MARIA ON A MISSION
Russian targets top spot as comeback gathers pace
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.
Maria Sharapova plays a shot to Christina Mchale in the Italian Open in Rome on Monday.