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Sharapova to miss Miami with forearm injury

Maria Sharapova has been forced to pull out of the Miami Open because of an injury to her forearm.

Sharapova has endured a disappointing 2018 season – her first full campaign since returning from a doping ban last year – exiting the Australian Open in the third round before losing to Monica Niculescu and Naomi Osaka in her first matches at the Qatar Open and Indian Wells Masters respectively.

The Russian, who has since split with long-time coach Sven Groeneveld, is a five-time finalist in Miami but will not have the opportunity to end her wait for a first win at the tournament.

“I am really sorry that I have to withdraw from one of my favourite tournaments with my left forearm injury. I am doing everything possible to return to the tour as soon as possible,” Sharapova said.

Tournament director James Blake added: “I know how much Maria wanted to play Miami this year, so I can imagine her disappointment.

“We were looking forward to seeing her play Wednesday, but unfortunately injuries are part of the game. We hope she recovers quickly and is back on the court soon.”

Sharapova, who won her first WTA title for two years at the Tianjin Open last October, is ranked 41st in the world.

Her place in the main draw has been taken by Jennifer Brady.

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Sharapova overcomes Sevastova in Melbourne

Maria Sharapova produced a strong display in a straight-sets win over Anastasija Sevastova in the Australian Open second round.

A five-time grand slam champion, Sharapova was in fine form on Rod Laver Arena on Thursday, beating 14th seed Sevastova 6-1 7-6 (7-4).

Sharapova needed 80 minutes to march into the third round, where Angelique Kerber or Donna Vekic await.

In the form she showed in the first set at Melbourne Park Thursday, Sharapova deserves to be among the favourites to add to her 2008 Australian Open title.

The Russian showcased her power early against Latvia’s Sevastova, who had a heavily strapped right leg but did beat Sharapova at the US Open last year.

Sharapova hit 12 winners in the first set, her forehand doing most of the damage as she raced into a lead.

While her level dropped and Sevastova improved, Sharapova’s win was never in doubt, the job done relatively quickly as the former world number one beat the heat in Melbourne.

Sharapova bt Sevastova [14] 6-1 7-6 (7-4)

Sharapova – 30/31
Sevastova – 6/20

Sharapova – 4/4
Sevastova – 1/1

Sharapova – 5/6
Sevastova – 3/4

Sharapova – 58
Sevastova – 62

Sharapova – 82/46
Sevastova – 62/30

Sharapova – 68
Sevastova – 49

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Sharapova wins on return to Australian Open

Former world number one Maria Sharapova made a winning return to the Australian Open, accounting for Tatjana Maria in the first round on Tuesday.

Sharapova is back in Australia for the first time since her suspension after a doping violation at the grand slam in 2016.

The five-time major champion served a 15-month ban having tested positive for meldonium.

Sharapova – winner of the Australian Open in 2008 – enjoyed a successful comeback at Melbourne Park, defeating spirited German Maria 6-1 6-4.

Awaiting Sharapova in the second round is either Varvara Lepchenko or 14th seed Anastasija Sevastova.

Sharapova did not waste any time, outclassing her German opponent to claim the opening break in the second game for an early 2-0 lead.

Her trademark grunt was back on Margaret Court Arena but she was broken back immediately – the Russian star spraying a forehand well wide.

It was the only blip in an otherwise routine set for Sharapova, who reclaimed the break in the next game before earning more success on Maria’s serve after the German double-faulted to hand the 30-year-old a 5-1 lead.

Maria, though, refused to surrender despite spending much of the match well behind the baseline as she broke to love in the fourth game for a surprising 3-1 advantage.

That appeared to knock Sharapova off her stride, but only momentarily, surviving a wobble by reeling off four successive games to reach the next round, sealing her win with an ace.

Sharapova bt Maria 6-1 6-4

Maria – 7
Sharapova – 22

Maria – 1/5
Sharapova – 3/3

Maria – 2/2
Sharapova – 5/7

Maria – 38
Sharapova – 56

Maria – 64/39
Sharapova – 75/43

Maria – 42
Sharapova – 55

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Sharapova shines in Shenzhen

Maria Sharapova made a winning start to 2018 as she cruised to a 6-3 6-0 victory over Mihaela Buzarnescu in the first round of the Shenzhen Open.

The five-time grand slam champion took one hour and 22 minutes to get the better of Buzarnescu on her Shenzhen debut and will face Alison Riske – victor over fifth seed Wang Qiang on Sunday – in the second round.

“Every match gets tougher and as a competitor and someone who tries to be realistic, I like to only look ahead to the next opponent,” she said.

“She [Riske] beat a crowd favourite yesterday, so I know I have a tough match ahead, but I just want to keep playing better, and keep improving no matter who is across the net.”

World number one and 2015 Shenzhen champion Simona Halep also got off to a winning start, beating Nicole Gibbs 6-4 6-1.

“I started with a victory, which means a lot to me, to have a happy start. I look forward to the next matches and hopefully I can become better and better.”

Seventh seed Maria Sakkari won the first set of her first-round clash with Danka Kovinic but ultimately fell to a 4-6 6-2 6-3 to the Montenegrin qualifier.

Fellow seeds Zhang Shuai (3) and Timea Babos (8) had no such problems as they saw off Anna Blinkova and Wang Xiyu respectively.

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Sharapova loses to Rybarikova in Kremlin Cup return

MOSCOW- Maria Sharapova lost 7-6(3) 6-4 to Slovakia’s Magdalena Rybarikova at the Kremlin Cup on Tuesday in her first match in Russia since returning from a doping ban this year.

The five-time grand slam champion looked tired and committed several unforced errors in the first-round match as she was cheered on by a large crowd cheered who chanted “Masha! Masha!” and loudly clapping her every winner.

Sharapova’s first appearance at her home WTA event since 2007 came two days after she won her first WTA title in more than two years, the Tianjin Open.

The former world number one, now 57th in the rankings after rising 29 places following her Tianjin victory, returned to the tour in April after serving a 15-month doping ban for testing positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.

She was unranked by the WTA upon her return but received wildcards to many tournaments for which a ranking is usually required to compete, a situation that prompted criticism from her rivals.

Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard in April called Sharapova a “cheater” and criticized the WTA for sending the wrong message by welcoming her back.

In Russia, Sharapova has been portrayed as a victim of what officials have said is the unfair targeting of the country by international sports bodies that regulate anti-doping.

Russia’s athletics federation, Paralympic Committee and anti-doping agency have been suspended over WADA-commissioned reports that found evidence of state-sponsored doping.

(Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber)

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Halep sets up Sharapova rematch in Beijing

World number two Simona Halep set up a mouth-watering third- round clash with Maria Sharapova at the China Open after the Romanian’s opponent Magdalena Rybarikova retired due to illness trailing 6-1 2-1 on Tuesday.

Halep survived a break point in the opening game before powering her way to a 5-0 lead with two breaks of her own as Rybarikova struggled on serve and committed 19 unforced errors en route to conceding the first set.

The 28-year-old Slovakian conceded the match early in the second set after a medical timeout, giving Halep an opportunity to avenge her U.S. Open first-round defeat by Sharapova.

The Russian, who has never lost to Halep in seven previous meetings, beat compatriot Ekaterina Makarova 6-4 4-6 6-1 to record a second consecutive three-set victory in Beijing earlier on Tuesday.

”You can take a little bit away from all the matches we’ve played in the past,“ Sharapova said. ”We know each other’s games very well. They’ve always been very challenging, tough, competitive, emotional.

“I love the challenge of playing against someone that’s number two in the world. She’s a great player. She’s had a great year.”

Twice grand slam champion Petra Kvitova dominated American qualifier Varvara Lepchenko in a battle of left-handers, the Czech winning 88 percent of points on serve to progress to the third round with a routine 6-4 6-4 victory.

Kvitova faces fifth seed Carolina Wozniacki next, in what promises to add another intriguing chapter to their eight-year rivalry.

Number 12 seed Kvitova holds a 6-5 lead in her head-to-head record with Wozniacki, having won their last two matches in straight sets.

Fourth seed Karolina Pliskova hit nine aces as she edged out German qualifier Andrea Petkovic 6-4 6-4 to set up a clash with Sorana Cirstea of Romania.

American CoCo Vandeweghe was forced to retire early in the second set against Daria Gavrilova, sending the Australian through to face Czech Barbora Strycova, while China’s Duan Ying-ying lost to Russia’s Elena Vesnina.

(Hardik Vyas)

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Sharapova takes revenge on Sevastova in Beijing

Former world number one Maria Sharapova avenged her U.S. Open loss to Anastasija Sevastova with a 7-6(3) 5-7 7-6(7) victory over the Latvian in the China Open first round on Saturday.

The 30-year-old Russian, returning to court for the first time since her fourth-round exit at Flushing Meadows, came back from a break down three times before clinching the first set 7-3 in the tiebreak.

Despite dropping her serve in the opening game of the second, Sevastova, seeded 16th, rallied back to force a decider.

Sharapova, who had never lost a third-set tiebreak, needed a brave forehand winner at 6-5 before sealing a second-round spot in just over three hours.

She will take on the winner between American qualifier Jennifer Brady and Ekaterina Makarova of Russia in the second round.

Earlier in the day, second seed Simona Halep snapped her three-match losing streak with a hardfought 6-3 3-6 6-2 win over American Alison Riske.

The Romanian, who had not won a match since her defeat in the Cincinnati final to Garbine Muguruza, overcame a sloppy start before claiming 12 of the final 14 points to set up a second round clash against Magdalena Rybarikova or Eugenie Bouchard.

Germany’s Angelique Kerber began her campaign with a 6-2 7-5 win over Japanese teenager Naomi Osaka.

Kerber, the former world number one, came back from a break down to win five consecutive games in the second set to seal a second-round spot.

Twice Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, seeded 12th, produced an impressive array of powerful groundstrokes to beat fellow Czech left-hander Kristyna Pliskova 6-3 7-5 in the opening round.

(Hardik Vyas)

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Sharapova back in business on and off court

NEW YORK- Maria Sharapova’s outfit sparkled even if her play sometimes didn’t during her grand slam return at the U.S. Open but the former world number one’s run to the fourth round showed she is back in business on and off the court.

Playing her first grand slam since returning from a 15-month doping ban, Sharapova proved a polarizing presence at Flushing Meadows, feted by adoring fans but vilified in the small corners of the players’ locker room.

For television rights holders and the United States Tennis Association (USTA), seeing Sharapova’s name on the entry list was akin to winning the lottery, guaranteeing a bump in ratings and capacity crowds at the 23,000-seat Arthur Ashe Stadium.

With the tournament ravaged by injuries and withdrawals, the Russian’s return provided a splash of glitz and glamour.

She strolled onto floodlit Arthur Ashe as if on a catwalk, wearing a jet black dress that sparkled with Swarovski crystals for her opening match against Simona Halep and duly dumped the second seed out of the tournament.

Sharapova’s U.S. Open ended with a 5-7 6-4 6-2 loss to Latvian Anastasija Sevastova on Sunday, but her week-long run will help polish the Russian’s tarnished brand.

“Sharapova’s doping transgression was not terribly egregious, neither performance-enhancing nor intentional, and her ban seemed unduly harsh,” Bob Dorfman of Baker Street Advertising told Reuters.

”I suspect that’s why Nike suspended their relationship, but did not drop her.

“And with their number one endorser Serena Williams off the court indefinitely, expecting her first child, Sharapova’s first grand slam event since her return is a grand opportunity for Nike to capitalize on America’s love for comeback performances.”

Not everyone at Flushing Meadows was enamored with the comeback.

While the fans welcomed her with open arms and standing ovations, there was a chill among a group of players who believe the five-time grand slam champion was accorded special treatment due to her profile and marketability.

Former world number one Caroline Wozniacki, Halep and Canadian Eugenie Bouchard have been among the loudest dissenters.

Fifth seed Wozniacki blasted the USTA and Sharapova when she was relegated to a small outside court for her second round match while the 146th ranked Russian soaked up the applause on center court.
“Who comes back from a drugs sentence, performance enhancing drugs and then all of a sudden gets to play every single match on center court? I think that’s a questionable thing to do,” fumed Wozniacki. “It doesn’t set a good example.”

Sharapova was unapologetic and delivered a stinging return worthy of anything she has produced on court.

“I‘m in the fourth round. I‘m not sure where (Wozniacki) is,” said the wildcard.

Hard feelings aside, even Wozniacki conceded she understood the business side of the sport and Sharapova’s place in it.

Her drug ban notwithstanding, Sharapova remains one of the world’s most recognizable athletes and could be set to regain her former corporate standing.

“Like most controversial athletes, Sharapova has staunch defenders, as well as those that revile her actions and what they have meant to the game,” David Carter, principal of the Sports Business Group, told Reuters.

”Between Nike’s culture and its history in accepting, if not defending athletes with indiscretions, it’s no surprise they are sticking with her for now.

“In order for her to regain widespread marketability, her performance will have to steadily improve over time, while any further unforced errors off the court would need to be eliminated.”

Sharapova was unable to deliver extended stretches of brilliant tennis at the U.S. Open but there was every sign that the 30-year-old is set to climb back up the rankings and reclaim her spot as one of the best paid women athletes.

For 11 straight years, she topped the Forbes list before slipping to second last year and dropping from the list completely for 2017.

American Express, Avon and Tag Heuer did not renew their sponsorship deals with Sharapova, while retained arrangements with Nike, Head, Evian and Porsche included huge reductions while she was off the tour for over a year, Forbes reported.

Before her fourth round elimination, Baker Street’s Dorfman said a deep run at Flushing Meadows could return her marketability to “pre-ban levels.”

“A grand slam win some time would be a tremendous feel-good story that could vault Sharapova into a bigger endorsement star than ever,” he added.

(Andrew Both)