MARIA ON A MIS­SION

Rus­sian tar­gets top spot as come­back gath­ers pace

New Straits Times - - Sport -

FOR­MER World No 1 Maria Shara­pova says she is not look­ing too far ahead af­ter re­turn­ing from a dop­ing sus­pen­sion but con­cedes she is ea­ger to be com­pet­ing for the big­gest ti­tles in tennis again.

The 30-year-old beat Christina McHale 6-4, 6-2 in the first round of the Ital­ian Open on Monday to guar­an­tee her­self a spot in the Wim­ble­don qual­i­fy­ing tournament.

She faces a bat­tle to raise her rank­ing enough to qual­ify for the grass­court grand slam by right and spare or­gan­is­ers the dilemma of whether to award her a wild­card into the main draw of the tournament she won in 2004.

The Rus­sian is re­turn­ing from a 15-month dop­ing ban af­ter test­ing pos­i­tive for the heart drug mel­do­nium at last year’s Aus­tralian Open.

Since her re­turn in April, Maria has re­ceived wild­card en­tries to the Stuttgart, Madrid and Ital­ian Opens.

“I cer­tainly have ex­pec­ta­tions of my­self... when you have won big events and you have been No 1 in the world, you know that feel­ing. So that feel­ing ul­ti­mately stays in­side of you... and you know what you work for,” Maria told re­porters.

“I would love to ex­pe­ri­ence those feel­ings again. Of course, that is my goal. But as I said, ev­ery week is im­por­tant... I might have not played my best tennis, but I set up an op­por­tu­nity to play an­other match and to hope­fully im­prove in that match, and that’s what I need.”

Maria also said that she was un­aware of this week’s rank­ings dead­line for the Wim­ble­don qual­i­fy­ing draw.

“Oh, is it? See, I think maybe you guys as­sume that I know these things, but I gen­uinely want to take care of each and ev­ery sin­gle week, and ev­ery sin­gle match is a pri­or­ity for me,” Maria said.

“When you’ve been out of the game and haven’t played com­pet­i­tively in 15 months... The fact that I’m back and play­ing three weeks in a row now and three events in a row for me is a big deal. That’s my fo­cus.”

Mean­while, French Open or­gan­is­ers are brac­ing for con­tro­versy ahead of late yes­ter­day's de­ci­sion on whether to grant Maria a wild­card for Roland Gar­ros.

“Some say she shouldn’t get it, oth­ers say she served her time,” tournament di­rec­tor Guy For­get told the BBC.

“As you talk with play­ers, it’s very con­tro­ver­sial. So no mat­ter what hap­pens, there will be a lot of ques­tions around that wild­card.”

In the ATP men’s first round, ninth seed David Gof­fin beat Thomaz Bel­lucci 6-7 (5-7), 6-3, 64 and Amer­i­can

Sam Quer­rey up­set French 11th seed Lu­cas Pouille 7-6 (8-6), 7-6 (10-8).

To­mas Berdych de­feated Ger­man Mis­cha Zverev 7-6 (9-7), 6-4; Jan-Len­nard Struff put out Aus­tralian Bernard Tomic 6-7 (6-8), 6-1, 6-4.

For­mer US Open win­ner Juan Martin del Potro staged a come­back to oust Grigor Dim­itrov 3-6, 6-2, 6-3, win­ning with seven aces af­ter more than two hours.

AP PIC

Maria Shara­pova plays a shot to Christina Mchale in the Ital­ian Open in Rome on Monday.

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