 2-6, 7-6 (8), 6-3 win over German lucky loser Mona Barthel.

No. 8 seed Sara Errani recovered from a double break down in the second set to defeat Klara Koukalova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-4 for the Italian’s first win in five visits to Stuttgart.

Also Tuesday, Svetlana Kuznetsova beat Italian qualifier Gioia Barbieri 6-2, 6-3 and another Russian, Alisa Kleybanova, defeated Croatia’s Ajla Tomljanovic 6-2, 6-4.

Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro defeated Russia’s Ekaterina Makarova 6-0, 6-4 and Roberta Vinci had a 6-3, 6-2 win over Annika Beck, ensuring the 20-year-old qualifier was the first German knocked out of the tournament.

Maria Sharapova Celebrates 27th Birthday at German Biergarten: See the Pics!

(4/21/14) (Pic, Pic2) Maria Sharapova celebrated her 27th birthday in true German fashion!

The tennis pro rang in her B-day by visiting the annual Stuttgarter Fruehlingsfest, a spring festival and biergarten in Stuttgart, on Saturday.

Sharapova dressed the part, donning a silver traditional German dress that featured white and pink accents. The blond beauty completed her look with heels and a heart-shaped purse with the message "You are my great luck" in German.

Sharapova, who was in town for the Porsche Grand Prix, was all smiles while touring the biergarten and riding festival rides like the Ferris wheel.

The Russian-born star tweeted a photo of her getup on Twitter on Saturday, writing, "Celebrating in this get up... #germany." She also shared a photo of her posing next to a Porsche with the caption, "Happy birthday to me...(Porsche not included) :)."

In addition to celebrating her birthday at the festival, Sharapova also launched a new line of her Sugarpova candy called "Speedy." The new candies are yogurt gummies in the shape of the Porsche 911 car.

Maria Sharapova Shows Off Bikini Body During Vacation in Mexico

(4/3/14) (Pic1, Pic2) Maria Sharapova sure seems to be enjoying her time away from the tennis court.

The 26-year-old athlete showed off her perfect bikini body as she soaked up the sunshine while on vacation in Cancun, Mexico, Tuesday.

Sharapova, who recently lost to Serena Williams at the Sony Open semifinals, looked carefree as she worked on her tan and took a dip in the sea.

The Russian tennis star opted for a black patterned two-piece that perfectly accentuated her long legs, washboard abs and toned physique. Sharapova kept her hair out of her face and put her locks up in a high bun.

"I'm ready for summer...what a beautiful day #beach," Sharapova tweeted on Thursday as she posed in an ethereal white frock during her beautiful getaway.

Besides playing tennis (obviously), what's Sharapova's secret to maintaining her athletic figure?

Sharapova recently revealed to Shape magazine that she breaks a sweat twice a day, interspersed with an hour and a half of shoulder rehab and either an ice bath or a sports massage to relax her muscles at the end of the day.

As for her diet, she admits she has never counted a single calorie, but fuels up on water, protein and stays far, far away from gluten. (Though, we should mention that she proudly promotes her adorable line of premium gummy candies, Sugarpova!)

"I do weigh myself, though, to make sure I'm hydrated before matches because I sweat so much," she says. "Water is a huge part of my diet. I have to force myself to drink it."

Williams beats Sharapova for 15th straight time

(3/27/14) Serena Williams beat Maria Sharapova for the 15th consecutive time, rallying in both sets Thursday for a 6-4, 6-3 victory in the Sony Open semifinals.

Williams is seeking a record seventh Key Biscayne title. She improved to 16-2 against Sharapova and hasn't lost to her favorite foil since 2004.

The No. 1-ranked Williams won with a superior serve and better returns. She hit nine aces and broke five times, helping her rebound from deficits of 4-1 in the first set and 2-0 in the second.

Williams earned her 14th consecutive victory against a top-10 player. Her opponent in Saturday's final will be the winner of the semifinal Thursday night between reigning Australian Open champion Li Na and Dominika Cibulkova.

Serena, Sharapova set for Miami final rematch

(3/26/14) Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams will have a rematch of their 2013 final in the ATP and WTA Miami Masters semi-finals on Thursday after both advanced in formidable style.

Sharapova, who has not beaten the world number one American since 2004 and has lost 14 consecutive matches in the rivalry, on Tuesday regained her big-match confidence after twice being pushed to three sets by defeating Petra Kvitova 7-5, 6-1.

Top seed Williams pounded German fifth seed Angelique Kerber 6-2, 6-2, taking 62 minutes and ending with seven aces and four breaks of serve in windy conditions.

"When the wind picked up I just had to concentrate," said Williams, who holds six Miami titles. "I felt better today than in any of my other matches.

"When you're facing a top-10 player, you have to lift your game, That's what I was able to do."

Fourth seed Sharapova's 90-minute victory over the Kvitova, a fellow Wimbledon champion, was a relief for five-time Miami finalist Sharapova, who had faced huge battle in her previous two victories.

This time, it was relatively straightforward for the crowd-pleaser as she bids for her first Miami crown.

"I didn't have a good first few games, so I was happy that I was steady, that I kept trying to do the right thing, kept trying to be aggressive," said Sharapova. "It paid off as the match went on, because I made a few too many unforced errors in the beginning.

Four-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova broke four times as she was untroubled by Kvitova after the early stages, in which she lost the opening game but got the break back midway through the set.

"She's a grand slam champion," said Sharapova of Kvitova. "You can never underestimate someone that goes on the court that has that experience, that's had such a big win in her career.

"She's capable of playing really great tennis, and I think everyone knows that."

Sharapova closes in on return trip to Miami final

(3/25/14) Five-time runner-up Maria Sharapova closed in on a return trip to the Miami final by taming eighth-seeded Czech Petra Kvitova 7-5 6-1 on Tuesday to reach the semis of the Sony Open.

With the victory Sharapova, who lost in the final last year to Serena Williams, sets up a possible final four showdown with the world number one.

Williams, a six-time winner on the Miami hardcourts, takes on fifth-seeded German Angelique Kerber in another quarter-final clash later on Tuesday.

Sharapova, who has come up short in the Miami final each of the last three years, dropped her opening serve to Kvitova but that would be the only time the entire match.

The fourth-seeded Russian took control with a break to get back on level terms at 4-4 and then again to close out the first set. Sharapova then dominated the second set, storming through the first five games before a reeling Kvitova held her serve.

"I didn't have a good first few games, so I was happy that I was steady, that I kept trying to do the right thing, kept trying to be aggressive," said Sharapova. "I think that paid off as the match went on because I made a few too many unforced errors in the beginning."

Every time Sharapova has advanced as far as the quarters at Crandon Park she has reached the finals but could find a massive hurdle in her way if Williams gets past Kerber.

Sharapova and Williams, who have both achieved a career grand slam and held the number one ranking, were expected to develop into one of the great rivalries in women's tennis.

But it has not quite worked out that way with Williams dominating the series winning 15 of 17 career meetings including the last 14.

The two have clashed three times on the Miami hardcourts, Williams winning all three.

"It's no secret that she's been a big challenge of mine, an opponent that obviously I would love to beat," said Sharapova, looking ahead to a possible rematch. "There are certainly ways that I need to step up in certain situations that I haven't been able to do in the past against her.

"But it's great that I have come to that stage and have the opportunity to play her again."

Sharapova rallies to beat Flipkens at Sony Open

(3/24/14) Maria Sharapova lost the first four games Monday before settling down to become the first quarterfinalist at the Sony Open by beating Kirsten Flipkens 3-6, 6-4, 6-1.

The match was the second consecutive three-setter for Sharapova, a five-time Key Biscayne finalist seeking her first title in the event.

Seeded No. 4, Sharapova won only five points in the first four games and seemed thrown off by the lack of pace on Flipkens’ shots. Sharapova gradually began to find the range with her groundstrokes, but even so she finished with 36 unforced errors and only 13 winners. She also double-faulted 10 times.

“I had a really sloppy start, and Kirsten took advantage,” Sharapova said. “I was just making a lot of errors. I’m happy I was able to switch it around.”

Flipkens had never won a set against Sharapova in their four previous matches. The tour veteran fell to 3-12 against top-10 opponents.

No. 5 Angelique Kerber defeated Ekaterina Makarova 6-4, 1-6, 6-3. In men’s third-round play, No. 12 Milos Raonic beat Guillermo Garcia-Lopez 6-1, 6-2.

Serena and Venus Williams and Rafael Nadal were among those scheduled to play later Monday.

Maria Sharapova advances at Sony Open

(3/23/14) One point from victory, Maria Sharapova chased after a shot in the corner but couldn't reach it, so she had to keep playing.

Nearly an hour later she was still at it, trying to win that elusive clinching point against stubborn Lucie Safarova.

Sharapova needed nine match points before she finally closed out a win Saturday night in the third round of the Sony Open, beating Safarova 6-4, 6-7 (7), 6-2.

Top-ranked Serena Williams won a marathon, too, taking 2 1/2 hours to eliminate Caroline Garcia 6-4, 4-6, 6-4.

Sharapova had two match points in the tiebreaker, and seven more in the final game. The No. 26-seeded Safarova stayed alive with a succession of clutch winners.

''She kept hitting unbelievable shots,'' Sharapova said. ''One more. One more. I said, 'How many chances are you going to get?'''

With the capacity crowd in a frenzy, a long exchange on the final point ended with Safarova pushing a weary forehand into the net. She then shared a hug with Sharapova.

The match took three hours and ended at 10 p.m. to conclude an 11-hour day session on the stadium court, with two night-session matches yet to come.

Williams' match was a thriller, too. A succession of long rallies left her grunting, stumbling, lunging, squealing, flailing her arms and scolding herself.

Despite all the drama and trauma, she moved one round closer to a record seventh Key Biscayne title.

Williams is playing in her first tournament after a monthlong layoff, and rustiness might explain her 41 unforced errors, including seven double-faults. And the 20-year-old Garcia kept Williams on her heels with deep groundstrokes and serves that topped out at 117 mph.

''I can play a hundred times better,'' Williams said. ''I really gave myself a tremendous amount of trouble out there. Granted she played great, but I made so many errors ... 40-something errors. It's not the way to play professional tennis. Maybe amateur.''

Three-time champion Novak Djokovic was off Saturday but advanced to the fourth round anyway when his next scheduled opponent, Florian Mayer, withdrew because of a groin injury. Djokovic's next match will be Tuesday.

No. 10-seeded John Isner rallied to win an all-American matchup against Donald Young, 6-7 (5), 6-3, 6-4. Isner is back in the top 10 this week for the first time in 18 months.

Sam Querrey, Ryan Harrison and Jack Sock lost second-round matches. That left Isner as the lone remaining American in the men's draw, reflecting the state of U.S. tennis.

''The state is not the greatest it has ever been,'' Isner said.

Stanislas Wawrinka bounced back from his first loss of the year by beating Daniel Gimeno-Traver 6-0, 3-6, 6-3. No. 7 Tomas Berdych joined Wawrinka in the third round by beating Stephane Robert 7-6 (5), 6-1.

Williams and Garcia engaged in a succession of side-to-side baseline exchanges that had the stadium crowd roaring. But she finished in a hurry, serving out the final game at love with the help of consecutive aces.

Reigning Wimbledon champion Andy Murray has predicted that Garcia will someday climb to No. 1, but the Frenchwoman is now 0-3 against Williams.

''It's always nice to play against a big player,'' Garcia said. ''You are working and practicing to play this match, because it's in this kind of match you can learn more. But next time I prefer to win.''

Williams is playing for the 14th time at Key Biscayne, an hour from her home in Palm Beach Gardens. She won the event for the first time in 2002 and tied Andre Agassi's record of six titles last year.

Serena, Sharapova tested but triumphant

(3/21/14) Six-time winner Serena Williams survived a first-set scare before overcoming Yaroslava Shvedova 7-6 (9/7), 6-2 to power into the third round of the ATP and WTA Miami Masters.

The top-seeded defending champion will next face France's Caroline Garcia after dispatching her Kazak rival in one hour, 45 minutes.

"The first set was really tough. She can make you play. She was hitting the ball well," Williams said.

"I had to relax and try to keep my intensity and just try to get the win."

Fourth seed Maria Sharapova, the 2013 runner-up to Williams, outlasted Japan's Kurumi Nara 6-3, 6-4 in another opening test.

Williams lost a 3-1 lead and trailed 3-5 as Shvedova shifted her game up a gear.

Williams got back on track in the nick of time with a break for 5-all. A love game then ended with an ace for Williams before the set went to a tie-breaker.

In the decider, the 32-year-old Williams saved three set points as a nervous Shvedova missed her big upset chance in front of a screaming house full of her rival's supporters.

In one dramatic moment, a fight broke out in the upper deck of spectators, forcing a pause for security to intervene after Shvedova had double-faulted on her second set point.

After she also missed on a third, the Kazak handed over a set point to Williams, who finally finished off the 63-minute set on her second opportunity.

Williams tried to steady the second after a pair of breaks and finally won going away as she aced on her first match point to book a date with Garcia, who beat Czech Klara Zakopalova 7-6 (7/3), 7-6 (7/3).

"I'm just happy for another win," said a relieved Williams, who was playing for the first time in a month while healing back pain.

Sharapova was down 1-3 in the 64-minute second set before rallying to beat Nara, who won her first WTA title in Rio de Janeiro last month.

"She made me work extremely hard," said Sharapova. "She's a really quick opponent, got a lot of balls back, and she made me hit a lot. She made me try to do too much in certain situations.

"Sometimes I felt like I was doing the right mistakes and sometimes I felt like I should have been more patient, but I guess those are the situations you want to build that match confidence again."

Four-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova, who next faces Lucie Safarova, was coming off a third-round loss at Indian Wells to qualifier Camila Giorgi.

"I still feel like a work in progress," Sharapova said. "That match strength, when you're deep into the match and just in the later stages of matches, I think that's the thing that's hurt me in these last couple of months.

"But I've got to work through that. Nothing's just going to come to me. It's a challenge I have ahead of me, and I have to face it."

Nadal, Sharapova both ousted at Indian Wells

(3/10/14) Defending champions Rafael Nadal and Maria Sharapova were upset in the third round of the BNP Paribas Open on Monday.

First, Sharapova went down to qualifier Camila Giorgi, 6-3, 4-6, 7-5, giving the young Italian her first victory over a top-five player. Then, Nadal followed on the main stadium court, losing 6-3, 3-6, 7-6 (5) to Alexandr Dolgopolov of Ukraine.

Nadal staged a furious rally in the third. He won three straight games, including a break of Dolgopolov, to tie it at 5. Both players held serve to send the match into the tiebreaker.

They slugged it out from the baseline accompanied by a noisy soundtrack, with fans yelling and cheering. Los Angeles Lakers star Pau Gasol watched nervously from Nadal’s box. Nadal led 4-2 before Dolgopolov won three straight points to take a 5-4 lead. The Ukrainian hit two forehand winners and came up with a big service winner.

"I had enough breaks to win the match, but I didn’t play enough well from the baseline then to be solid with my serve," Nadal said. "I didn’t go for the points. I played with too many mistakes."

Nadal evened it at 5-all, but he hit the ball long to set up match point. Dolgopolov served what he thought was an ace, but it was called out. He challenged the call and it showed the ball barely missed tagging the T. Dolgopolov put his second serve into play and produced a cross-court forehand that the world’s top-ranked player couldn’t return.

"It’s a moment for the people to be proud a little bit for someone from their country," Dolgopolov said, referring to the political upheaval going on between Ukraine and Russia. "It’s good to make some results and make the people forget a little bit and have some happy moments in the news."

Dolgopolov had more errors (49) than winners (36).

Last month, Nadal defeated Dolgopolov to win the Rio de Janeiro title. The Ukrainian has risen quickly in the ATP Tour rankings, going from No. 57 to 31st after a strong February, posting three wins against top-20 players in Rio and made the semifinals in Acapulco.

Before Nadal was sent packing, Sharapova committed 58 errors in her first loss to a player ranked outside the top 30 since Wimbledon last year.

"She’s someone that doesn’t give you much rhythm," Sharapova said. "She’s quite aggressive, but some shots she hits incredible for a long period of time. Sometimes they go off a bit. If I’m speaking about my level, it was nowhere near where it should have been."

Ranked 79th in the world, Giorgi made it through qualifying to play Indian Wells for the first time. She improved to 3-2 against top-10 opponents. The 22-year-old led 4-2 in the final set, but Sharapova broke Giorgi twice to tie it at 5.

"I was trying to just play my game, and maybe I accelerate more than the other set," Giorgi said. "I just play more aggressive."

Giorgi then broke Sharapova at love before serving out the match, overcoming her 11th double fault to set up match point. Giorgi had 48 unforced errors and 24 winners.

Awaiting Giorgi in the fourth round will be fellow Italian Flavia Pennetta, who beat No. 16 seed Sam Stosur 6-4, 3-6, 6-1.

American Sloane Stephens was to play Ana Ivanovic, and Tommy Haas took on Kei Nishikori of Japan in night matches.

Tied 4-all in the third, Sharapova was broken when her forehand was called long and Sharapova raised her arms. The chair umpire took the gesture to mean Sharapova was challenging the call, and the call showed the ball was out.

Sharapova argued she was only throwing her arms up as if to ask, "Who made the call?" But the umpire disagreed, and Sharapova retreated to her sideline chair trailing 5-4.

Australian Open champion Stan Wawrinka routed 29th-seeded Andreas Seppi of Italy 6-0, 6-2.

Andy Murray outlasted Jiri Vesely of the Czech Republic 6-7 (2), 6-4, 6-4 in his second straight three-set match, and four-time tourney champion Roger Federer defeated 27th-seeded Dmitry Tursunov of Russia 7-6 (7), 7-6 (2) with an ace on match point.

Murray had 47 of the 99 unforced errors during the nearly three-hour match in the 80-plus-degree heat of the Southern California desert. The third set featured six service breaks, with Murray taking the last two.

Top-seeded Li Na defeated Karolina Pliskova of the Czech Republic 6-3, 6-4.

Sharapova relives childhood memories in Sochi

(2/6/14) Maria Sharapova is back in the town of her early childhood, which also happens to be one of Russia's warmest spots - and the host of the Winter Games.

Siberia-born Sharapova spent six years in Sochi, where she had her first tennis lessons before leaving for the United States to continue her development in the game.

On Wednesday, she returned to a court in the midst of a leafy amusement park in central Sochi and helped re-open the upgraded tennis facilities.

Sharapova, who is in Sochi as a guest presenter with U.S. Olympic broadcaster NBC, said she had very fond memories of her childhood days here. She recalls telling American friends about the place in Russia where people can swim in the Black Sea and go up in the mountains and ski on the same day.

''No one really believed me,'' she said. Now anyone tuning into the broadcast of the Olympics or visiting for the Winter Games can see for themselves.

Tennis courts were a rare sight in the Soviet Union. Sharapova, who won Wimbledon as a teenager and has won four Grand Slam titles, recalls taking a bus at 5 or 6 a.m. so that she could be at the court early and get some time to herself before any tourists arrived.

''I was in a fur coat and you had all of those tourists walking by thinking that my father and I were crazy,'' she said.

A sponsor helped refurbish the old court, and there was a mural painted in Sharapova's honor on the hitting wall at the back of the court.

PAVLYUCHENKOVA STUNS SHARAPOVA TO REACH PARIS FINAL

(2/1/14) Top-seeded Maria Sharapova lost 4-6, 6-3, 6-4 to Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova in the semifinals of the Open GDF Suez in an all-Russian match on Saturday.

Pavlyuchenkova will play third-seeded Sara Errani of Italy or Alize Cornet of France for her first final since the Korea Open in September 2013.

"I knew that I had to serve well because Maria has one of the best returns on the tour, probably," Pavlyuchenkova said. "I remember playing her like three or four years ago, she broke me a lot of times and that was the key for her to win."

In their only previous meeting, Sharapova beat Pavlyuchenkova in August 2010 in Cincinnati.

Sharapova led 3-0 in the opening set but her compatriot broke back in the seventh game. Pavlyuchenkova lost the first set by sending a backhand wide as Sharapova imposed her aggressive game, having a 15-9 edge in winners and winning nine of 10 points at the net.

"I thought I started the match really well but, as the match continued, I stopped doing the things that really helped me in the beginning of the first set," Sharapova said. "I wasn't being aggressive, I wasn't in the court."

Pavlyuchenkova put the four-time Grand Slam champion under pressure in the second set, capitalizing on a double fault and a forehand error to break Sharapova in the opening game. The 26th-ranked Pavlyuchenkova evened the match with a backhand winner.

"She found her spots really well," Sharapova said. "There's not much I could do when she hit those good first serves."

They traded breaks early in the final set. Sharapova lost the match by finishing with two consecutive double faults.

Sharapova made five double faults in the last set with a first-serve 48 percentage.

SHARAPOVA, PAVLYUCHENKOVA REACH OPEN GDF SEMIS

(1/31/14) Top-seeded Maria Sharapova thrashed eighth-seeded Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium 6-2, 6-2 on Friday to set up an all-Russian semifinal against Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova at the Open Gaz de France.

Although Sharapova dropped her serve once, the four-time Grand Slam champion broke Flipkens' serve five times to win in little more than an hour.

In a more tightly-contested match, Pavlyuchenkova upset fourth-seeded Angelique Kerber of Germany 5-7, 6-3, 7-6 (3).

Both had seven aces and also dropped serve four times each.

In Friday's later quarterfinals, No. 3 Sara Errani of Italy takes on Ukraine's Elina Svitolina, and Andrea Petkovic of Germany plays France's Alize Cornet.

Sharapova thrashes Hantuchova, reaches QF

(1/30/14) Top-seeded Maria Sharapova of Russia maintained her dominance over Daniela Hantuchova, thrashing the Slovak player 6-0, 6-1 to reach the Open GDF Suez quarterfinals on Wednesday.

The four-time Grand Slam champion has beaten Hantuchova nine straight times, with the Slovak’s only win coming when they first played 10 years ago.

Sharapova served well, hitting 10 aces, saving all seven break points she faced, and breaking Hantuchova’s serve six times. She awaits eighth-seeded Kirsten Flipkens of Belgium or Yvonne Meusburger of Austria in the next round.

The remaining first round matches Wednesday saw Flipkens beat Mona Barthel 6-3, 4-6, 6-2; Elina Svitolina of Ukraine upset sixth-seeded Roberta Vinci 6-3, 0-6, 7-5; while Galina Voskoboeva rallied to beat Stefanie Voegele 5-7, 7-5, 7-6 (3) in nearly three hours.

Frustrating Australian Open all over for Sharapova

(1/20/14) Picking up her racquet bag and marching straight out of Rod Laver Arena without a nod or a wave, Maria Sharapova's abrupt exit after her fourth-round loss to Dominika Cibulkova on Monday spoke volumes of her disdain for a forgettable Australian Open.

After a long layoff and with doubts surrounding the state of her troublesome right shoulder, the 26-year-old entered the tournament with only four matches of preparation and with rust caked on so thick she could not shake it off.

She had enough fight to survive three tests against unheralded opponents at Melbourne Park, but against 24th seed Cibulkova, a tenacious counter-puncher who has worried the Russian in the past, the wheels fell off.

The shoulder was put to one side as a hip strain came to the fore, and the 2008 champion took a medical time-out between the second and third sets of the 3-6 6-4 6-1 loss.

Blaming injuries has never been Sharapova's way, and the Russian has grit her teeth and toughed it out before on her way to winning four grand slam titles.

"I don't think it's rocket science. Just when you play a lot of tennis, you're going to get these types of aches and pains and certain movements that you feel it on," she told reporters glumly.

"I certainly would have loved to play a little bit more before playing a grand slam, but this is the chance that I was given.

"I'm smart enough to be able to take it and acknowledge that I'm still pretty lucky to be in the draw and giving myself a chance to try to win it."

While she played down the hip injury, Sharapova's serve may not be as easily fixed before her next tournament, likely to be the Paris indoors starting next Monday.

Once a formidable weapon, but her Achilles heel since undergoing major shoulder surgery, the serve was broken seven times by Cibulkova and was unpredictable throughout her Melbourne Park campaign.

Sharapova grimaced and threw tormented looks at the player's box in a third set that featured seven double-faults and 19 unforced errors.

Even though she was playing well below her best, Sharapova's early exit may be counted as an opportunity lost after her long-time nemesis Serena Williams was dumped out of the tournament by Ana Ivanovic on Sunday.

Sharapova said she was unlikely to mope around for long.

"I came back from an injury and I feel happy to give myself that opportunity to try to get back and play well, and I want to take it," she said.

"I don't want to just, because I know if I'm going to be sitting around everyone else will take it. It's either try and take it yourself, or just saying, you know, I can do other things in my life.

"I have always been a go-getter in my career, not just in tennis, and I still believe in that. I feel I have that type of motivation and drive, I'll always be there."

Sharapova out in another early upset in Australia

(1/20/14) Third-seeded Maria Sharapova has been eliminated in the fourth round of the Australian Open, losing 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 to Dominika Cibulkova in the second major upset in 24 hours on Rod Laver Arena.

Sharapova struggled with her serve Monday, hitting seven double-faults in the third set, and needed an off-court medical time out after the second set for what appeared to be a lower back problem.

The four-time major winner was two tournaments into a comeback from a prolonged layoff with a right shoulder injury.

Top-ranked Serena Williams was knocked out in the fourth round on Sunday in a three-set loss to 14th-seeded Ana Ivanovic.

Sochi-bound Sharapova rebuffs gay question

(1/18/14) Four-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova said Saturday she can't wait to get to Sochi for the Winter Olympics, but refused to be drawn on Russia's controversial gay propaganda laws.

The Russian starlet will return to her roots at the Games in February, working for US broadcaster NBC, although she will not be commentating.

Instead, she will bring a unique insight to Russia's first Winter Games, having lived in Sochi when she was a child and with family and friends still living in the area.

"Everyone seems to think I will be commentating on winter sports. I'm not a bobsledding expert," she said with a smile at the Australian Open. "I will confirm I won't be commentating.

"I'm going to be showcasing the city of Sochi to a worldwide audience, and we will be doing a few segments."

Sharapova was the flag-bearer for Russia at the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Summer Olympics, where she won the women's singles silver medal.

But the 26-year-old did not want to comment on Russia's law banning the dissemination of so-called "gay propaganda" to minors which has seen gay rights activists around the world calling for a boycott.

"I have discussed the issue a couple of times, and quite recently when I did an interview for The New York Times. I said everything I wanted to say there about it," she said.

In that interview, Sharapova said she had gay and lesbian friends and believed individuals should have the opportunity to share their lives with whom they see fit.

"I think what needs to be addressed will ultimately be addressed," she said of the law.

"I think time will address this issue. It will. I’m proud of being Russian, because I believe in the true core of its history and the culture, and that’s where I grew up, and I feel very proud to be from there.

"But never have I said that every individual there is perfect or every law is right."

SHARAPOVA REPORTING FROM SOCHI

(1/18/14) Maria Sharapova will trade her tennis racket for a microphone in a few weeks to join NBC for the Winter Olympics in her childhood home.

''Everyone seems to think I will be commentating on winter sports. I'm not a bobsledding expert,'' Sharapova told reporters. ''I will confirm I won't be commentating.''

The four-time Grand Slam champion lived in Sochi until she was 6 and still has family and friends in the area. She was Russia's flag-bearer at the opening ceremony of the 2012 London Olympics, where she won a silver medal.

''I'm going to be showcasing the city of Sochi to a worldwide audience,'' she said. ''I'm going to be with a few different co-hosts around the city, in the village and then I'm going to be doing a few segments in the studio.''

The opening ceremony in Sochi is Feb. 7.

But first she'll focus on her tennis. Sharpova beat Alize Cornet 6-1, 7-6 (6) in the third round Saturday and next faces No. 20 Dominika Cibulkova.

Sharapova into 4th round at Australian Open

(1/17/14) Maria Sharapova recovered from the longest, hottest match of her career to beat Alize Cornet 6-1, 7-6 (6) Saturday and reach the fourth round of the Australian Open.

Her third-round match was played in high humidity but in temperatures of about 22 Celsius (72 Fahrenheit), considerably cooler than the scorching 42 C (108 F) conditions she endured for 3 hours, 28 minutes in her second-round win over Karin Knapp two days previously. That preceded the first match suspensions under the tournament's Extreme Heat Policy in five years.

Again, though, Sharapova struggled to close out. She took 50 minutes between her first and last match points against Knapp, and needed almost 30 minutes to finish off Cornet - she missed a match point with a wayward backhand on the Frenchwoman's serve and then got broken twice while trying to serve for the match.

Sharapova had six doubles-faults and 29 of her total 35 unforced errors in the second set after breezing through the first.

''After the last match I'm just happy to get through this,'' Sharapova said. ''Definitely need to step it up. I was lucky to get through the other day, now that I'm in the second week, I'm level.''

The four-time major winner needed an ice bath after her second-round win but joked about needing a warm bath following her victory over Cornet.

''It's such a quick change,'' Sharapova said of the cooler conditions. ''I think it's really welcome from all of us.''

The third-seeded Sharapova was still wearing ice vests and draping ice-filled towels over her shoulders in the changeovers on Saturday.

No. 25 Cornet appeared to be laboring between points in the second set, spending time retreating to the shade and breathing deeply at certain stages. She had been clearly distressed after her second-round win in the heat, also, sobbing when she described the conditions as like ''an oven.''

Sharapova will next play Dominika Cibulkova, who beat No. 16 Carla Suarez Navarro 6-1, 6-0 in 59 minutes. Suarez Navarro was clearly still fatigued from her three-hour, second-round match in the extreme heat. She hit only two winners against Cibulkova.

''I finished the last match with pain. I tried to recover yesterday but it was not possible to play good today,'' she said after Saturday's defeat. ''When you play with these players at this level, you need to be 90 percent perfect or 100 percent perfect. If you are less than this, you cannot play, you cannot be on court.''

Former No. 1-ranked Jelena Jankovic had a 6-4,7-5 win over Kurumi Nara, her third consecutive victory over a Japanese player, to set up a fourth-round match against No. 11 Simona Halep, who advanced with a 6-1, 6-4 over qualifier Zarina Diyas.

On the men's side, Roger Federer was playing Teymuraz Gabashvili and top-ranked Rafael Nadal was against Gael Monfils in later matches on Rod Laver Arena.

Frazzled Sharapova fumes over murky heat policy

(1/16/14) Maria Sharapova criticized Australian Open organizers for a lack of transparency over their 'extreme heat policy' when the Russian was left toiling on court for nearly an hour after organizers had invoked an official halt on Thursday.

Sharapova and her opponent Karin Knapp of Italy slugged it out in 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit) heat at Rod Laver Arena for three-and-a-half hours before the Russian prevailed 6-3 4-6 10-8 in their marathon second round encounter.

The pair were already struggling in the oppressive conditions but continued their arduous battle some 50 minutes after matches on outside courts were suspended at about 1:50 p.m. local time (0250 GMT).

Players have slammed organizers for failing to call off matches earlier, with some describing the conditions as dangerous, and one Croatian player in the men's draw expressing fear for his life on Wednesday.

Rather than use the raw Celsius readings to assess the heat, organizers prefer to use the Wet Bulb Global Temperature composite, which also gauges humidity and wind to identify the perceived conditions.

Under a change to the rules for this year, the decision on whether to stop matches is now at the discretion of tournament referee Wayne McKewen.

"There is no way getting around the fact that the conditions were extremely difficult, and have been for the last few days," the third seed Sharapova told reporters.

"It's a tough call. I mean, I think the question I have is no one really knows what the limit is.

"Not the players (nor) the trainers themselves when you ask them when will the roof be closed.

ROOF OPEN

"No one actually knows what that number is in comparison to humidity or the actual heat.

"Sometimes you wish you knew, because it's - it just depends on I'm not sure who, a referee or the meteorologist, and there are just a lot of questions in the air that maybe should be solved.

"I asked the trainer the other day, 'what does it take for the roof to be closed or matches to be stopped?' She said, 'we have no control over this'."

Despite the suspension, players could only walk off court at the conclusion of the set they were playing, according to the policy.

With no tiebreaks in deciding third sets for the women entrants at the Australian Open, nor for fifth sets for the men, Sharapova and Knapp's battle continued well after the suspension was called, with Rod Laver Arena's retractable roof left open.

"I think the question is from the second to the third set," Sharapova said of the unused roof.

"That's because everyone knows there is no tiebreaker in the third set, so once you start that set, you're going to be out there until you're done. That's the question I have.

"I would love to know a bit more detail before - not even before I get on the court, but just in general it's good to know. I didn't even know there was no play when I left the court. I mean, I had no idea."

Sharapova, who will meet 25th-seeded Frenchwoman Alize Cornet in the third round, joked that she was getting "numb" to the heat in her courtside interview but will surely look forward to far cooler temperatures forecast for the weekend.

"I'm really happy to get through," she said. "I really am. I worked really hard in the last few months and I wanted this match. I didn't play my best tennis, I didn't do many things well."

"I got through it and sometimes that's what's important."

Sharapova survives heat, Knapp to advance

(1/16/14) Maria Sharapova survived the searing heat and intense challenge from Karin Knapp to advance to the third round of the Australian Open with a grueling 6-3, 4-6, 10-8 win in 3 hours, 28 minutes on Thursday.

The temperature was forecast to spike at 44 Celsius (111) on the third straight day of a heat wave. It was already 39C (102F) when No. 3-seeded Sharapova’s match started and increased to 42.5C (108.5), forcing organizers to enact the Extreme Heat Policy and suspend matches on outside courts.

Sharapova, playing her second tournament back from extended time off for a right shoulder injury, wore ice vests in every changeover after the third game, draped ice bags over shoulders and poured water over her head.

Sharapova overpowers Mattek-Sands in clash of styles

(1/14/14) Maria Sharapova celebrated her return to the grand slam spotlight with an emphatic 6-3 6-4 win over Bethanie Mattek-Sands in what was a clash of styles in more way than one at the Australian Open on Tuesday.

The third seed, wearing a sleek pale blue dress, was made to work hard for her passage into the second round and lost her service twice as her American opponent mixed things up with her all-court game.

Mattek-Sands, famous for her distinctive outfits, retained her trademark knee socks despite the heat and sported a riot of stripes and color topped off with a purple pony-tail, a look Sharapova described as "very creative".

When it came to the tennis, though, it initially looked like the 2008 Australian Open champion would have things all her own way.

Sidelined from the U.S. Open and the latter part of last season with an injury to her right shoulder, Sharapova released some pent-up frustration by roaring into a 4-0 lead to leave 41st-ranked Mattek-Sands reeling under the lights of Rod Laver Arena.

"I knew that it was going to be a tough match," said the Russian, who next plays 44th-ranked Italian Karin Knapp. "No matter what I had to do, I wanted to get through it, and I think that's what it was about today."

After clinching an early break in the second set, Sharapova wobbled to allow her opponent back into the game but the American double-faulted at 4-4 to concede the decisive break, allowing the Russian to serve out and seal the match with a booming serve.

Although pleased to have avoided the worst of the heat on a day when temperatures peaked at 42.2 degrees Celsius, for Sharapova it was enough just to be playing in one of her sport's big four tournaments again.

"I was happy just to play, despite the heat or anything. I've been out of the game for a while, so I was happy to be back in a grand slam atmosphere," she said.

Sharapova rebuffs waiter's 'selfie' request

(1/11/14) An Australian waiter's bold request for a "selfie" from Maria Sharapova was met with an icy response from the Russian world number three.

Sharapova admitted she was taken aback when her bill at a Melbourne cafe arrived together with the waiter's smartphone and a request for a photo, along with an autograph.

Sharapova, who was relaxing ahead of next week's Australian Open, duly took a picture -- not of herself, but of a man sitting nearby.

"I actually took a picture of the guy next to me. True story," she told journalists on Saturday.

The brush-off suggests Sharapova is in no mood for frivolity as she embarks on the season's first Grand Slam, following a four-month lay-off with a shoulder injury.

Sharapova, who has long struggled with her right shoulder and had surgery in 2008, said she was delighted to be in Australia after missing last year's US Open.

"I'm happy to be back playing a Grand Slam. I missed the last one at the end of last year," she said. "I'm happy to get myself back in form and really start well here."

Sharapova, a four-time Grand Slam winner who reached last year's semi-finals, added: "You obviously have to lower your expectations a little bit and be a bit realistic about maybe the first few matches.

"You have to grind, work through them, hope to get better as the tournament goes on."

Impatient Sharapova realistic on grand slam return

(1/11/14) Maria Sharapova happily admits that patience is not her strongest trait but the Russian will temper her expectations as she begins her Australian Open title campaign.

The 26-year-old missed the last few months of the 2013 season, including the U.S. Open, with an injury to her right shoulder, the same shoulder that required surgery in 2008.

She made an impressive return to the WTA Tour last week by reaching the semi-finals in Brisbane before losing to world number one Serena Williams.

After another lengthy absence, Sharapova knows better than to expect to hit top form immediately.

"You obviously have to lower your expectations a little bit and be a bit realistic about maybe the first few matches," she said at Melbourne Park on Saturday.

"You have to grind, work through them, hope to get better as the tournament goes on."

The Australian Open champion in 2008, Sharapova begins her campaign this year against American Bethanie Mattek-Sands, an opponent who has given her trouble in the past.

Sharapova said she had spent so much time consulting doctors about her troublesome shoulder in recent years that she was contemplating a new career once she is done with tennis.

"I know about everything," she said, laughing. "I know a lot more than I ever thought that I would about a shoulder.

"But that's part of the game. Everyone has injuries. Everyone's body is different. They use their joints and muscles in very different ways because of the way they play. Everyone gets used up in different ways, I guess."

Dealing with the shoulder means Sharapova takes anti-inflammatories on occasion, but the four-times grand slam champion said the injury was far less serious than the initial problem in 2008.

"It was not as hard (to cope with) as the one I had a few years back," she said. "That was pretty tough, considering I had surgery.

"This is far from being that serious. This was a matter of time, which in tennis it's not great when you come to a doctor's office and they say, 'time, time, just wait, wait'.

"We don't have much patience because we always have a schedule set, tournaments to play.

"That's tough to accept because you don't quite know when the inflammation is going to go down, when you're going to be able to play overhead shots, things like that."

"I started getting back on the court, getting myself in tennis shape, playing matches, testing out the shoulder in that kind of environment.

"I'm happy to be back playing a grand slam. I missed the last one at the end of last year so I'm happy to get myself back in form and really start well here."

Sharapova will play Mattek-Sands

(1/10/14) World number one Serena Williams will play Australian wildcard Ashleigh Barty in the first round of the Australian Open as she bids for her 18th grand slam title and sixth at Melbourne Park.

The American's draw lines her up for a potentially tough fourth-round clash with Sam Stosur, who beat Williams in the 2011 U.S. Open final.

Two-times defending champion Victoria Azarenka, seeded second, will take on Swede Johanna Larsson according to the draw released on Friday.

Third seed Maria Sharapova will play American Bethanie Mattek-Sands, while fourth seed Li Na, runner-up at Melbourne Park last year, will play a qualifier.

Australian Open women's first round draw

(1/10/14) First round draw for the women's singles at the Australian Open that begins in Melbourne on Monday (prefix denotes seeding):

1-Serena Williams (U.S) v Ashleigh Barty (Australia)

Vesna Dolonc (Serbia) v Lara Arruabarrena (Spain)

Pauline Parmentier (France) v Karolina Pliskova (Czech Republic)

Qualifier v 31-Daniela Hantuchova (Slovakia)

17-Samantha Stosur (Australia) v Klara Zakapalova (Czech Republic)

Tsvetana Pironkova (Bulgaria) v Silvia Soler-Espinosa (Spain)

Annika Beck (Germany) v Petra Martic (Croatia)

Kiki Bertens (Netherlands) v 14-Ana Ivanovic (Serbia)

12-Roberta Vinci (Italy) v Zheng Jie (China)

Patricia Mayr-Achleitner (Austria) v Madison Keys (U.S.)

Casey Dellacqua (Australia) v Vera Zvonareva (Russia)

Laura Robson (Britain) v 18-Kirsten Flipkens (Belgium)

30-Eugenie Bouchard (Canada) v Tang Hao Chen (China)

Alison Van Uytvanck (Belgium) v Virgine Razzano (France)

Sachia Vickery (U.S.) v Lauren Davis (U.S.)

Julia Goerges (Germany) v 7-Sara Errani (Italy)

4-Li Na (China) v qualifier

Qualifier v Kimiko Date-Krumm (Japan)

Donna Vekic (Croatia) v qualifier

Julia Glushko (Israel) v 26-Lucie Safarova (Czech Republic)

22-Ekaterina Makarova (Russia) v Venus Williams (U.S.)

Anabel Medina-Garrigues (Spain) v qualifier

Shahar Peer (Israel) v Monica Niculescu (Romania)

Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (Croatia) v 15-Sabine Lisicki (Germany)

9-Angelique Kerber (Germany) v Jarmila Gajdosova (Australia)

Caroline Garcia (France) v qualifier

Dinah Pfizenmaier (Germany) v Yanina Wickmayer (Belgium)

Alison Riske (U.S.) v 23-Elena Vesnina (Russia)

28-Flavia Pennetta (Italy) v Alexandra Cadantu (Romania)

Monica Puig (Puerto Rica) v qualifier

Zhang Shuai (China) v Mona Barthel (Germany)

Luksika Kumkhum (Thailand) v 6-Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic)

8-Jelena Jankovic (Serbia) v Misaki Doi (Japan)

Nadiya Kichenok (Ukraine) v Ayumi Morita (Japan)

Kurumi Nara (Japan) v Peng Shuai (China)

Andrea Petkovic (Germany) v 32-Magdalena Rybarikova (Slovakia)

21-Sorana Cirstea (Romania) v Marina Erakovic (New Zealand)

Qualifier v Bojana Jovanovski (Serbia)

Lesia Tsurenko (Ukraine) v Varvara Lepchenko (U.S.)

Qualifier v 11-Simona Halep (Romania)

16-Carla Suarez Navarro (Spain) v Vania King (U.S.)

Galina Voskoboeva (Kazakhstan) v qualifier

Kristina Mladenovic (France) v Stefanie Voegele (Switzerland)

Francesca Schiavone (Italy) v 20-Dominika Cibulkova (Slovakia

25-Alize Cornet (France) v Polona Hercog (Slovenia)

Camila Giorgi (Italy) v Storm Sanders (Australia)

Paula Ormaechea (Argentina) v Karin Knapp (Italy)

Bethanie Mattek-Sands (U.S.) v 3-Maria Sharapova (Russia)

5-Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland) v Yulia Putintseva (Kazhakstan)

Olgo Gorovtsova (Belarus) v qualifier

Qualifier v Mandy Minella (Luxembourg)

Teliana Pereira (Brail) v 29-Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Russia)

24-Kaia Kanepi (Estonia) v Garbine Muguruza (Spain)

Timea Babos (Hungary) v Anna Schmiedlova (Slovakia)

Christina McHale (U.S.) v Chan Yung-Jan (Taiwan)

Lourdes Domingues Lino (Spain) v 10-Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark)

13-Sloane Stephens (U.S.) v Yaroslave Shedova (Kazakhstan)

Tadeja Majeric (Slovenia) v Ajla Tomljanovic (Croatia)

Olivia Rogowska (Australia) v Mariana Duque-Marino (Colombia)

Elina Svitolina (Ukraine) v 19-Svetlana Kuznetsova (Russia)

27-Jamie Hampton (U.S.) v Jana Cepelova (Slovakia)

Chanelle Scheepers (South Africa) v Yvonne Meusburger (Austria)

Hseih Su-Wei (Taiwan) v Barbora Zahlavova Strycova (Czech Republic)

2-Victoria Azarenka (Belarus) v Johanna Larsson (Sweden)

Sharapova finds reasons to smile despite defeat

(1/3/14) Maria Sharapova's pain at losing a 14th straight match to nemesis Serena Williams will be eased by the thought that she can compete at the highest level again after being sidelined for four months with a shoulder injury.

Before this week at the Brisbane International, Sharapova had not played since August when a shoulder problem forced her out of the U.S. Open.

Although the 6-2 7-6 (9-7) defeat to her rival will sting, she admitted showing she can mix it with the best player in the world is more than she could have hoped for coming into the tournament.

"I really have to take the positives out of this because I have been struggling for a few months," she said.

"To be able to come out on the court and put myself in good positions out there against someone that's been playing amazing tennis is a good sign for me.

"(I am) happy that I can compete at this level in my third match back.

"It was tough not seeing my name in the draws and tough seeing everybody playing tournaments and you're just kind of going about trying to find a way to heal an injury and a bit unsure when that will happen.

"(There were) a lot of question marks."

Despite being pleased with her overall performance, Sharapova knows Williams is unlikely to land her first serve just 40 percent of the time if they meet in Melbourne Park later this month.

While Sharapova was more consistent with her first serve, she concedes it was not threatening enough, leading to Williams breaking her on six occasions.

"That first ball is extremely important and something I hope to work for in the future," she said.

"If I want to have a chance to beat Serena I have to get myself in the match and I have to raise my level."

Williams, Sharapova to meet in Brisbane semifinals

(1/1/14) Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova will renew their long and not-so-friendly rivalry after setting up a semifinal matchup at the Brisbane International, a key tuneup event for the Australian Open.

Top-ranked Williams, the defending champion, didn't lose a point on her serve in the first set en route to a 6-3, 6-3 win over ninth-seeded Diminika Cibulkova of Slovakia in just over an hour.

Third-seeded Sharapova, meanwhile, needed two hours to beat 2012 Brisbane champion Kaia Kanepi 4-6, 6-3, 6-2, dropping three service games in the first set and another to open the second before finding her range and staging her comeback.

Williams has won her last 13 matches against Sharapova, most recently in last year's French Open final. Sharapova hasn't beaten Williams since 2004.

Sharapova survives to reach Brisbane semifinals

(1/1/14) Maria Sharapova recovered her serve and her nerve to beat Kaia Kanepi 4-6, 6-3, 6-2 on Thursday and advance to the Brisbane International semifinals.

The third-seeded Sharapova, playing just her second competitive match since August, was broken three times and made a rash of errors in the first set against the No. 30-ranked Kanepi of Estonia, who won the Brisbane tournament in 2012.

Sharapova dropped serve again to open the second set but wasn't broken again for the remainder of the 2-hour match. She fired her ninth ace on her second match point after wasting her first chance to close it out with a long floating backhand - her 33rd unforced error.

She'll next play the winner of the quarterfinal between top-ranked Serena Williams and ninth-seeded Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia.

Sharapova returns with convincing win in Brisbane

(12/30/13) Every point mattered for Maria Sharapova in her competitive comeback from injury, even in a first-round match in the season-opening tournament.

Sharapova beat 74th-ranked Caroline Garcia of France 6-3, 6-0 Monday, ripping forehand winners and nullifying her rival's biggest weapon with consistently aggressive service returns. She chased down balls to turn the tempo when she was behind in two games in the second set, and celebrated break points with triple fist pumps even when the result was well beyond doubt.

The four-time major winner played only one match following an early exit at Wimbledon last season due to a right shoulder injury. She showed no signs of soreness in advancing to the second round at the Brisbane International, her only warm-up event for the Australian Open.

''It's been four months ... (so) it was a big step for me. It was a big step to come and a big step to play out there tonight,'' Sharapova said, adding that she was pain-free and feeling good. ''These matches are what I came here for. No matter the opponent or the situation, you know, they're really priceless for me at this point, and extremely important.''

The third-seeded Sharapova hit 26 winners and kept the unforced errors to 10, hitting six aces and only one double-fault - immediately after a backhand winner down the line had given her triple match point.

She will next play 17-year-old Australian qualifier Ashleigh Barty, who had 6-3, 7-5 win over 2012 Brisbane finalist Daniela Hantuchova.

Also advancing were fourth-seeded Jelena Jankovic, who beat 2010 French Open champion Francesca Schiavone 6-2, 7-6 (6), No. 5 Angelique Kerber, No. 8 Carla Suarez and No. 9 Dominika Cibulkova.

Sharapova's boyfriend, fifth-seeded Grigor Dimitrov, beat Robin Haase of the Netherlands 6-2, 6-3 in the day's last match on center court.

Sharapova makes no promises over Brisbane return

(12/29/13) Having pulled out of the Brisbane International tournament through injury for the last two years, Maria Sharapova might consider it a victory in itself if she actually gets out on court at the Pat Rafter arena on Monday.

The tournament is perhaps more important to the Russian world number four as a warm-up for the Australian Open this year as she is on the comeback trail after four months on the sidelines with a shoulder injury.

At least she made it to Brisbane this year, something which an ankle injury prevented her from doing in 2012, but she was giving no guarantees that she would be quickly back to the form that has won her four grand slam titles.

"I want to bring the work I've done in the off-season, try to bring that onto the court as soon as I can. Will that happen this week? I don't know," she told reporters on Sunday.

"I know that if I have the effort I had in the off-season I'll be at a level I want to be."

Sharapova plays France's Caroline Garcia in the first round on Monday evening, her first match since the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati in August and her first under new coach Sven Groeneveld.

The 26-year-old recruited Groeneveld in November, ending a period without a coach after she dispensed with Thomas Hogstedt, who had been working with her for two-and-a-half years, and Jimmy Connors, who lasted a month, in quick succession.

"From the first time we met I really liked what he had to say," she said.

"I like when someone comes in and is honest and truthful and says it like it is. He's that. He puts it all out on the table. He's a team player. He works with everyone on my team, something I was missing for a little bit of time."

Sharapova is also accompanied in Brisbane by boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov, who was runner up to Andy Murray at last year's tournament.

After humourously dismissing the idea that she might be a mentor to the 22-year-old Bulgarian, Sharapova did open up a little on their relationship.

"Of course we share a lot of the same things just because we have an elephant in the room that's called tennis," she said.

"But there are so many other things to life that are besides tennis, and there are a lot more things to discuss than forehands and backhands and strings and racquets, which we share similar ideas and things of. That's been really nice."

Sharapova gets down to business before Brisbane

(12/29/13) After pulling out of the Brisbane International with injuries in recent seasons, Maria Sharapova is aiming to use the season-opening tournament this time as a springboard for her comeback and to see how her new support crew works in competition.

Sharapova has only played one match since an early exit at Wimbledon due to a right shoulder injury and has spent months working with her new coach Sven Groeneveld. She arrived in Australia to prepare for the first major of the season with her boyfriend and fellow professional Grigor Dimitrov, who returns after losing the final here to Andy Murray last season.

Serena Williams won the last Brisbane title and is back to defend it, hoping she hasn’t lost any of the momentum from a stunning 2013 season when she won 11 titles including the French and U.S. Opens, had 78 wins from 82 matches — including a 34-match winning streak — and collected more than $12 million in prize money.

Her brief off-season was not exactly business as usual — although it was commercial.

She trained in Florida with her father, Richard, so she could be close to home for the relaunch of one of her companies and to hire a CEO for it.

"I was interviewing so many people. Corporate Serena was taking over," she told a news conference Sunday. "I’m happy to be here right now."

Corporate Serena conducted at least 10 interviews, and still has at least one more to do. She expects it to be a tough interview, like they all are.

"I definitely am not easy … I’m a tough interviewer. For me, it’s all about business and removing a lot of emotion," she said. "I just want to get to the point."

And that brings her back to tennis, where she can turn the corporate email account off for a while and concentrate on what she does best.

"I took a couple weeks off, but I was already itching to get back on the court," she said. "I didn’t want to lose any rhythm or anything. Didn’t want to lose momentum."

No. 3-seeded Sharapova is in Williams’ half of the draw, meaning they could meet in the semifinals.

The Brisbane tournament will be Sharapova’s only warmup for the Australian Open, which starts Jan. 13, so she needs to find her rhythm quickly. She said she’d been practicing hard, but also concentrating on relaxing when she’s off the court. Traveling with Dimitrov has helped, she said, despite or because of their major common interest.

"Of course we share a lot of the same things just because we have an elephant in the room that’s called tennis," Sharapova said Sunday. "But there are so many other things to life that are besides tennis, and there are a lot more things to discuss than forehands and backhands and strings and rackets, which we share similar ideas and things of."

Sharapova split with coach Thomas Hogstedt after her Wimbledon loss, and said she wasn’t in the right frame of mind to work with Jimmy Connors long term — that partnership lasted one match.

"You have to realize that the decisions you make, you have to make them selfishly in this business to be better, to know what’s right for you," she said. "From the first time we met I really liked what (Groeneveld) had to say. He’s a team player. He works with everyone on my team, something I was missing for a little bit of time."

In first-round results at Brisbane: Wimbledon finalist Sabine Lisicki had a 6-3, 6-4 win over Magdalena Rybarikova of Slovakia; Andrea Petkovic of Germany beat American Bethanie Mattek-Sands 6-4, 7-5; Japanese veteran Kimiko Date-Krumm won 6-3, 7-5 over Australia’s Olivia Rogowska; and Swiss player Stefanie Vogele beat American Madison Keys 6-4, 6-3.

Former No. 1-ranked Caroline Wozniacki withdrew after hurting her right shoulder in practice but said she expected to be fit the Sydney International next week.

While Serena Williams gets a first-round bye in Brisbane, her older sister Venus Williams will be in action from the first round at the WTA event in Auckland on Monday when she plays 134-ranked Andrea Hlavackova of the Czech Republic.

In Hopman Cup Group B action at Perth, Petra Kvitova and Radek Stepanek combined to give the Czech Republic a 3-0 win over Spain.

Kvitova only lost one game en route to a comprehensive singles win over Anabel Medina Garrigues before Stepanek beat Daniel Munoz-De La Nava 6-2, 6-2. The Czech pair won the mixed doubles 6-3, 6-4.

In evening play in Group A, Grzegorz Panfil upset No. 11-ranked Milos Raonic 7-6, 6-3 to give Poland an unlikely 2-0 victory over Canada. Agnieszka Radwanska gave the Poles a hard-fought 1-0 lead with a 6-3, 6-7, 6-2 win over Eugenie Bouchard.

Sharapova on Ellen

(11/30/13) THE ELLEN DEGENERES SHOW, syndicated - Tu 12/10: Maria Sharapova

Sharapova hires Groeneveld after firing Connors

(11/22/13) Maria Sharapova has hired Sven Groeneveld as her coach, three months after splitting from Jimmy Connors following one match.

The four-time major champion says on her Facebook account on Thursday: “It has been a very seamless transition and I have had a lot of fun with the hard work we have put in so far.”

Sharapova was injured for most of the second half of 2013, playing only one match since a second-round loss at Wimbledon in June. That match, in August at Cincinnati, was a loss — and her only competition while working with Connors.

Connors replaced Thomas Hogstedt, Sharapova’s coach for more than two years.

Groeneveld has been a part of the Adidas tennis development program and worked with players such as Ana Ivanovic and Andy Murray.

Maria Sharapova "Thrilled" to Cover Winter Olympics in Russian Hometown of Sochi as Correspondent for NBC

(11/14/13) You'll be seeing a very lovely familiar face while watching coverage of the Winter Games in Sochi, Russia, in February.

Pro tennis player Maria Sharapova has joined NBC as a correspondent and will be offering her insight and commentary on Russia's first Winter Olympics. The athlete, who was the flag bearer for her native Russia at the 2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremony, is especially excited since the games are being held in her hometown.

"I'm thrilled to be joining the NBC family for this year's Olympic Games in my hometown of Sochi," Sharapova said in an exclusive statement to E! News.

"The Olympic experience is unlike anything else, and as a past Olympian it means even more to me for the Games to be hosted in such a remarkable place. Sochi has such a rich history and culture, and I'm excited that it will now hold a place in so many athletes' hearts from all over the world."

And judging by the tall beauty's accolades in her sport, she's perfect for the job.

Currently the fourth-ranked women's tennis player in the world, Sharapova is one of 10 women to achieve a "Career Grand Slam," winning singles titles at Wimbledon, U.S. Open, Australian Open and French Open. She has also held the No. 1 World ranking five times and, in June 2011, Sharapova was recognized as one of the "30 Legends of Women's Tennis: Past, Present and Future" by Time magazine.

"Maria transcends sports as one of the world's most recognizable stars," said Jim Bell, executive producer of NBC Olympics. "Growing up in Sochi until she was six years old and with family and friends still living in the area, Maria will offer a unique and personal perspective on a place she knows so well."

The Winter Games begin Feb. 6, 2014.

INTERNATIONAL TENNIS STAR MARIA SHARAPOVA TO JOIN NBC OLYMPICS IN SOCHI

(11/14/13) Tennis champion Maria Sharapova, winner of four Grand Slam singles crowns and a silver medal for Russia in women’s singles at the 2012 London Olympics, will join NBC Olympics for its Winter Games coverage in Sochi, Russia, it was announced today.

Sharapova, the flag bearer for her native Russia at the 2012 London Olympics Opening Ceremony, will serve as a correspondent offering insight and commentary on Russia’s first Winter Olympics.

“Maria transcends sports as one of the world’s most recognizable stars,” said Jim Bell, Executive Producer of NBC Olympics. “Growing up in Sochi until she was six years old and with family and friends still living in the area, Maria will offer a unique and personal perspective on a place she knows so well.”

Currently the fourth-ranked women’s tennis player in the world, Sharapova is one of 10 women to achieve a “Career Grand Slam” winning singles titles at Wimbledon (2004), U.S. Open (2006), Australian Open (2008) and French Open (2012). She has won 29 Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) singles titles, appeared in eight Grand Slam finals, and held the No. 1 World ranking five times. In June 2011, Sharapova was recognized as one of the “30 Legends of Women’s Tennis: Past, Present and Future” by Time magazine.

From 2005-2011, Maria was annually named one of the 100 most powerful celebrities in Forbes’ “Celebrity 100.”

THE OLYMPICS BEGIN FEB. 6, 2014.

Sharapova pulls out of WTA Championships

(10/7/13) Maria Sharapova has withdrawn from the season-ending WTA Championships with a shoulder injury.

The WTA says the third-ranked Russian will miss the Oct. 22-27 tournament in Istanbul because of the right shoulder injury that has kept her sidelined for most of the second half of the year.

Sharapova says “I want to thank Istanbul for being a tremendous host and hope to play in Turkey sometime in the future.”

The WTA says Petra Kvitova of the Czech Republic, Sara Errani of Italy and Serbia’s Jelena Jankovic have qualified for the championships.

They join a field that already includes Serena Williams, Victoria Azarenka, Agnieszka Radwanska and Li Na.

The tournament features the top eight singles players and top four doubles teams.

Larry King Now: Maria Sharapova

(9/11/13) She’s a Wimbledon Champ turned candy connoisseur! It’s Maria Sharapova! The tennis superstar dishes about life on the pro tennis circuit and her humble beginnings. Plus, Larry gets a taste of her Sugarpova candy.

Watch here (USA Only).

Maria Sharapova to Chelsea Handler: My Dad Has a Crush on You!

(9/11/13) Maria Sharapova sure was in a sweet mood when she stopped by E!'s Chelsea Lately for a Sept. 10 appearance to promote her new candy line Sugarpova. But the fun didn't end there. Chelsea Handler managed to squeeze in some jokes about her relationship with the professional tennis player's father!

Sharapova was right on target from the get-go, joking that the gift of candies for Handler was "just for your bottom."

Settling into the interview, Sharapova admitted that her mother was scared for her daughter the first time she came on the show.

"Well you can handle me, she shouldn't be scared of anything," Handler quipped.

"With you, you never know!" Sharapova reacted.

But the jokes about Sharapova's family did not stop there.

The duo began chatting about a recent birthday party for Sharapova in Los Angeles and Sharapova's father's feelings for the talk-show host.

"He kinda likes you" Sharapova laughed.

"He's been texting me," Handler teased. "Old men like me, they want to do bad things to my body" she added.

Too much!

Handler decided to do a taste test of the candies and admitted that one candy tasted like clay and that she preferred the flirty sour gummies.

"Oh, I wonder why you like that one," Sharapova said right on target.

CHELSEA LATELY, E!

(8/30/13) CHELSEA LATELY, E! - Tuesday, September 10: Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova's 3 Rules for Staying Fit

(8/28/13) Maria Sharapova is at the top of her game.

Even though this top tennis pro announced that she will not be competing in this week's U.S. Open due to a shoulder injury, the 6-foot-2-inch Russian beauty is still a style star to us.

In fact, she's in the best shape of her life—and proves that regular exercise and a proper diet is all you need to defy the years and turn heads everywhere you go.

We caught up with Maria at the launch of her new fashion and accessories collection (inspired by her already crazy popular candy line, Sugarpova) to get the scoop on how she stays in tiptop shape (even with an injury), and always manages to look great.

Here's what she shared with us:

1. Work Out: "There's really no secret, you need to work out to feel good, and be in shape." Our tip: Join your local gym if you're not already a member. It's an easy way to exercise with all of the necessary equipment in one location. Bonus: If you find a spot with classes (spin sessions or dance-exercise programs like Zumba), you can have tons of fun while working out, too!

2. Get Inspired: "I like to work out outdoors and with music because I like to get inspired by my surroundings," she says. "It motivates me even more." Excellent advice. Working out doesn't need to be boring, and seem like a chore. Make a playlist of your favorite songs, or grab your go-to magazine if you're hitting the treadmill. Anything you do to make your routine more enjoyable will make you work out that much harder and push you to meet your fitness goals.

3. Always Treat Yourself. "I like the idea of going and working hard, and then coming home and treating yourself because it's good for the mind," she says. "And for me, it's all about indulging in candy." But don't go too overboard—indulge yourself in moderation.

And there you have it!

We'll certainly be keeping Maria's tips in mind next time we hit our workout routine.

Will you incorporate her advice into your workout regimen?

Maria Sharapova Talks Boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov: He's a Good Gift Giver!

(8/22/13) Maria Sharapova is taking a tennis timeout.

The 26-year-old athlete has withdrawn from next week's US Open due to a shoulder injury.

No doubt, sitting on the sidelines of this years tournament will be tough for the champ who just a few days ago told E! News' Alicia Quarles how important it is to her. So important, in fact, the pro shared that she knows what she is going to be wearing for the contest a full year in advanced!

Fortunately it seems the blond beauty has plenty to keep her busy off the court. In the same exclusive interview she revealed her new Maria Sharapova Collection for Nike and her new Suparpova accessories line at Henri Bendel.

And while she won't be able to wear her fun peachy tennis dress or visor next week, she will be able to rock as much of her jewelry as she likes. Each item in the accessories collection features a red hot lip logo—something the star has been obsessed with for a long while.

Plus, the star always has boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov in her corner. According to the tennis pro her beau has impeccable style too. Considering she also told Alicia he's a great gift giver, we're pretty sure he can think of a present that might help ease her disappointment of missing this year's tournament.

To see Maria's interview—including a sneak peek at both her new fashion and accessories collections—be sure to tune into E! News tonight at 7 p.m. and 11:30 p.m.

Maria Sharapova withdraws from US Open

(8/21/13) Maria Sharapova pulled out of the U.S. Open on Wednesday because of a right shoulder injury.

The U.S. Tennis Association announced the 2006 champion's withdrawal.

Sharapova has played only one match on tour since her second-round loss at Wimbledon in June.

Sharapova originally was seeded third at the U.S. Open. The USTA said 2012 Wimbledon runner-up Agnieszka Radwanksa would shift from No. 4 to No. 3, and all other seeded players below her would move up a spot, too.

The USTA said Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova would become the No. 32 seed.

The draw for the year's last Grand Slam tournament is Thursday. Play begins Monday.

Sharapova's surprising exit caps a tumultuous couple of weeks for the four-time major title winner and former No. 1 player.

The Russian was sidelined by a hip injury after Wimbledon. Then she hired Jimmy Connors as her coach, an arrangement that lasted all of one match, a loss.

Sharapova last skipped the U.S. Open in 2008, when she was off the tour for about 10 months because of surgery on her right shoulder.

She won her first major title since that operation at last year's French Open, completing a career Grand Slam.

Earlier Wednesday, former top-10 player Mardy Fish of the United States withdrew from the U.S. Open, citing personal reasons.

Women's seeds for U.S. Open

(8/20/13) Seedings for the 2013 U.S. Open women's singles tournament, to be played from Aug. 26-Sept. 9 at Flushing Meadows:

1. Serena Williams, United States

2. Victoria Azarenka, Belarus

3. Maria Sharapova, Russia

4. Agnieszka Radwanska, Poland

5. Sara Errani, Italy

6. Li Na, China

7. Caroline Wozniacki, Denmark

8. Petra Kvitova, Czech Republic

9. Angelique Kerber, Germany

10. Jelena Jankovic, Serbia

11. Roberta Vinci, Italy

12. Samantha Stosur, Australia

13. Kirsten Flipkens, Belgium

14. Ana Ivanovic, Serbia

15. Maria Kirilenko, Russia

16. Sloane Stephens, United States

17. Sabine Lisicki, Germany

18. Dominika Cibulkova, Slovakia

19. Carla Suarez Navarro, Spain

20. Sorana Cirstea, Romania

21. Nadia Petrova, Russia

22. Simona Halep, Romania

23. Elena Vesnina, Russia

24. Jamie Hampton, United States

25. Ekaterina Makarova, Russia

26. Kaia Kanepi, Estonia

27. Alize Cornet, France

28. Svetlana Kuznetsova, Russia

29. Mona Barthel, Germany

30. Magdalena Rybarikova, Slovakia

31. Laura Robson, Great Britain

32. Klara Zakopalova, Czech Republic

Sharapova ends quest to change last name

(8/20/13) Maria Sharapova’s quest to change her last name to Sugarpova for the duration of the U.S. Open has come to an end.

Sharapova’s agent, Max Eisenbud, told ESPN Tuesday that, although the Russian tennis star seriously considered the name change, “we ultimately decided against it.”

Sharapova was reportedly working on changing her surname to promote a candy company she recently launched called "Sugarpova."

According to various reports, Sharapova had gone to the Florida Supreme Court with the hopes of temporarily switching her surname for the two weeks of the U.S. Open, which kicks off Aug. 26, to promote her premium line of gummies which, as per the official website, "reflects the fun, fashionable, sweet side" of the former world No. 1.

“Maria has pushed her team to do fun, out-of-the-box-type things to get the word out about Sugarpova,” Eisenbud told ESPN. “In Miami, we’re going to fill a glass truck full of candy and drive it around town. This was an idea that fell along those lines. But, at the end of the day, we would have to change all her identification, she has to travel to Japan and China right after the tournament and it was going to be very difficult.”

The process of a name change in Florida includes filing a petition, submitting fingerprints, getting a background check and having a hearing with a judge, who would then have to sign an order to make the name change official.

The 26-year-old, named the world’s highest paid female athlete for the ninth straight year earlier this month, had planned to change her name back to Sharapova following the conclusion of the tennis season’s final major.

Sharapova confirms split with Connors after one match

(8/16/13) Maria Sharapova has confirmed she has severed ties with coach Jimmy Connors after one match together.

The Russian world number three said in a statement emailed to Tennis.com that the pairing had not been "the right fit for this time in my career".

Sharapova had originally hoped her partnership with the fiery eight-times grand slam champion would produce the same type of success Andy Murray has enjoyed since recruiting Ivan Lendl, another former playing great, as his coach.

But instead the brief experiment ended after one match, a second round loss to Sloane Stephens in the Western and Southern Open on Tuesday.

The 60-year-old Connors, who was pugnacious on court with a relentless determination through his playing career, and tennis glamour queen Sharapova had always seemed an odd fit.

Looking on from the stands on Tuesday, Connors could only hang his head as he watched his student unravel in a three-set loss to American teenage prospect Stephens which owed as much to a seven-week injury layoff as any breakdown in coaching.

While it had been a rocky start to their collaboration, Connors seemed to indicate after the match that it would continue, tweeting: "Every good round starts with a bogey - not the start we wanted, so back to work tomorrow."

The split leaves Sharapova without a coach heading into the U.S. Open, the final grand slam of the season which starts on August 26.

Tennis Goddess Maria Sharapova Wows on the Cover of SHAPE

(8/14/13) (shape.com) Maria Sharapova doesn’t win big on the tennis court without working hard. The stunning 6'2" Russian tennis pro, sporting fall’s hottest fashion, reveals her grand-slam routine in the September issue of SHAPE. She puts in two tennis workouts per day, each lasting one to two hours, on top of an hour and a half of shoulder rehab, and either an ice bath or a sports massage. And her striking physique is all thanks to her sport, not a crazy diet. In fact, the pro admits she’s never counted a single calorie. “I do weigh myself, though, to make sure I’m hydrated before matches because I sweat so much,” she says. “Water is a huge part of my diet. I have to force myself to drink it,” she says.

This month, the 26-year-old star is ready to step up at the U.S. Open in New York after a tough loss in the second round of Wimbledon. “It’s my favorite place to play—the energy, the people in the crowds, the excitement. It’s one of the biggest stages for the tennis world.”

There’s no doubt she’ll put on a show for the sport. After all, Sharapova’s made her mark on the court for the past 22 years with more than just her backhand. A ringtone called Screamapova features her signature scream-grunt hybrid. “I’ve been doing it since I was quite young, so now it’s a habit. I don’t even think about it when I play,” she says.

So what does Sharapova eat to keep herself super charged for the court? She steers clear of gluten, packs on the protein, and loves her country’s staple borscht, a beet soup, that she enjoys with meat and sour cream. When she splurges, she goes for fish tacos with spicy sauce and guacamole.

Pick up the September issue of SHAPE to learn more about Maria's passions off the court, and to get the workout that helps chisel those fab abs. The magazine will be available on iPad and newsstands nationwide on August 19.

Sharapova-Connors combo off to rocky start

(8/13/13) The Maria Sharapova-Jimmy Connors partnership got off to a rocky start on Tuesday as Sloane Stephens shocked the third ranked Russian 2-6 7-6(5) 6-3 at the Western and Southern Open.

Victoria Azarenka also made a shaky return following a brief injury layoff but recovered to dispose of American qualifier Vania King 6-1 7-6(6) and reach the last 16.

While it is too early to tell if Sharapova and Connors can produce the same kind of success Andy Murray has enjoyed since recruiting Ivan Lendl as his coach, the first step was far from a positive one.

"Obviously I didn't lose today because I didn't implement what we were working on," Sharapova told reporters. "The things that we're working on ... are to improve with the game I have.

"So, obviously, it's tough to lose at this stage but just got to keep working hard and keep moving forward."

Stephens, ranked 17th in the world, was always going to be a tricky test for Sharapova and the loss likely had more to do with her seven-week injury layoff than the new coaching relationship with Connors, who oozed grit and determination to build a Hall of Fame career.

On the sidelines with an injured left hip since a second round loss at Wimbledon, Sharapova moved effortlessly across the Cincinnati hardcourt but her play lacked sharpness, the Russian committing over 60 unforced errors and seven double faults.

"I stopped being patient and I started making a lot more errors, errors that I shouldn't make," said Sharapova.

"Obviously I haven't played in a long time but I can't make that excuse for myself because I've got to be ready from the first match.

"So it's obviously disappointing, but that's the way it goes in this game."

FLUSTERED

Connors would have been pleased with Sharapova's opening set but likely more impressed with the grit shown by her young opponent, who refused to buckle and battled back from 0-2 down in the second to force it to a tiebreak, which she took 7-5.

Looking on from the stands, Connors was dressed like he came to work with his long-sleeved white shirt rolled up the elbows and glasses dipped on his nose.

But there was nothing the nine-time grand slam winner could do as he watched his student unravel in the third set except hang his head.

Stephens left the door open for Sharapova as she struggled to close out the match, twice double-faulting on match point, before the Russian finally committed the last of her unforced errors by spraying a return long and wide.

"I rarely double fault, so for me to double fault twice on both match points was a little flustering but I was glad to get through it," said Stephens.

The match was the highlight of a busy day at the Western and Southern Open, which brings together the top players from the ATP and WTA Tours in a joint event that for many will serve as their final tune-up to the August 26-September 9 U.S. Open.

Earlier in the day, Azarenka returned to action after sitting out last week in Toronto with a sore back, and the world number two showed no signs of rust as she breezed through the opening set in 28 minutes.

But it was King who took control early in the second set by breaking the grunting Azarenka at the first opportunity on the way to a 3-0 lead.

Azarenka, dripping with sweat on humid morning in Ohio, dug deep to pull level at 3-3 before forcing the set to a tiebreak, which she again rallied to win 8-6.

Sharapova's return short-lived with loss in Cincy

(8/13/13) Maria Sharapova's return to WTA tournament play after more than a month away was short-lived following an upset loss to 17th-ranked American Sloane Stephens 2-6, 7-6 (5), 6-3 in the second round of the Western & Southern Open on Tuesday.

In a match that lasted 2 hours, 22 minutes, Stephens overcame double faults on two match points to pick up her first victory over Sharapova in four meetings.

''No one beats me four times in a row, so I had to win tonight,'' Stephens told a television interviewer after the match.

Sharapova, the 2011 W&S champion and a 2010 finalist, showed no traces of the hip injury that had kept her sidelined since a second-round loss at Wimbledon.

Jimmy Connors, who won the tournament 41 years ago, watched from the stands in his first match as Sharapova's coach. She hired Connors, the 1972 champion and a 1986 finalist, in mid-July.

In earlier action, second-ranked Victoria Azarenka held off an upset bid by qualifier Vania King to pull out a 6-1, 7-6 (6) win and advance to the third round. Azarenka rallied from a 3-0 hole in the second set to force the tiebreaker against the 140th-ranked American.

Azarenka, who has been bothered by a lower back injury, won her first match since losing to Samantha Stosur in the finals of the Southern California Open two weeks ago.

''I think the beginning of the second set wasn't very good for me,'' Azarenka said. ''There were quite a few unforced errors and just really fast mistakes, which didn't happen in the first set.''

John Isner defeated Florian Mayer 6-3, 6-4, and Grigor Dimitrov defeated Brian Baker 6-3, 6-2. Third-seeded David Ferrer edged 102nd-ranked American Ryan Harrison 7-6 (5), 3-6, 6-4.

Varvara Lepchenko of the United States advanced with a 6-2, 2-6, 6-2 win over Flavia Pennetta, and Jamie Hampton needed three sets to overcome Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova 7-5, 4-6, 6-3.

Alize Cornet rallied past Ana Ivanovic 2-6, 7-6 (8), 6-4.

Sorana Cirstea, the 21st-ranked Romanian who lost to No. 1 Serena Williams in the finals of the Rogers Cup in Toronto on Sunday, withdrew from her first-round match against Yanina Wickmayer.

Cirstea was replaced by No. 43 Monica Niculescu, who lost in this past weekend's qualifying but stayed around in case a spot opened up in the singles main draw and to play doubles. The Romanian capitalized on her second chance with a 6-1, 6-2 win over the 58th-ranked Wickmayer.

No. 10 seed Caroline Wozniacki easily advanced with a 6-1, 6-1 win over Shuai Peng.

Gilles Simon was forced to retire because of a strained hip against Vasek Pospisil, who was leading 6-3, 1-1.

Maria Sharapova and Serena Williams Top Forbes' List of Highest-Paid Female Athletes

(8/5/13) Tennis anyone?

After all, playing it can be pretty profitable.

Just ask seven of the 10 women who just made Forbes' list of the world's highest-paid female athletes.

Taking the top spot is Maria Sharapova, who not only won the French Open recently, but managed to pull in $29 million over the past year.

Felllow tennis stars Serena Williams, Li Na and Victoria Azarenka placed second, third and fourth with $20.5 million, $18.2 million and $15.7 milliion respectively.

Danica Patrick, meanwhile, cruised into the fifth position. The NASCAR racer managed to speed off with $15 million over the course of the last 12 months.

South Korean figure skater Kim Yuna ($14 million) came in sixth, followed by another trio of tennis aces—Caroline Wozniacki ($13.6 million), Agnieszka Radwanska ($7.4 million), Ana Ivanovic ($7 million).

Golfer Paula Creamer with $5.5 million in earnings rounded out the top 10.

Figures were based on combining one's prize money along with endorsements.

Sharapova takes self out of Rogers Cup

(7/28/13) Maria Sharapova will miss the Rogers Cup tournament due to a hip injury.

The world No. 2-ranked Russian withdrew Sunday saying she has yet to recover from the injury she sustained during a second-round loss to Michelle Larcher de Brito at this year's Wimbledon.

Sharapova tumbled several times during the Wimbledon match, complaining about court conditions, taking a medical timeout and later saying she thought she strained a hip muscle. She subsequently withdrew from this week's Bank of the West Classic at Stanford University.

The Rogers Cup will take place Aug. 3-11 at Rexall Centre on York University campus in Toronto. The men's tournament takes place from Aug. 2-11 in Montreal.

Sharapova withdraws from tourney with hip injury

(7/15/13) Maria Sharapova has withdrawn from next week’s Bank of the West Classic at Stanford because of a left hip injury suffered during Wimbledon.

Tournament director Kim Hall said in a statement Monday that organizers “are disappointed for our fans.” She added that “unfortunately injuries are a part of the sport.”

The second-ranked Sharapova lost 6-3, 6-4 to Michelle Larcher de Brito in the second round of Wimbledon last month. Sharapova tumbled several times during the match, complaining about court conditions, taking a medical timeout and later saying she thought she strained a hip muscle.

Sharapova announced on her website Saturday that she had hired Jimmy Connors as her new coach, one day after she parted ways with Thomas Hogstedt.

Sharapova hires tennis great Connors as coach

(7/13/13) Maria Sharapova has hired Jimmy Connors as her new coach.

A day after announcing she was parting with Thomas Hogstedt, Sharapova posted on her website on Saturday that she would work with the eight-time major champion.

Connors coached Andy Roddick for two years before resigning in 2008. He briefly worked with Sharapova before the 2008 Australian Open.

Hogstedt coached Sharapova for nearly three years. She said on Friday he wouldn’t be able to travel in the near future and they agreed she should find a new coach.

A winner of the career Grand Slam, the second-ranked Sharapova was upset in the second round at Wimbledon this year. She says “I am really excited about our new partnership and looking forward to the upcoming tournaments.”

Sharapova, coach split after her 2nd-round exit

(7/12/13) Maria Sharapova says she and coach Thomas Hogstedt have decided to ''part ways'' after nearly three years working together.

On her personal website, Sharapova says Hogstedt will be unable to travel in the immediate future, and that they both agreed she should find another coach.

Sharapova, who won three Grand Slam events from 2004-2008 but has won only the 2012 French Open title since, lost in the second round at Wimbledon this year. She says she expects to announce a new coach in a few days.

Sharapova ousted in 2nd round by qualifier

(6/26/13) Maria Sharapova has been knocked out of Wimbledon by a 131st-ranked qualifier on a day when injuries forced the withdrawal of seven other players.

The third-seeded Sharapova, the Wimbledon champion in 2004 champion, lost 6-3, 6-4 to Michelle Larcher de Brito of Portugal in the second round at the All England Club.

It's the second significant upset of the tournament, which is only in Day 3. Two-time men's champion Rafael Nadal was beaten on Monday by 135th-ranked Steve Darcis.

Sharapova slipped and fell several times on the grass on Court 2 and received medical treatment from the trainer in the second set.

The women's tournament also lost second-seeded Victoria Azarenka, who withdrew before her match with a knee injury. Sharapova and Azarenka had been considered the main challengers to five-time champion Serena Williams.

Maria Sharapova Holds Hands With Boyfriend Following Serena Williams Feud-See the Pic!

(6/25/13) (Photo) Maria Sharapova is clearly not letting her recent feud with Serena Williams get her down.

The Russian tennis star was all smiles as she strolled hand in hand with boyfriend Grigor Dimitrov in London.

Of course, it probably didn't hurt that the gal had also advanced to the second round at Wimbledon following her victory over Kristina Mladenovic on Monday, either.

Of course, there wasn't much to smile about over the weekend when Sharapova found herself fighting back at comments made by Williams in a recent Rolling Stone interview.

"Obviously I have a tremendous amount of respect for Serena and what she's achieved on the court," Sharapova said during a pre-tournament press conference on Saturday. "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."

The remark stemmed from Williams telling the music magazine, apparently referring to Sharapova: "She's 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 guy in question was thought to be Dimitrov, who is one of Williams' rumored exes.

Williams subsequently apologized to Sharapova, saying at a pre-Wimbledon news conference on Sunday that she "made it a point to reach out to Maria...because she was inadvertently brought into the situation by assumptions made by the reporter."

Sharapova's new line of sweets riles sugar critics

(6/25/13) Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova, the world's top paid female athlete, came under attack on Tuesday for using her fame on court to sell a brand of sweets to her young followers.

Sharapova, 26, has taken the first steps to becoming her own brand by launching a range of sweets called Sugarpova that includes a variety of sugary and sour confectionary in shapes ranging from tennis balls to lips.

The sweets went on sale at London's Selfridges department store as the 2013 Wimbledon tennis championships got underway at the All England Club where Sharapova beat France's Kristina Mladenovic on Monday.

The National Obesity Forum accused Sharapova of being "irresponsible" for using her role model status to promote unhealthy eating and failing to identify the difference between snacking and excessive consumption.

"Maria promoting her sugary sweets is OK but only if she makes clear that you can only eat sweets like that every day and look like her if you are playing tennis 15 hours a day," Tam Fry, a member of the National Obesity Forum and chairman of the Child Growth Foundation charity, told Reuters.

He called on the third-seeded Sharapova to think of the "unintended consequences" of promoting such a product.

Sharapova's Sugarpovas are on sale at Selfridges for 3.99 pounds ($6) a packet and were launched in some stores in the United States last year.

"Of course sugar is meant to be bad for you but my philosophy has always been everything in moderation," Sharapova told reporters at the Sugarpova launch in Selfridges earlier this month.

A spokeswoman for Selfridges said the sales were going well and stressed Sharapova's comments about moderation.

One of the most marketable figures in women's tennis, Sharapova was listed as the world's top earning female athlete by business magazine Forbes in June this year, ranked 22nd among the top paid sports men and women.

Sharapova returns to business after Williams row

(6/24/13) Third seed Maria Sharapova moved on from her weekend spat with Serena Williams by returning to her day job on Monday and earning a 7-6(5) 6-3 win over Kristina Mladenovic in a tricky first round match at Wimbledon.

The Russian had been embroiled in a conflict with Williams after a magazine interview with the world number one that included a reference the reporter interpreted as an attack on Sharapova's relationship with Bulgarian player Grigor Dimitrov.

"I've said everything that I wanted to say about the issue," Sharapova, who told the American on Saturday to keep her nose out of other people's business, told a news conference.

"You know, Wimbledon (has) started. This is my work. This is my job. I'd really appreciate it if we move on."

Even if those asking the questions were not ready to move on, Sharapova tried to make it business as usual even though her match was not quite as easy as a first-round clash might be.

Frenchwoman Mladenovic exuded a confidence way above her world ranking of 37 as she matched 2004 Wimbledon champion Sharapova every step of the way in the first set, with neither player dropping serve on their way to the tiebreak.

It took until 5-5 in the breaker for Sharapova to earn a set point which she converted with a backhand volley.

The 26-year-old Russian, losing finalist in 2011, stepped up her game in the second set and Mladenovic's challenge came to an end as Sharapova set up a meeting with Portugal's Michelle Larcher De Brito in the next round.

"I had a really tough first round," Sharapova said. "I expected it. I knew she would come out playing extremely well.

"You know, the first set we didn't break each other. Women's tennis, kind of rare."

Although she tried hard to focus only on tennis matters, Sharapova could not avoid more questions about her exchange of words with Williams, whom she lost to in the French Open final earlier this month.

Williams, under fire for comments she made about a high-profile teenage rape case in Ohio in an interview with Rolling Stone magazine, apologised to Sharapova on Sunday after the article included an account of a private conversation between Williams and her sister Venus.

In the interview, the American referred to "a top-five player who is now in love" without naming anyone but the author of the article assumed the person to be Sharapova.

It added: "She begins every interview with 'I'm so happy. I'm so lucky' - it's so boring. 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'."

Sharapova said the matter was behind them and it was important to focus on the grasscourt grand slam.

"It's because Wimbledon just started. This is one of the most incredible tournaments. This is where all of us work. This is our job," she said.

"Our job is to go out on the court and work and try to win matches and nothing else. That's the most important thing to me in my life right now."

Williams says she offered apology to Sharapova

(6/23/13) Serena Williams says she offered an apology to Maria Sharapova two days before the Russian took a verbal swipe at Williams over comments in a magazine article.

Speaking Sunday at Wimbledon, where she’s the defending champion, Williams declined to directly respond to Sharapova’s broadside from 24 hours earlier. The back-and-forth began with a Rolling Stone story, in which the author surmised that something critical Williams said about an unnamed top-five player referred to Sharapova.

The No. 1-ranked Williams says she approached No. 3 Sharapova to smooth things over Thursday at a pre-tournament players’ party.

At a news conference Saturday, Sharapova said: “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.”

Sharapova serves up verbal shot at S. Williams

(6/22/13) (Video) Maria Sharapova took quite a shot at Serena Williams — and it was nowhere near a tennis court.

At her pre-Wimbledon news conference Saturday, Sharapova was asked about a recent Rolling Stone article where the author surmised that critical comments directed at an unnamed player by Williams were referring to Sharapova.

"At the end of the day, we have a tremendous amount of respect for what we do on the court. I just think she should be talking about her accomplishments, her achievements, rather than everything else that’s just getting attention and controversy," Sharapova said.

"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," Sharapova continued. "Talk about other things, but not draw attention to other things. She has so much in her life, many positives, and I think that’s what it should be about."

Williams has been linked to coach Patrick Mouratoglou, but neither has confirmed their relationship extends beyond the court. When Mouratoglou was asked about the topic at the French Open this month, he smiled and replied: "Sorry. I don’t understand the question."

According to the Rolling Stone story, posted online Tuesday, Williams spoke about what the reporter described as "a top-five player who is now in love."

Williams is quoted as saying: "She begins every interview with ‘I’m so happy. I’m so lucky’ — it’s so boring. 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."

That is followed by these words in parentheses from the author of the piece, Stephen Rodrick: "An educated guess is she’s talking about Sharapova, who is now dating Grigor Dimitrov, one of Serena’s rumoured exes."

Sharapova beat Williams in the 2004 Wimbledon final. But Williams has won their past 13 matches in a row, including in the French Open final two weeks ago.

At Wimbledon, where play begins Monday, Williams is the defending champion and seeded No. 1. Sharapova is seeded No. 3. They only could face each other in the final.

Williams is scheduled to hold a pre-tournament news conference at Wimbledon on Sunday.

The Rolling Stone article, which was about 4,000 words, drew widespread attention mostly for a one-paragraph reference to the Steubenville rape case. Williams is quoted as saying the teenage victim "shouldn’t have put herself in that position."

Two players from the Steubenville, Ohio, high school football team were convicted in March of raping a drunken 16-year-old girl; one of the boys was ordered to serve an additional year for photographing the girl naked. The case gained widespread attention in part because of the callousness with which other students used social media to gossip about it.

A day after the story was posted, Williams issued a statement in which she said she was "reaching out to the girl’s family to let her know that I am deeply sorry for what was written."

Williams’ statement continued: "What was written — what I supposedly said — is insensitive and hurtful, and I by no means would say or insinuate that she was at all to blame."

Said Sharapova on Saturday: "I was definitely sad to hear what she had to say about the whole case."

Women's seeds for Wimbledon

(6/19/13) Seed Player Country World Rank
1. Serena Williams United States 1.
2. Victoria Azarenka Belarus 2.
3. Maria Sharapova Russia 3.
4. Agnieszka Radwanska Poland 4.
5. Sara Errani Italy 5.
6. Li Na China 6.
7. Angelique Kerber Germany 7.
8. Petra Kvitova Czech Republic 8.
9. Caroline Wozniacki Denmark 9.
10. Maria Kirilenko Russia 10.
11. Roberta Vinci Italy 11.
12. Ana Ivanovic Serbia 12.
13. Nadia Petrova Russia 13.
14. Samantha Stosur Australia 14.
15. Marion Bartoli France 15.
16. Jelena Jankovic Serbia 16.
17. Sloane Stephens United States 17.
18. Dominika Cibulkova Slovakia 18.
19. Carla Suarez Navarro Spain 19.
20. Kirsten Flipkens Belgium 20.
21. Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova Russia 21.
22. Sorana Cirstea Romania 22.
23. Sabine Lisicki Germany 23.
24. Peng Shuai China 24.
25. Ekaterina Makarova Russia 25.
26. Varvara Lepchenko United States 27.
27. Lucie Safarova Czech Republic 28.
28. Tamira Paszek Austria 29.
29 Alize Cornet France 30.
30. Mona Barthel Germany 31.
31. Romina Oprandi Switzerland 32.
32. Klara Zakopalova Czech Republic 33.

Sharapova upbeat despite another Serena beating

(6/8/13) Predictably it was unlucky 13 for Maria Sharapova as she lost her French Open crown to Serena Williams on Saturday, yet the Russian remained defiant as she drew positives from yet another defeat against the world number one.

Sharapova has now lost 13 matches in a row to Williams but after the humiliation of a 6-0 6-1 defeat in the Olympics final last year a 6-4 6-4 was a step in the right direction for Sharapova whose positive mantra never wavers.

This time she did hold her turf against Williams but eventually was overpowered by the American who took her grand slam singles haul to 16.

"I will take a few little positives from this match," the four-times grand slam champion told a news conference.

"I think getting to the Roland Garros final is not too shabby, so I'd say that's a positive.

"Coming back as a defending champion, I know it's never easy to come back with that title, so I'm happy that I was able to produce good tennis these last two weeks and get to that stage."

Sharapova once famously described herself as a 'cow on ice' on clay, but the Russian has dramatically improved on the slow surface, winning 13 matches in a row at Roland Garros before running into an unforgiving Williams.

The 26-year-old, who won the first set against Williams at Miami this year, led 2-0, 40-15 in the opening set here but it was a fleeting moment of superiority as Williams quickly found her range.

"I can sit here and say that I feel like I'm moving in the right direction in terms of when I'm playing against her," she said. "Some of the results against her last year were not so good. But the match in Miami and the match here, I think I'm doing a few more right things than maybe I have done in the past, yet obviously not consistent enough."

Asked if she had regrets after losing her 13th match in a row against Williams, Sharapova, back in control after appearing slightly emotional after match point, withdrew behind some fortune cookie philosophy.

"I don't have many regrets in life actually," she mused.

"I try not to have any at all. It would be pretty tough to go about, life - whether I'm on the court or away from it - if I feel like I didn't do enough at a certain moment," she said.

"You have to move forward. And it doesn't matter, you know, how many times I have lost to a player or what situation I was in, whether I was up or down, how it ended or how it finished."

"You move on," added Sharapova, who was looking to become the first woman since Justine Henin in 2007 to defend her Roland Garros title.

Sharapova, who will drop to world No.3 on Monday, was simply helpless when Williams fired three aces in the final game.

"If I was built like Serena I hope I'd be able to hit a big serve like that, too. I mean..." Sharapova said after stating that men's finallist David Ferrer served slower than Williams.

Sharapova said she is looking forward to the grasscourt season as she bids for a second Wimbledon title having beaten Williams there in the 2004 final.

"I love all the tournaments that are coming up. Especially Wimbledon," she said.

"It's always the one that I always want to perform well at and the one that I always look forward to.

"It's not like I really need someone to give me motivation towards that, because when I get to the grass I always feel that that motivation going into it."

Statistics for Williams v Sharapova French Open final

(6/8/13) Match statistics from Serena Williams's 6-4 6-4 victory over Maria Sharapova in the women's singles final at the French Open on Saturday:

Williams Sharapova

Aces 10 2

Double faults 0 4

1st serve percentage 69 55

Fastest serve 200 kph 183 kph

Net points won 10 of 12 (83%) 3 of 4 (75%)

Break points won 4 of 15 (27%) 2 of 2 (100%)

Winners 29 10

Unforced errors 21 17

Total points won 71 56

Match duration: one hour, 46 minutes.

Williams blasts Sharapova in French Open final

(6/8/13) Serena Williams won her 16th Grand Slam title and her first French Open championship since 2002 when she beat familiar foil Maria Sharapova 6-4, 6-4 Saturday.

The victory completed the No. 1-ranked Williams’ rebound from a shocking loss to 111th-ranked Virginie Razzano in the first round at Roland Garros a year ago. Since that defeat she’s 74-3, including titles at Wimbledon, the U.S. Open, the London Olympics and the season-ending WTA Championships.

Williams whacked 10 aces, including three in the final game to extend her career-best winning streak to 31 matches. She improved to 14-2 against Sharapova, including victories in their past 13 meetings, with four of the wins this year.

At 31, Williams became the oldest woman to win a major title since Martina Navratilova won Wimbledon in 1990 at age 33. Her 11-year gap between Roland Garros titles is the longest for any woman.

Sharapova completed a career Grand Slam by winning Roland Garros last year.

In an all-Spanish final Sunday, Rafael Nadal will try to become the first man to win eight titles at the same Grand Slam event when he plays first-time major finalist David Ferrer.

The women’s final was the first between No. 1 and No. 2 at a Grand Slam since 2004, but wasn’t as close as their rankings. It has been 12 years since the most recent three-set women’s final at Roland Garros.

Both players swung with their typical aggressiveness from the baseline, and Williams’ superior serve and defence proved the difference. She silently ran side to side whipping groundstrokes with little apparent strain, while Sharapova often found herself lunging after the ball to stay in the point, with each shot accompanied by her familiar shriek.

When Williams once summoned a grunt herself to match Sharapova’s volume and pound a winner, the crowd responded with a laugh.

Playing in hazy, warm weather, the finalists took ferocious swings from the start. With fans perhaps fearful that Williams would win quickly, they began shouting encouragement toward Sharapova after she lost the first two points.

She overcame four break points to hold in the opening game, and led 2-love before Williams began to assert herself. It took Williams 17 minutes to win a game, but then she swept four in a row.

After Sharapova took the next two for 4-all, Williams surged at the end of the set, taking the lead for good by winning eight of the final 10 points.

Sharapova had to dig in again to hold at the start of set two, fending off five break points, and it was all downhill for her from there. Williams easily held serve all the way to the finish.

She improved to 16-4 in Grand Slam finals. She leads all active women with her 16 major titles and is sixth on the all-time list. Margaret Court holds the record with 24.

Williams improved to 43-2 this year, including 23-0 on clay. Now comes the switch to grass, and she’ll be a heavy favourite to win Wimbledon for the sixth time.

Woods tops Forbes list of money makers

(6/7/13) Tiger Woods is back on top of Forbes' list of highest-paid athletes.

The star golfer spent 11 straight years at No. 1 on the magazine's list before falling to third in 2012. The magazine put him back in the top spot after he made $78.1 million over the last year from prize money, endorsements, appearance fees and golf course design work. Woods has enjoyed a resurgence in his play that has earned him over $13.1 million the past 12 months - double his total from the prior year.

Tennis star Roger Federer is second at $71.5 million while Kobe Bryant of the Los Angeles Lakers is third at $61.9 million.

LeBron James comes in fourth with $59.8 million and Saints' quarterback Drew Brees rounds out the top five at $51 million.

Last year's highest-paid athlete, Floyd Mayweather, is 14th.

David Beckham was No. 8 overall and the highest-ranked soccer player at $47.2 million.

New York Yankees third baseman Alex Rodriguez was tops among the 27 baseball players on the list and No. 18 overall with $30.3 million.

Two women, both tennis players, made the list. Maria Sharapova ($29 million) came in at No. 22, and Li Na ($18.2 million) was 85th.

Sharapova looking for her range against Serena

(6/7/13) Serena Williams gives pet names to her various character traits whereas Maria Sharapova, who will try to prevent the American claiming a 16th grand slam title in Saturday's French Open final, usually sticks rigidly to the ice maiden routine.

Defending champion Sharapova has been more beauty or beast in the last couple of rounds, however, mixing brilliance with woeful interludes, with aces and winners often being matched by doubles faults and wild errors.

The "good" Maria, the one that served 12 aces against Victoria Azarenka in Thursday' semi-finals, will have to show up against Williams if she is to stand any chance of preventing the world number one lifting the Suzanne Lenglen Cup 11 years after her first triumph.

Second seed Sharapova needs to produce an almost flawless display if she is to become the first woman to retain her Paris title since Justine Henin in 2007.

While American Serena dropped only a set en route to the final and annihilated Saran Errani 6-0 6-1 in the semi-final, four-times grand slam winner Sharapova survived a 6-0 drubbing in the first set of her quarter-final with Jelena Jankovic and then needed more than two hours to go through the semis, grinding past Azarenka in an error-strewn clash.

"If Sharapova serves well, there will be a contest," Patrick Mouratoglou, Serena's coach, told reporters.

"Sharapova moves better (on clay) but not well enough yet."

Mouratoglou believes Williams, who is on a 30-match winning streak, has her fate firmly in her own hands after prevailing in all 12 of their matches since the 2004 Tour finals.

"Serena will start with a psychological advantage, for sure. The result will not depend on Sharapova but on Serena," he added.

ONE-DIMENSIONAL?

Sharapova, however, clings to the notion that the final will start at 0-0.

"I'd be lying if (that record) doesn't bother me, obviously," the Russian told reporters on Friday. "Whatever I did in the past hasn't worked, so I'll have to try to do something different.

"Going into a French Open final, that (record) doesn't matter. It all starts from zero."

Serena agreed, saying: "It's a different time, a different era, just a different match. It's a brand new match."

Sharapova refutes the idea that her baseline-bashing profile is one-dimensional, saying she did not get to her second final by chance.

"No matter how good she's playing, you also have to give yourself a bit of credit for getting to that point and doing a few things right to be at that stage and giving yourself an opportunity," said Sharapova.

"Whether you take it, that's another story."

It will also be a matter of consistency for Sharapova, who has yet to find the perfect balance on the Paris clay this year.

She has been experiencing a fair few wobbles in her run to the final, making 185 unforced errors in her six matches while Serena made 100.

Friday's semi-final encapsulated Sharapova's problems as she served 12 aces but also 11 double faults, spraying the court with unforced errors and winners with equal measure.

Serena in contrast fired 40 winners and allowed Italian fifth seed Errani - last year's finalist - only 16 points, making herself the hot favourite to succeed on Saturday.

It is quite a change from 2002 when she beat sister Venus in the final.

"I was really surprised, for sure. I didn't go into that match expecting to win," Serena said.

"I just thought, 'Hey, I'm in the final and let's see what happens'."

It is a motto Sharapova could do worse than heed.

French Open final set: Sharapova vs Williams

(6/6/13) As Maria Sharapova celebrated her return to the French Open final, she let loose one last scream - this one a happy holler.

Serena Williams won more quietly and quickly, and she'll play Sharapova for the title Saturday.

Sharapova, the defending champion, overcame 11 double-faults to win a semifinal shriekfest against Victoria Azarenka, 6-1, 2-6, 6-4. Williams then advanced to her first French Open final since 2002 by dispatching Sara Errani 6-0, 6-1 in 46 minutes of astounding power and precision.

Williams' win was the most lopsided women's semifinal at Roland Garros since 1984, when Chris Evert beat Camille Benjamin 6-0, 6-0.

Sharapova beat Errani in the final last year to complete a career Grand Slam, but she faces a tougher test this time. She's 2-13 against Williams, who has been on a mission after more than a decade of disappointment in Paris.

''Obviously whatever I did in the past hasn't worked,'' Sharapova said. ''So I'll have to try to do something different and hopefully it will.''

The top-ranked Williams, a 15-time Grand Slam champion, won her only Roland Garros title 11 years ago by beating her sister Venus in the final.

''I'm very happy to be back in the French Open final 11 years later,'' Williams told the crowd in French. ''I'm still here 11 years later. It's so wonderful for me.''

While Williams easily won her semifinal, Sharapova advanced past Azarenka with a clamor. The two most notorious grunters in tennis wailed on nearly every swing, matching pitch and volume as they swapped powerful shots from the baseline. They sounded as if they were pushing a stalled Peugeot across lanes of traffic in the Arc de Triomphe.

''Come on, Monica,'' a spectator yelled at Sharapova, referring to one of the game's great grunters, Monica Seles.

The aggressive swings resulted in a seesaw semifinal. Sharapova whacked 12 aces but was erratic with her second serve, and her groundstrokes were also unpredictable.

She needed five match points to seal the victory. Serving for the victory for the second time, she held at love and finished with an ace.

''Those last few points are the toughest,'' Sharapova said. I'm so happy that I regrouped and came out at 5-4 and served it out really well.''

Following a 35-minute rain delay before the third set, Sharapova hit four double-faults in a single game, the last of them on break point, to make it 2-all. She struggled again with her serve at 5-2, losing a tense, sloppy 12-minute game when she squandered four match points and double-faulted on the final two points.

She was steadier at the end, however, and after accepting a cursory congratulatory handshake from Azarenka, Sharapova screamed through a grin.

''To come back as the defending champion, it's extremely special to get back on that stage where it comes down to the last two players of the tournament,'' Sharapova said.

She improved her record at Roland Garros to 43-9, best among active women. That includes victories in her past 13 French Open matches.

Azarenka, a two-time Australian Open champion, was playing in her first Roland Garros semifinal. She still believes she can win a clay-court Grand Slam title.

''Oh, sure,'' she said. ''Not this year.''

In the men's semifinals Friday, seven-time champion Rafael Nadal plays No. 1 Novak Djokovic for the 35th time, and Frenchman Jo-Wilfried Tsonga faces Spaniard David Ferrer.

Williams took control against Errani by winning 26 of 34 points in the opening set. The match was 37 minutes old before Errani won a game, and the crowd responded with a roar as the Italian raised her arms in mock jubilation.

Williams was undeterred and raced to the finish line. She won 28 of 33 points on her serve and had a 40-2 advantage in winners while losing only 16 points.

''I had to win this match,'' Williams said. ''So I told myself, 'Serena, be focused today.'''

The result extended her career-best winning streak to 30 consecutive matches. She improved to 20-3 in major semifinals, and she's 6-0 against Errani.

''What she did today is unbelievable,'' Errani said. ''She's very strong. She's an unbelievable player. She had great day.''

Sharapova, who lost her opening set in the quarterfinals 6-0, started slowly again against Azarenka. Sharapova double-faulted twice in the first game and was broken at love.

But this time she quickly righted herself, temporarily finding the range with her serve and cracking ferocious returns. She won 22 of the final 26 points in the first set and closed it out with an ace.

''The serve is definitely something that you never know what to expect,'' Azarenka said.

Then Sharapova began to misfire while Azarenka found her timing. Consistently stepping into the court and smacking groundstrokes close to the baseline, Azarenka swept the final four games of the second set to even the match.

Next came rain, and when the match resumed both players struggled to find any rhythm. The tennis was louder than the crowd in the third set when subdued fans quietly endured a flurry of errors - forced and unforced - by the two big hitters.

Sharapova wins Russian roulette of a semi-final

(6/6/13) Maria Sharapova turned her French Open semi-final into a game of Russian roulette, firing winners and ugly shots with equal measure as the champion bludgeoned her way past third seed Victoria Azarenka 6-1 2-6 6-4 on Thursday.

The Russian, who next meets world number one Serena Williams, served 12 aces and 11 double faults in a see-saw encounter against the Belarussian.

Second seed Sharapova raced through the opening set in less than half an hour, spraying Court Philippe Chatrier with forehand winners.

Double Australian Open champion Azarenka hit back to take the second set but lost her momentum after a 30-minute rain interruption, her opponent wrapping it up on her fifth match point after two hours 10 minutes of baseline biffing and shrieking.

"I'm really happy with the way I came out from playing a tough match yesterday. I wish I could have carried that through in two - but I did the job and I'm happy from where I was in the beginning of the tournament to where I am today," Sharapova told a news conference.

"I just hope that I can improve for the next one."

Having lost her last 12 matches against Serena, the four-times grand slam champion Sharapova will indeed need to make a dramatic improvement to become the first female to retain her title on the Paris clay since Belgium's Justine Henin in 2007.

The Russian thumped 42 winners, most of them with her devastating forehand, but a total of 39 unforced errors also meant the contest could have gone either way.

Sharapova, who lost the opening set 6-0 to Serb Jelena Jankovic in the quarter-finals, made two double faults as she dropped her serve in the first game against Azarenka.

The Belarussian was making her first appearance in the French Open semi-finals.

"Today I'm disappointed about the match and what happened out there, but overall I have to give myself credit for going one step further," said Azarenka.

"Even though I lost today I still tried to come back and tried to make something happen, which before was much more difficult for me to do."

Azarenka also needed time to settle.

By the time she realized that, Sharapova had won six games in a row in 28 minutes, allowing the third seed only seven points in the process.

DARK CLOUDS

Azarenka started to find better angles in the second set and opened a 40-15 lead in the third game before a couple of sharp first-service return winners reminded her she would have to fight for every point.

Dark clouds gathered in the sky as Azarenka broke to go 4-2 up when Sharapova netted a backhand.

The Russian poster girl then conceded two break points at 5-2 when the umpire called Azarenka's shot in although TV footage showed the ball was long.

Sharapova saved the first break point with an ace but double faulted on the second.

The rain then intervened and it seemed to take the wind out of Azarenka's sails.

"I think the break kind of changed the momentum," she told a news conference. "I was just trying to make things happen too quick and started missing the ball."

A backhand winner gave Sharapova a break for 2-1, only for Azarenka to break back after yet another double fault at the end of a 10-minute game.

Sharapova kept playing at a hectic pace and soon went 5-2 ahead.

Azarenka saved four match points as she broke back for 5-3 and then held serve but the title holder already had her teeth sunk deep into her prey and finished the match off with an ace.

Sharapova and Azarenka get ready to rumble

(6/5/13) Sparks will be flying and the grunt-o-metre will be working overtime when French Open holder Maria Sharapova comes face-to-face with Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka in the Roland Garros semi-finals on Thursday.

While a clash between tennis' two loudest wailers is likely to increase sales of earplugs around the Bois de Boulogne area over the next few hours, the 13th match-up between the two will also be under close scrutiny for reasons other than the noise level it produces.

The last time they met on clay, in Stuttgart just over a year ago, the players bumped shoulders during a changeover and neither woman attempted to apologize for the collision.

To make matters worse, at the end of that match Sharapova also had a dig at Azarenka's habit of taking medical timeouts when the going gets tough - an act that blew up in the Belarussian's face during this year's Australian Open.

In January, Azarenka was accused of gamesmanship after taking a 10-minute time out immediately after blowing five match points in her semi-final against Sloane Stevens.

Should she try that stunt again, Sharapova is unlikely to be as forgiving as the inexperienced 20-year-old American.

"We have played each other so many times there are really no secrets between each other in terms of our game styles and what we do well and not," Sharapova, who trails Azarenka 5-7 in their meetings, said looking ahead to the semi-final.

Azarenka, who employs the same bish-bash baseline tactics as Sharapova, concurred: "We are kind of similar and kind of different in the same way. It's going to be definitely a battle."

In Thursday's other semi-final, 2012 runner-up Sara Errani faces a tall order as she tries to narrow a 0-5 record against woman-of-the-moment Serena Williams.

Williams, whose collection of 15 majors includes only one Suzanne Lenglen Cup, has been an unstoppable force this year, winning 29 straight matches.

But after being left rather hot and bothered during a three-set win over former French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova in the quarter-finals, clay-loving Errani knows that if she is to chalk up that first win over Williams, there is no better surface to do it on than red dirt.

"Playing Serena, it's for sure very difficult because she's very strong," the diminutive Errani said.

"Physically she's an incredible athlete, so is not easy to play against her ... because she has a lot of power.

"So it will be tough, but maybe on clay is a bit better than any other surface."

William added: "You've got to appreciate how consistent she is. We had a pretty tough match in Madrid (recently).

"She's so serious. I can be ready for that."

Reality check for Mr. Sharapov as daughter advances

(6/5/13) Maria Sharapova's father is so confident about his daughter's French Open credentials that he has declared that she "can beat Rafael Nadal on clay".

Whether or not Yuri Sharapov still held that belief when his only child was whitewashed by Jelena Jankovic in the opening set of her Roland Garros quarter-final on Wednesday is anyone's guess.

What is in no doubt is that he raised a champion who is always ready to fight it out to the bitter end, and Sharapova kept her wits about her following a first-set walloping.

After watching the set disappear under a hail of unforced errors flying off her racket, Sharapova kept alive her hopes of retaining the Suzanne Lenglen Cup with a 0-6 6-4 6-3 win over Jankovic.

Sharapova had entered the contest with a 7-1 win-loss record over her old sparring partner from the Bollettieri Academy but no one would have guessed that following the opening 28-minute nightmare.

With the Russian's backhand misfiring, forehand malfunctioning and serve stuck in first gear, Sharapova gave Jankovic free rein to do as she pleased.

The Serbian former world number one blasted winners with her "money-shot" backhand "that pays my bills" and drew loud cheers for sliding into the splits as she chased down the ball.

Jankovic wrapped up the first set after yet another sloppy forehand from Sharapova, which took the number two seed's unforced errors count to 20.

"You have to erase the chapter and move forward... no matter how bad I was playing or how well my opponent was playing, I still felt I was in the match," a relieved Sharapova said in courtside interview.

"Sometimes you just have to get the job done, and I did today."

Jankovic, rather than pressing home her advantage in front of a group of flag-waving Serbian male fans who chanted her name throughout the match, paid a huge price for what at the time seemed like an innocuous mistake.

A slight misjudgment from the 18th seed in the opening game of the second set, when she opted to hit the ball at Sharapova rather than go for an outright winner, threw the Serbian off course and she went on to drop her serve and the set.

That left Jankovic to resort to her usual habit of muttering away to herself as Sharapova kept her eye firmly on the ball to break in the seventh game of the third.

A forehand into the tramlines from Jankovic handed Sharapova a place in the semi-finals for the third year running and a date with third-seeded Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka who beat Russian Maria Kirilenko 7-6 (3) 6-2.

"At the end she was the better player. I was a bit unlucky, but I fought, I fought hard until the end," said Jankovic, who was unsurprisingly plastered with tape along her shoulder and thighs after a hectic few days of playing singles, doubles and mixed doubles in Paris.

"A couple of bad decisions...and this is what happens."

Down 0-6, Sharapova rallies past Jankovic

(6/5/13) Maria Sharapova shrugged off losing the first six games and swept the last four to reach the French Open semifinals.

The defending champion overcame a miserable start in the quarterfinals Wednesday to beat Jelena Jankovic, 0-6, 6-4, 6-3.

It was the first victory of Sharapova’s career after losing an opening set 6-0. Her opponent Friday will be two-time Australian Open champion Victoria Azarenka, who reached her first Roland Garros semifinal by beating Maria Kirilenko 7-6 (3), 6-2.

The No. 2-seeded Sharapova earned her first French Open title a year ago to complete a career Grand Slam. She has won 12 matches in a row at Roland Garros, where her 42-9 record is the best among active women.

No. 3 Azarenka is 7-5 against Sharapova.

"Obviously it only gets tougher from here," Sharapova said, "but I’m really happy I’m at this stage again."

The warmest weather of the tournament greeted the quarterfinalists, and Jankovic quickly had Sharapova sweating. In the first set the Russian repeatedly missed the lines by narrow margins or clipped the net cord, and the match was 35 minutes old before she won a game — and only then because Jankovic double-faulted on break point.

Jankovic won 27 points in the first set, 20 on unforced errors by her opponent.

"I still felt like I was in the match," Sharapova said. "And I was."

She then began to find her range while hitting even harder than before, while Jankovic did her best to withstand the barrage. In contrast to Sharapova’s metronomic shrieking, Jankovic went about her business in silence — until she started muttering to herself as her lead disappeared.

"It was a big fight," Jankovic said. "It was great tennis out there. We battled."

Sharapova earned the first break of the final set to take her first lead at 4-3. Toward the end the rallies became longer, and she won the majority, often by hitting shots at improbable angles.

Twice Sharapova yanked lunging backhand returns cross-court for winners. She finished off another point with a forehand struck so violently her necklace flew into her face.

When Jankovic’s final shot sailed wide, Sharapova responded with a slack-jawed smile, as though she couldn’t quite believe her comeback. She had dropped a first set 6-0 five other times in her career — and went on to lose each match.

Most of her results this year have been less stressful. She’s 35-4, with all but four of those matches decided in straight sets.

Azarenka is 27-2 and enjoying her best run in eight appearances at Roland Garros. She needed 76 minutes to take the grueling first set against Kirilenko, and the Belarusian improved her record this year in tiebreakers to 4-0. The second set went more quickly, with Azarenka losing only six points in four service games.

Azarenka advanced to the semifinals at her fourth consecutive major event.

SHARAPOVA AND AZARENKA LAND IN FRENCH OPEN QUARTERS

(6/3/13) Reigning champion Maria Sharapova and Australian Open titlist Victoria Azarenka were a pair of easy fourth-round winners Monday at the French Open.

The second-seeded former world No. 1 Sharapova eased past 17th-seeded American Sloane Stephens 6-4, 6-3, while the third-seeded former top-ranked Azarenka won the final nine games in a 6-3, 6-0 rout of former Roland Garros champion Francesca Schiavone to reach the quarterfinals here for a third time.

The reigning two-time Aussie Open champ Azarenka, though, has never been to the semifinals at Roland Garros.

"The next step is quarterfinals," the Belarusian star Azarenka said. "Never been past it here, so it would definitely be a much better result."

Schiavone won the 2010 French title and was the 2011 runner-up. The Italian veteran hasn't been past fourth round of a major since her loss to Li Na in the 2011 French finale.

Sharapova beat Italian Sara Errani in last year's French Open final to complete the career Grand Slam and has now won her last 11 matches here after dismissing Stephens on Monday. The Aussie Open semifinalist Stephens was 8-1 in Grand Slam action this season before running into the Russian superstar Sharapova, who broke her eight times in advancing.

The 20-year-old Stephens is now 1-8 lifetime against women ranked in the top five.

Sharapova awaits the Jelena Jankovic-Jamie Hampton winner, while Azarenka will next play 12th-seeded Russian Maria Kirilenko, who handled surprising American Bethanie-Mattek Sands 7-5, 6-4 on Day 9. The 26-year-old Kirilenko has yet to lose a set at this fortnight and will now appear in her first-ever French Open quarterfinal and third career major quarter.

Sharapova calls for Hawk-Eye after scare

(6/1/13) Umpires clambering off their chairs to inspect ball marks in the clay is a common sight at Roland Garros but champion Maria Sharapova believes it is time technology took over after a rough call in her win on Saturday.

Sharapova slipped 4-1 down in the second set against tenacious Chinese Zheng Jie before going through 6-1 7-5 to set up a French Open last-16 clash with American Sloane Stephens.

Serving at 3-1 down in the second set the second seed's second delivery was called out. The umpire checked the mark at her insistence and confirmed the call although television replays suggested the Russian's suspicions were justified.

"First of all it's not even about the fact of the call, whether it was in or out," Sharapova told reporters.

"I think for me it was the fact the umpire did not recognise the mark he pointed out was about a foot away from the actual mark. That's a huge question mark to begin with.

"All the other grand slams have Hawk-Eye and I know these types of situations happen although much more rarely on the clay. Why not? Why don't we have a system like this?

"I mean, is it a money concern? I don't think so. This is just absolute proof that it's a big point and it can happen in any situation," said Sharapova.

The other three grand slams, two played on hardcourts and one on grass at Wimbledon, allow players to have three unsuccessful Hawk-Eye challenges each set and the system is popular with players and fans.

Sharapova, playing for the third day in succession after needing two days to complete her second-round match because of rain, was forced into a scrap after initially looking a class above her 43rd-ranked opponent.

She trailed 4-1 in the second set, clawed back to 4-4 and then fell 5-4 behind.

Zheng served to level the match but Sharapova turned up the volume of her grunting and her play to avoid being extended further.

"Down 4-1 is not a score I want but I am happy with the way I fought back and I found a way to win that second set without having to go into a third," the 26-year-old said.

Cdn Bouchard falls to Sharapova after rain delay

(5/31/13) Canadians Eugenie Bouchard and Daniel Nestor lost their matches Friday at the French Open.

The No. 77-ranked Bouchard, from Montreal, was dispatched by defending champion Maria Sharapova 6-2, 6-4 in a second-round match that was forced to be completed Friday due to rain.

Bouchard, meanwhile, trailed by a set and 4-2 when the match was halted Thursday night by rain.

The 19-year-old put up a stubborn defence Friday before falling on a first match point as her forehand sailed over the baseline.

“It was a good experience, to play one of the best in the world,” Bouchard said. “I saw her game, her shots.

“She kept me on my heels a lot. I tried to counter that and was able to play my best game at some stages.”

Bouchard, who made her first WTA semifinal last weekend in Strasbourg, converted on only one-of-six break chances and committed 22 unforced errors. Sharapova also won their only previous meeting in March in Miami.

“I did better than Miami, it was more competitive this time,” Bouchard said. “I wasn’t quite as blown off the court as in Miami.

“It was an improvement. I was excited and motivated and was really looking forward to the match.”

Rain stops Sharapova's match with Bouchard

(5/30/13) Defending champion Maria Sharapova led 19-year-old Eugenie Bouchard of Canada 6-2, 4-2 before rain interrupted their second-round match at the French Open on Thursday.

The 26-year-old Sharapova, who completed a career Grand Slam by winning at Roland Garros last year, secured a break in the fifth game of the second set and held as she closed in on victory.

But play was interrupted late in the next game as rain came down again. Both players sat under umbrellas for a few minutes before walking off. Play was then suspended for the day.

Bouchard, last year's Wimbledon junior champion, traded big shots with Sharapova at the start of the second set, troubling her with some heavy forehands.

Bouchard lost to Alize Cornet in the semifinals of the Strasbourg International last week.

Sharapova is not 'court' out as she strolls through

(5/27/13) Maria Sharapova was not distracted by a late court switch as she started her French Open title defense with a ruthless 6-2 6-1 dismissal of Taipei's Hsieh Su-Wei in the first round on Monday.

With the men's encounter between Frenchman Gael Monfils and Czech Tomas Berdych dragging on over on Chatrier Court, the Russian second seed's match was moved to the Suzanne Lenglen arena where Sharapova enjoyed a 54-minute stroll.

She ended her opponent's ordeal with a crosscourt backhand winner, with some spectators having barely had time to sit down.

Sharapova next faces Canada's Eugenie Bouchard.

French Open women's singles first round draw

(5/25/13) Draw for the French Open women's singles first round (prefix number denotes seeding):

1-Serena Williams (U.S.) v Anna Tatishvili (Georgia)

Qualifier v Caroline Garcia (France)

Monica Niculescu (Romania) v Johanna Larsson (Sweden)

Kiki Bertens (Netherlands) v 26-Sorana Cirstea (Romania)

19-Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova (Russia) v Andrea Hlavackova (Czech Republic)

Petra Cetkovska (Czech Republic) v Olga Pushkova (Russia)

Qualifier v Qualifier

Stephanie Foretz-Gacon (France) v 15-Roberta Vinci (Italy)

10-Caroline Wozniacki (Denmark) v Laura Robson (Britain)

Qualifier v Bojana Jovanovski (Serbia)

Pauline Parmentier (France) v Magdalena Rybarikova (Slovakia)

Svetlana Kuznetsova (Russia) v 22-Ekaterina Makarova (Russia)

29-Varvara Lepchenko (U.S.) v Mirjana Lucic-Baroni (Croatia)

Romina Oprandi (Switzerland) v Elina Svitolina (Ukraine)

Jana Cepelova (Slovakia) v Christina McHale (U.S.)

Mona Barthel (Germany) v 8-Angelique Kerber (Germany)

4-Agnieszka Radwanska (Poland) v Shahar Peer (Israel)

Mallory Burdette (U.S.) v Donna Vekic (Croatia)

Qualifier v Mandy Minella (Luxembourg)

Urszula Radwanska (Poland) v 30-Venus Williams (U.S.)

24-Julia Goerges (Germany) v Qualifier

Virginie Razzano (France) v Claire Feuerstein (France)

Chanelle Scheepers (South Africa) v Mathilde Johansson (France)

Petra Martic (Croatia) v 14-Ana Ivanovic (Serbia)

11-Nadia Petrova (Russia) v Monica Puig (Puerto Rico)

Madison Keys (U.S.) v Misaki Doi (Japan)

Irena Pavlovic (France) v Shelby Rogers (U.S.)

Simona Halep (Romania) v 20-Carla Suarez Navarro (Spain)

32-Sabine Lisicki (Germany) v Sofia Arvidsson (Sweden)

Maria-Teresa Torro Flores (Spain) v Qualifier

Ayumi Morita (Japan) v Yulia Putintseva (Kazakhstan)

Arantxa Rus (Netherlands) v 5-Sara Errani (Italy)

16-Li Na (China) v Annabel Medina-Garrigues (Spain)

Bethanie Mattek-Sands (U.S.) v Lourdes Dominguez Lino (Spain)

Tatjana Maria (Germany) v Qualifier

Coco Vandeweghe (U.S.) v 27-Yaroslava Shvedova (Kazakhstan)

23-Klara Zakopalova (Czech Republic) v Kaia Kanepi (Estonia)

Stefanie Voegele (Switzerland) v Heather Watson (Britain)

Ashleigh Barty (Australia) v Lucie Hradecka (Czech Republic)

Nina Bratchikova (Portugal) v 12-Maria Kirilenko (Russia)

13-Marion Bartoli (France) v Olga Govortsova (Belarus)

Kristyna Pliskova (Czech Republic) v Qualifier

Melinda Czink (Hungary) v Francesca Schiavone (Italy)

Flavia Pennetta (Italy) v 21-Kirsten Flipkens (Belgium)

31-Alize Cornet (France) v Maria Joao Koehler (Portugal)

Irina-Camelia Begu (Romania) v Silvia Soler-Espinosa (Spain)

Qualifier v Annika Beck (Germany)

Elena Vesnina (Russia) v 3-Victoria Azarenka (Belarus)

7-Petra Kvitova (Czech Republic) v Aravane Rezai (France)

Peng Shuai (China) v Camila Giorgi (Italy)

Qualifier v Yanina Wickmayer (Belgium)

Jamie Hampton (U.S) v 25-Lucie Safarova (Czech Republic)

18-Jelena Jankovic (Serbia) v Daniela Hantuchova (Slovakia)

Karolina Pliskova (Czech Republic) v Garbine Muguruza (Spain)

Kristina Mladenovic (France) v Lauren Davis (U.S.)

Kimiko Date-Krumm (Japan) v 9-Samantha Stosur (Australia)

16-Dominika Cibulkova (Slovakia) v Lesia Tsurenko (Ukraine)

Marina Erakovic (New Zealand) v Elena Baltacha (Britain)

Qualifier v Alexandra Cadantu (Romania)

Karin Knapp (Italy) v 17-Sloane Stephens (U.S.)

28-Tamira Paszek (Austria) v Melanie Oudin (U.S.)

Zheng Jie (China) v Vesna Dolonc (Serbia)

Eugenie Bouchard (Canada) v Tsvetana Pironkova (Bulgaria)

Hsieh Su-Wei (Taiwan) v 2-Maria Sharapova (Russia)

Defending champ Sharapova out of Italian Open

(5/17/13) Two-time defending champion Maria Sharapova has withdrawn before her Italian Open quarterfinal match against seventh-seeded Sara Errani with an unspecified physical problem.

The announcement comes less than 10 days before the start of the French Open, the year’s second Grand Slam, which starts May 26.

Sharapova showed no problems as she beat 16th-seeded Sloane Stephens 6-2, 6-1 Thursday, and she was runner-up to Serena Williams in last week’s Madrid Open.

The withdrawal means Errani advances to the semifinals. Her opponent will be either third-seeded Victoria Azarenka or ninth-seeded Sam Stosur.

S. Williams beats Sharapova to win Madrid Open

(5/12/13) Serena Williams kept the No. 1, and added No. 50.

Williams beat Maria Sharapova 6-1, 6-4 in the final of the Madrid Open Sunday to retain her No. 1 ranking and collect her 50th career title, while Rafael Nadal saw off Stanislas Wawrinka 6-2, 6-4 for his fifth title since returning from a knee injury.

The second-ranked Sharapova would have taken the top ranking with a win, but Williams stormed to an early lead as Sharapova struggled with her serve.

Despite Sharapova briefly recovering her poise in the second set, Williams’ form never dipped as she defended her title.

"It feels good," Williams said of winning her 50th title. "I don’t know how many more I can win. Who knows if I will ever win another title? I just want to live the dream. Hopefully, I can keep it going.

"When you first start out everything is so exciting. Now I expect to win."

Williams improved her record against Sharapova to 13-2, with her only two losses coming in 2004.

The 31-year-old Williams, playing in her first red clay final since 2002, dominated Sharapova from the start as the Russian never managed to steady her erratic serve.

"I started the match really slow and against an opponent like her you can’t give her that," said Sharapova, who had won her previous seven red-clay finals. "I wasn’t reacting well. I wasn’t moving well. Not only the double faults I made, I didn’t have a lot of great first serves in. She was really stepping up."

Sharapova committed five double faults in her first three service games, dropping the first two as Williams eased to a one-set lead. Her shaky serve let Williams gear up and land several winning shots before closing out the first set with a floating return that clipped the line.

Sharapova earned and converted her first break point to begin the second set, opening up a 3-1 advantage.

But the former No. 1-ranked player’s serve again betrayed her as she hit another double fault, and Williams’ precise groundstrokes set up three break points to hit right back.

Williams closed out the final after Sharapova recorded her eighth and final double fault before sending the ball long to give up her fifth service game.

Last year, Williams won here on the experimental blue clay surface that was removed after complaints from players that it was too slick.

Williams said the move back to red clay meant the tournament was a good warm-up for the French Open starting at the end of the month.

"This court is definitely different," she said. "It plays like Roland Garros and that is a plus. So I think it is great preparation."

Cheered on by the home crowd at the Caja Magica, the fifth-ranked Nadal cruised to his 55th career title and extended his head-to-head record with Wawrinka to 9-0.

Nadal flopped on his back and screamed in joy when his Swiss opponent’s final volley fell long to end the match.

It was Nadal’s seventh straight final since coming back from a nagging case of tendinitis in his left knee that sidelined him for seven months.

"I’m very happy and maybe this victory is even more special considering how complicated this year has been," said Nadal. "This tournament couldn’t have gone better for me.

"I think this was my best match of the tournament. This was perhaps the match where I was the most aggressive."

Nadal imposed his ground game from the start. He worked his opponent around the court and punished him with passing shots when he tried to come forward.

The local favourite set the tone in the first game by breaking Wawrinka with a vicious flick to land the ball on the sideline.

Nadal, who had won here in 2005 and 2010, roared out to a 4-0 lead in 20 minutes.

The 15th-ranked Wawrinka settled down in the second set and was able to take Nadal’s service game to deuce. But Nadal returned two line-drive shots by Wawrinka at the net before he fired the third try long. Nadal then drove in an ace to end Wawrinka’s challenge.

"Nadal showed again that he is the best on clay," said Wawrinka, who also congratulated Nadal’s coaching staff for helping him back from his layoff.

"Since he has come back he has shown that it is really tough to beat him."

SERENA TO PLAY SHARAPOVA IN MADRID FINAL WITH NO. 1 AT STAKE

(5/11/13) Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova will play for both the No. 1 ranking and the Madrid Open title after both won their semifinals in straight sets on Saturday.

The top-ranked Williams will have a chance to win her 50th career title after beating Sara Errani of Italy 7-5, 6-2, while No. 2 Sharapova recorded her 500th career win at all levels after seeing off Ana Ivanovic 6-4, 6-3.

Sharapova has won all 10 sets she has played on Madrid's outdoor red clay court. Williams, however, boasts a 12-2 record against the Russian.

After a skittish start, Williams dominated Errani and broke her final service game in both sets.

"I feel I played solid," Williams said. "In the second set more than in the first, I made a few less errors, which is something I needed to do."

The defending champion improved to 5-0 against the seventh-ranked Errani and to 30-2 overall this year.

Williams said Sharapova would pose a difficult challenge.

"I feel this whole tournament I have only played clay-court opponents," said Williams. "All have been smaller than me. Tomorrow will be a different game, more power."

Williams struggled with her shot-making early, uncharacteristically misfiring on three smashes in the first set, which she still managed to pull out after falling behind 3-1.

The 15-time Grand Slam winner then started clicking with her serve and held two games to love, but she needed four set points before finally breaking Errani with a forehand winner placed just inside the line to grab the lead.

Ahead a set, Williams pressed her advantage and eased through the second.

On Sunday, Williams will play her first final on red clay since 2002. Last year's trophy at the Caja Magica came on the experimental blue clay surface that was removed following players' complaints it was too slippery.

After Sharapova took the first set, Ivanovic opened up a 2-0 lead in the second. But Sharapova responded and stole her serve twice, sealing the second break with a lob over the top of her Serb rival.

Sharapova has beaten Ivanovic, a fellow former No. 1, in their last six meetings.

Sharapova beats Lisicki to reach Madrid quarters

(5/9/13) Second-seeded Maria Sharapova beat Sabine Lisicki of Germany 6-2, 7-5 Thursday to advance to the quarterfinals of the Madrid Open.

Sharapova used her big serve to take the first set with relative ease, but Lisicki put up stubborn resistance in the second.

Both players traded early breaks in the second set before Sharapova finally converted a fourth break point when Lisicki returned her well-placed slice into the net.

Sharapova didn't waste the opportunity to serve out the match, hitting an ace and forcing Lisicki into three errors in the final game to finish the third-round contest in 1 hour, 42 minutes.

''She is the kind of opponent that plays extremely well against the top players,'' said Sharapova, who lost to Lisicki last year at Wimbledon.

The Russian former No. 1 will face either Daniela Hantuchova or Kaia Kanepi next.

The Madrid Open is a key clay-court warm-up tournament for the French Open, where Sharapova will be trying to defend her title this month.

''(Last year) was an incredible memory for me and one that I will have the rest of my life,'' she said. ''I'm still very hungry to win it. When I have that type of attitude I work harder to that goal. I find a lot of motivation at going back and trying to defend my title.''

Also, Spain's Anabel Medina reached the quarterfinals after Yaroslava Shvedova withdrew due to a right arm injury.

Top-ranked Serena Williams plays Maria Kirilenko later, while Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal also have third-round matches in the men's event.

Maria Sharapova's Sexy Swimsuit Pics: See the Twin Covers of Esquire Latin America

(5/7/13) (Photo1, Photo2) And we thought Maria Sharapova looked good in tennis gear.

The world's current No. 2 player on the women's pro tour serves up plenty of sexiness on twin covers of Esquire Latin America's June issue, and we have your sneak peek at both the digital and print covers right here.

This is the first time an international edition of the men's mag has bothered to go with a different online cover—and it's obvious why they opted to play doubles this time.

Why choose between Sharapova in a black Tomas Maier bikini top and Janey Lopaty Vintage bottoms and Sharapova in a gold Versace one-piece when you can have both?!

Sharapova beats Dulgheru, advances at Madrid Open

(5/6/13) Maria Sharapova rallied from a break down in the first set to beat Alexandra Dulgheru of Romania 7-5, 6-2 Monday and reach the second round of the Madrid Open.

The second-seeded Russian said she was still adjusting to the altitude and changing weather conditions in Madrid after winning the title in Stuttgart last weekend. Madrid is 2,180 feet above sea level.

Sharapova said she was ''really happy that I got that break back in the first set,'' and dominated the second.

In the men's event, 11th-seeded Nicolas Almagro of Spain advanced when Tobias Kamke of Germany retired injured after losing the first set 6-4.

The top-seeded players in the men's draw, including Novak Djokovic, Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer, have a bye into the second round.

Sharapova shows off "Shugarpova" candy in Moscow

(4/29/13) Fresh from claiming her 29th WTA singles title, Maria Sharapova made a one-day stop in Moscow to present her 'Shugarpova' candy brand to the Russian market on Monday.

The Florida-based Russian insisted that despite her multiple business ventures, her tennis career remains her main focus.

"Right now tennis is the most important for me," the world number two told reporters at an upscale Moscow store, where a small pack of 'Shugarpova' sweets is sold for 175 roubles ($5.66).

Sharapova, who turned 26 this month, said she still planned to compete at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro.

"(The London Olympics) was a good experience for me. I got a chance to carry the Russian flag at the opening ceremony and winning a silver medal," she said.

"But now I want more, I hope to get the gold in 2016."

Sharapova retained her Stuttgart title by beating China's Li Na in Sunday's final on clay as she continued her preparations for next month's French Open where she will defend her title.

SHARAPOVA BEATS LI TO DEFEND HER PORSCHE GP TITLE

(4/28/13) Maria Sharapova beat Li Na 6-4, 6-3 on Sunday to defend her WTA Porsche Grand Prix title in a final that brought together the last two French Open champions.

The top-seeded Russian swept to her second title of the year after winning in Indian Wells, and became the first player to defend the Stuttgart title since Lindsey Davenport in 2005.

"I thought it'd be the toughest match of the tournament, but I played my best tennis today," Sharapova said. "I was able to step it up."

Sharapova used the Stuttgart tournament as her clay-court debut just like last season, when she went on to capture the French Open.

The second-seeded Li double-faulted on match point and had another one earlier in the final game, as Sharapova collected the 29th title of her career -- and a sports car to go with it.

"I was under pressure on her return, she was aggressive," Li said.

Sharapova, ranked No. 2 in the world, had to fight through three long three-setters to get to the championship match, but there was little drama in the final.

The Russian opened with a break and went up 4-1 before Li could pull back one break. But that was not enough and Sharapova closed out the set with a service winner.

"I tried to put it together from the start," Sharapova said.

Li, who became the first Chinese player to win a Grand Slam title with her victory at Roland Garros in 2011, simply didn't have enough consistency to threaten Sharapova, and the Russian gained the key break in the seventh game of the second when Li sent a volley wide.

"I'm a little sad to lose but it's a pretty good start to my clay-court season," Li said.

Sharapova now holds a 9-5 career edge over Li, who beat the Russian in the semifinals of the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam of the year.

It was Sharapova's 16th consecutive win on clay, dating back to Rome last year. Since Stuttgart last year, she is 23-1 on clay. Her only loss was to Serena Williams in Madrid.

Sharapova rallies to reach final of Porsche GP

(4/27/13) Defending champion Maria Sharapova came from behind in the third set to beat Angelique Kerber 6-3, 2-6, 7-5 Saturday and earn a spot in the final of the Porsche Grand Prix.

The top-seeded Russian committed two consecutive double-faults to drop her serve at the start of the decisive set. But Sharapova won the last eight points and clinched the match when her third-seeded German opponent hit a backhand long. Sharapova had wasted a chance to serve out the match in the ninth game after taking a 5-3 lead.

Sharapova will play either second-seeded Li Na or qualifier Bethanie Mattek-Sands for the title in the indoor clay-court tournament Sunday.

After winning in Stuttgart last year, Sharapova went on to take the French Open title as well.

Sharapova, ranked No. 2 in the world, is looking for her second title of the year after winning in Indian Wells. She would be the first player to defend her title in Stuttgart since Lindsay Davenport in 2005. Sharapova now has 15 straight wins on clay.

The Russian set the tone in the first set by breaking serve in the opening game. Kerber saved two set points but then produced a double-fault to give it away. But the German rallied in the second, twice breaking Sharapova’s serve with aggressive play.

Both players mixed sizzling winners on the lines with errors on simple shots. Sharapova was particularly inconsistent, hitting 42 winners but also producing 44 unforced errors.

But her strong finish in the last two games allowed Sharapova to collect her fourth career win against the sixth-ranked Kerber, against one defeat.

Sharapova edges Ivanovic to reach Stuttgart semis

(4/26/13) Top-seeded Maria Sharapova got through another tough test in outlasting Ana Ivanovic 7-5, 4-6, 6-4 on Friday to advance to the semifinals of the Porsche Grand Prix.

Sharapova, the defending champion, needed more than 3 hours to overcome Lucie Safarova a day earlier. This one was an hour shorter but perhaps just as intense.

''It was hard to get my body going, I needed some time to warm up a little,'' Sharapova said. ''Another tough one.''

Sharapova used this indoor clay-court tournament last year to warm up for the French Open, where she won the title.

Against Ivanovic, another former No. 1 and the 2008 French Open champion, Sharapova squandered a 4-1 lead in the third set before breaking serve again and serving out the match on her second match point.

''Ana has a much bigger game, a big forehand, I really had to push myself through the end, I am glad I got through,'' the Russian said.

Bethanie Mattek-Sands, an American qualifier, beat Sabine Lisicki of Germany 6-4, 6-2, a day after upsetting fourth-seeded Sara Errani in a match that lasted past 1:30 a.m.

Sharapova will next play third-seeded Angelique Kerber, who defeated Yaroslava Shvedova of Kazakhstan 6-3, 7-6 (2) to reach her third semifinal of the season.

Germany's No. 1 player is looking for her first title of the year after finishing runner-up in Monterrey. She reached the semis in Stuttgart for the first time.

Shvedova trailed 4-1 before breaking back. But she dropped her serve again with two errors from the baseline. The two traded breaks in the first three games of the second before Kerber opened a 3-1 lead, only to see Shvedova pull level at 3-3. Kerber raced to a decisive 5-1 lead in the tiebreaker.

''I played my game and I was aggressive,'' Kerber said.

Ivanovic had one of her seven double-faults to give Sharapova a break point and the Russian attacked the Serb's second serve to force her into an error for a 6-5 lead. Sharapova then served out the first set.

Sharapova then produced one of her six double-faults to give Ivanovic the second set.

The Russian started strongly in the third, before Ivanovic pulled level at 4-4.

''I felt I needed to give myself a little energy after the second set,'' Sharapova said.

Ivanovic failed to build on her momentum and dropped her serve in the ninth game, before Sharapova clinched the match when Ivanovic hit a forehand wide.

''It's frustrating, I feel I was so close,'' the Serb said. ''It was very close. A few points that could have gone either way decided the match.''

''Still, I feel I played high-quality tennis, I feel I can challenge anyone on this surface,'' Ivanovic said.

Sharapova downs Safarova at Porsche GP

(4/25/13) Top-seeded Maria Sharapova needed three sets and more than three hours Thursday in her clay-court debut of the year to overcome Lucie Safarova of the Czech Republic for a place in the quarterfinals of the Porsche Grand Prix.

Sharapova, the defending champion, won 6-4, 6-7 (3), 6-3 in a match that lasted 3:09 hours.

The Russian saved two set points in the second set before surrendering the tiebreaker, in which she had one of her eight double-faults. She also had eight aces.

Sharapova, who used this indoor clay tournament last year to prepare for her French Open victory, broke serve for a 4-2 lead but needed five match points to close out the encounter. The match ended when she hit a net cord that dropped into Safarova’s half. Safarova reached it but could only send it back long and wide.

"I’ve had a few three hour games in my career, so I knew I just had to keep fighting until the end," Sharapova said. "That’s when it’s the time to get the game-plan going and calm down a little bit."

"Clay is one of her favourite surfaces and I knew this was going to be a tough game, so I am glad to get through. The first match of the clay-court season is always tough, it’s nothing like practicing," she said.

Sharapova’s quarterfinal opponent will be Ana Ivanovic of Serbia, who beat eight-seeded Russian Nadia Petrova 6-4, 6-3.

Williams wins Sony Open for record sixth time

(3/30/13) Serena Williams has broken the Key Biscayne women’s record for most titles, and Maria Sharapova has set a new standard for futility in finals.

Williams swept the last 10 games and earned a record sixth title by rallying past Sharapova 4-6, 6-3, 6-0 at the Sony Open on Saturday.

Sharapova completed a career Grand Slam by winning the French Open last year, but she’s winless in five Key Biscayne finals. She played nearly flawless tennis for the first hour, but then began to miss with her serve. Williams dominated rallies with her power.

At 31, the No. 1-ranked Williams became the oldest female champion at Key Biscayne. She won the tournament for the first time since 2008 and surpassed Steffi Graf, a five-time champion.

Sharapova reaches Key Biscayne final for 5th time

(3/28/13) Four-time runner-up Maria Sharapova advanced to another Key Biscayne final by beating Jelena Jankovic 6-2, 6-1 on Thursday at the Sony Open.

With a victory Saturday, the No. 3-seeded Sharapova would plug one of the few holes in her resume. She completed a career Grand Slam by winning the French Open last year but has never won the Miami tournament.

''It would mean so much to me,'' the Russian said. ''I absolutely love this city. It's the first city I landed in when I came to the United States as a little girl.''

Sharapova's opponent in the final will be the winner of Thursday night's match between five-time champion Serena Williams and defending champ Agnieszka Radwanska.

On a sunny, mild afternoon, Sharapova won the first 10 points against the No. 22-seeded Jankovic and hardly let up from there. Sharapova committed only 10 unforced errors from the baseline in 88 points while breaking serve six times.

Jankovic was playing for the second time in under 18 hours, and she was repeatedly a step late trying to reach Sharapova's shots.

The rout came 24 hours after Sharapova's sloppy quarterfinal win over Sara Errani, when she had 57 unforced errors, including 13 double-faults. She double-faulted only three times against Jankovic.

''I just really thought I needed to step it up from my last match and play a little better,'' she said. ''I was really happy with the way I focused.''

Sharapova lost the Miami final to Kim Clijsters in 2005, Svetlana Kuznetsova in '06, Victoria Azarenka in '11 and Radwanska last year.

Sharapova took the Indian Wells title two weeks ago and has won 22 consecutive sets, a career best, while winning 11 matches in a row. She's bidding to become the third woman to win Indian Wells and Key Biscayne in the same year. Steffi Graf did it in 1994 and 1996, and Clijsters won both in 2005.

Sharapova overcomes errors to beat Errani

(3/27/13) The grunts were long and loud in the final game, as if Maria Sharapova was pushing a couch across nearby Crandon Beach.

Trying to winning the Sony Open must feel that way to Sharapova, a four-time runner-up. She returned to the semifinals Wednesday despite a patchy performance, beating Sara Errani 7-5, 7-5.

Sharapova made 57 unforced errors, including 13 double-faults, and overcame three set points in the second set. The two sets took 2 1/2 hours, and a flurry of mistakes by both players left spectators groaning.

Sharapova had the last laugh, whacking a forehand winner on match point.

“She really made me work for this match,” Sharapova said. “I had to dig deep — so many opportunities, a few ups and downs. I’m definitely happy to get through another one.”

Seeded No. 3, she’ll play Thursday against the winner of the quarterfinal Wednesday night between No. 15-seeded Roberta Vinci and No. 22 Jelena Jankovic.

The men’s quarterfinals featured eight Europeans for the first time, and in the opening match, No. 3 David Ferrer of Spain rallied past unseeded Jurgen Melzer of Austria, 4-6, 6-3, 6-0. Ferrer’s opponent Friday will be the winner of the match Wednesday night between bracket buster Tommy Haas of Germany and No. 11 Gilles Simon of France.

The 34-year-old Haas became the oldest man to beat a No. 1 player in a completed match in 30 years when he upset three-time champion Novak Djokovic on Tuesday night.

Sharapova faced Errani in a rematch of last year’s French Open final, which Sharapova won to complete a career Grand Slam. But she has never won Key Biscayne, losing the final in 2005, ’06, ’11 and ’12.

“I’ve been so close to winning,” Sharapova said. “I would love to win this. I’ve been coming to this tournament since I was a little kid as a spectator. To be playing here, to be doing so well and getting to that stage, I sure hope I can go further this time.”

The quarterfinal took place with the stadium half empty despite postcard weather. Attendance is down about 7 per cent from last year, and promoters blame the absence of Rafael Nadal and Roger Federer.

Sharapova struggled with both her first and second serves, and in the second set she lost eight consecutive service points. While she and Errani waged a series of long, entertaining baseline rallies, both were also prone to blowing easy shots.

Sharapova’s superior firepower proved the difference. Serving at 4-5 in the second set, she saved three set points and held. Two games later she endured one final double-fault, then hit winners on the last two points.

Errani, seeded No. 8, fell to 0-26 against opponents ranked in the top five.

Sharapova has won 10 consecutive matches, all in straight sets. She won the Indian Wells championship this month and is bidding to become the third woman to claim that title and Key Biscayne in the same year. Steffi Graf did it in 1994 and 1996, and Kim Clijsters won both in 2005.

Sharapova powers on in search of elusive Miami win

(3/25/13) Maria Sharapova powered her way past another opponent at the Sony Open in Miami on Monday as the Russian world number two remains on target to finally claim a tournament that has brought her plenty of heartbreak.

The third seed shrugged off the challenge of Klara Zakopalova, easing to a 6-2 6-2 victory over the Czech to advance to the quarter-finals and inch closer making it fifth time lucky in Florida.

Sharapova was beaten in the last two finals after also falling in the tournament decider in 2005 and 2006, and her determination to go one better this year was evident against Zakopalova, who was helpless in the face of the Russian's power.

Earlier, top seed Serena Williams stared defeat in the face before mounting an exciting comeback to overcome Slovakia's Dominika Cibulkova.

Williams trailed by a set and 4-1 before she reeled off the next five games and ultimately took the match 2-6 6-4 6-2.

"This particular time I just thought to myself, 'I've been down worse. It's nothing new. Just keep fighting,'" Williams told reporters.

"I never give up. It doesn't matter whether it's in life or on the tennis court, I keep fighting. That's what I kept doing today."

Williams closed out the contest with her 14th ace in a battle that lasted a little less than two hours. The American is bidding to become the tournament's first six-time winner, and claim her first title here since 2008.

For Cibulkova, it was another missed opportunity. Last year, she had then top-ranked Victoria Azarenka down 6-1 5-2 but could not finish the job.

On the men's side, second seed Andy Murray overcame some early jitters before advancing past Grigor Dimitrov 7-6 6-3 in their third round encounter.

Murray had issues with his serve early on and fell behind 5-2 in the first set but his Bulgarian opponent was unable to close out the set, suffering as a result of three double faults.

The Briton found his rhythm in the second set and never looked back.

"It was way cooler today with much slower conditions," Murray said. "I was leaving the ball a bit short. Once I started to improve my depth a bit, I made it tough for him."

The reigning U.S. Open Champion will next play Italy's Andreas Seppi. Murray, a Miami winner in 2009, was beaten by Novak Djokovic in last year's final.

Sharapova moves into 4th round of Sony Open

(3/24/13) Mired in a marathon game midway through the opening set, Maria Sharapova wore down her opponent with characteristic resolve and relentlessness, then won the last point without hitting a shot.

That put Sharapova ahead to stay, and she beat fellow Russian Elena Vesnina on a muggy, 85-degree Fahrenheit afternoon at the Sony Open, 6-4, 6-2.

The No. 3-seeded Sharapova moved into the fourth round, eager to fill one of the few holes in her resume. While she completed a career Grand Slam last year, she has never won Key Biscayne, losing the finals in 2005, ’06, ’11 and ’12.

It’s in the back of my mind,” she said. “It’s one of the biggest tournaments for us, and it’s one that I have been the most consistent at, being in four finals, but yet not winning it. I would definitely love to go a step further here.”

Her pivotal moment Sunday came at 3-all in the first set. The next game went to deuce seven times, with Sharapova repeatedly erasing a deficit, until Vesnina dumped a weary second serve into the net on break point.

“That was a very important game,” Sharapova said. “It was a really long one. I was ready for a water break.”

All told, Sharapova benefited from eight double-faults by the No. 29-seeded Vesnina, and erased eight of the nine break points she faced.

Lauren Davis of the United States lost to No. 32-seeded Alize Cornet at the peak of the heat, and their 2 1/2-hour match left both players so exhausted they were taken off the court in wheelchairs. Davis also required treatment in the third set after being stung by a wasp.

Both players later said they were fine. Cornet won 2-6, 6-3, 6-2.

Top-ranked Novak Djokovic, seeking his fourth Key Biscayne title and third in a row, defeated No. 254-ranked Somdev Devvarman 6-2, 6-4. Djokovic next faces No. 15-seeded Tommy Haas, who beat No. 19 Alexandr Dolgopolov 6-3, 6-2.

Haas turns 35 next month and is playing at Key Biscayne for the 12th time.

“You can always expect Tommy to fight and try his best,” Djokovic said. “So I know what to expect. It’s going to be a tough match.”

Among the seeded women to lose were No. 6 Angelique Kerber, No. 11 Nadia Petrova and No. 14 Maria Kirilenko. Kerber was beaten by No. 28 Sorana Cirstea 6-4, 6-0. Petrova was ousted by No. 22 Jelena Jankovic 7-6 (7), 6-4. Kirilenko lost to No. 21 Klara Zakopalova 6-2, 7-6 (4).

The sweltering sunshine was motivation to work quickly, but Sharapova needed nearly two hours to eliminate Vesnina. Both players struggled with their serve as they battled the island breeze, and both rued missed chances. Sharapova converted only four of 18 break points.

When Vesnina finally sailed a shot long to lose the opening set, Sharapova screamed and shook her fist at the ball, as though trying to intimidate it. The gesture seemed to work, and she claimed the second set more easily.

“It was a matter of patience,” Sharapova said. “In situations like this where it’s tough and it’s hot, it kind of levels out the game a little bit, and with the windy conditions you have to be a bit more patient. That was really important today.”

Vesnina fell to 1-18 against top-five players.

Sharapova seeks to become only the third woman to win Indian Wells and Key Biscayne back to back. She beat Caroline Wozniacki in the Indian Wells final a week ago and has a record of 16-2 this year.

She has lost Key Biscayne finals to Kim Clijsters, Svetlana Kuznetsova, Victoria Azarenka and Agnieszka Radwanska. Her history at the tournament actually dates back even further — to grade school, when her family lived Bradenton, Fla., and would attend matches as spectators.

“It was just a four-hour drive down,” she said. “We’d watch Yevgeny Kafelnikov, and I remember watching Marcelo Rios playing. I loved watching him play, and especially all the Latin fans at close to midnight still going strong. It was a great atmosphere.

“I was a fan, and now I’m a player here.”

But not yet a champion. Top-ranked Serena Williams looms as a potential opponent in Saturday’s final.

Sharapova downs Canadian Bouchard at Sony

(3/23/13) An ankle injury forced two-time champion Victoria Azarenka to withdraw from the Sony Open on Friday, and Lauren Davis quickly went from lucky loser to lucky winner.

Given a spot in the draw when Azarenka pulled out, Davis took advantage of shaky play by Madison Keys in the decisive tiebreaker to win their second-round match 6-1, 5-7, 7-6 (7).

Davis trailed 6-3 in the tiebreaker and then saved three consecutive match points, all on unforced errors by Keys.

This was Davis’ first victory at Key Biscayne, and the 19-year-old barely made the tournament. She learned at 10 a.m. that Azarenka had quit, and an hour later was playing on the stadium court.

"I didn’t care if I won or lost," she said. "I just was so grateful for the opportunity to play."

No. 2-ranked Maria Sharapova was slowed only by a half-hour power outage during the night session, and she beat wild card Eugenie Bouchard of Montreal 6-2, 6-0. Sharapova is a four-time runner-up at Key Biscayne, including in 2011 and 2012.

In men’s play, No. 5-seeded Juan Martin del Potro lost a rain-interrupted match against Tobias Kamke of Germany, 7-6 (5), 6-1. Del Potro was coming off a strong showing last week at Indian Wells, where he ended Novak Djokovic’s 22-match winning streak before losing the final to Rafael Nadal.

The 26-year-old Kamke advanced to the third round of a Masters 1000 event for the first time.

"I was excited to play here," del Potro said, "but it was just a bad day, and he play really well."

No. 3 David Ferrer advanced by walkover when qualifier Dmitry Tursunov withdrew with acute gastroenteritis. Wild card James Blake, playing at Key Biscayne for the 12th time, had the stadium-court crowd cheering as he beat No. 24 Julien Benneteau 6-2, 6-3.

"You never know how many more chances I’ll get like that playing in stadiums," Blake said. "I’m realistic. I hope I’ve got plenty left in the tank, but I’m also 33 years old. That’s getting into senior-citizen range on tour."

Azarenka withdrew before her quarterfinal last week at Indian Wells because of inflammation and tendinitis in her right ankle. She returned to the practice court Wednesday, and the next day her injury was worse, she said.

She decided to withdraw after trying to practice Friday. Now she figures she needs another couple of weeks to recover.

"I really wanted to play here," she said. "That is very frustrating part. But I will take the necessary time for me to get rid of this problem and move on to the next chapter."

Ranked No. 3, Azarenka is 17-0 this year with two titles but has withdrawn from three tournaments, including the Australian Open before the semifinals because of a right toe injury.

Once the No. 81-ranked Davis was granted a spot in the draw, she worked hard to keep it. In a matchup between two teenagers from nearby Boca Raton, she and Keys played for more than 2 1/2 hours before reaching the tiebreaker.

Keys, an 18-year-old wild card, entered the tournament with a career-best ranking of No. 76. But when she served for the match at 6-3 in the tiebreaker, her inexperience showed.

She dumped groundstrokes into the net on consecutive points, then pushed a forehand wide for 6-all, and at 7-all she double-faulted. When Keys sailed a forehand long on the final point, she broke her racket by slamming it to the concrete.

"This will sting for a couple of days," she said. "The whole match bugs me. Early on I was going for too much. Then in the tiebreaker I was remember what happened earlier, and that made me more nervous."

Steadier from the baseline but a head shorter than Keys, the 5-foot-2 Davis won despite trailing 10-0 in aces and 43-10 in winners.

"I just relied on my fighting instincts to pull me through," she said.

Davis said she and Keys have known each other for several years. They practice together often and are good friends.

"We’re always so competitive, and the score is always really, really close," Davis said. "It’s the smallest things that make a difference."

Sharapova wants to stay on winning path at Sony

(3/19/13) Third-seeded Maria Sharapova is hoping she can keep her winning ways intact from the BNP Paribas Open last week to the Sony Open this week.

Sharapova, who won her second BNP Paribas title with a 6-2, 6-2 victory over Caroline Wozniacki on Sunday, isn't scheduled to play until Friday at the Sony Open.

All the seeded players in the men's and women's draw receive a first-round bye.

Only two players in WTA history have won back-to-back Indian Wells and Key Biscayne titles: Steffi Graf in 1994 and 1996, and Kim Clijsters in 2005.

''These tournaments are always really tough because they're close together,'' Sharapova said. ''As soon as you're done with the first one (Indian Wells) you're onto the next one and you're here. I'm looking forward to trying to take it a step further (here) this year.''

Sharapova came close to achieving the back-to-back victories in 2006, winning the Indian Wells tournament and reaching the final at Key Biscayne.

Overall, she's been in four Sony Open finals, including last year when she lost to Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland.

For Sharapova, who moved to the United States from Russia as a 9-year-old, the Sony Open is the event where she first watched professional tennis.

''I have a lot of history here,'' Sharapova said. ''This is the city (Miami) where I first landed when I came to the United States. I've been a fan of this tournament since I was young because I came here with my family to watch it.

''And then I was able to play in it and be a part of it and I've been to three or four finals here. So, hopefully, I can lift the trophy here one day.''

The fourth-seeded Radwanska won three titles last year and 10 overall in her career. She's never successfully defended a title, but she's hoping the Sony Open could be the first time she achieves the feat.

''It's always great to be back at a place where you have great memories and had great matches,'' said Radwanska, who reached her first Grand Slam final at Wimbledon last year.

''There's always pressure and a lot of points to defend. But every week the top players feel a lot of pressure.''

There were 10 main draw women's matches played on Tuesday. Kimiko Date-Krumm of Japan beat Chanelle Scheepers of South Africa 6-2, 6-0.

Two former top 10 players - Flavia Pennetta of Italy and Andrea Petkovic of Germany - were in action.

Pennetta won her first-round match 6-4, 6-1 over Johanna Larsson of Sweden. Petkovic, playing in only her second tournament of the year following a knee injury at the Hopman Cup in January, defeated Bojana Jovanovski of Serbia 6-3, 6-1.

Grand slams, not top spot, the lure for Sharapova

(3/18/13) Maria Sharapova rose to number two in the rankings on Monday after her impressive title run at the BNP Paribas Open but says she is motivated much more by grand slam glory than the prospect of regaining the top spot.

"Number one is a great number," the elegant Russian laughed after demolishing eighth-seeded Dane Caroline Wozniacki 6-2 6-2 in Sunday's final of the elite WTA event at Indian Wells to land her 28th title on the