Shara­pova makes first US ap­pear­ance since drug ban

Kuwait Times - - SPORTS -

Maria Shara­pova is re­al­is­tic as she tries to re­gain her form af­ter a 15month 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 US 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 US 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 US Open will in­clude an­other WTT ap­pear­ance and WTA Tour stops at Stan­ford and Toronto. She de­clined to pre­dict how she would fare at the US 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 US 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.” —AP

Maria Shara­pova

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