Five Things To Know About Maria Sharapova’s Comeback - UBITENNIS
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Five Things To Know About Maria Sharapova’s Comeback

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The world’s media has congregated in Germany to witness the return of the formidable Maria Sharapova. On the same day her 15-month suspension ends, the former world No.1 will take on Roberta Vinci in Stuttgart. The match promises a lot, but how did we even get here? Here is a guide to Sharapova’s roller coaster return.

 

The background

During the 2016 Australian Open, Sharapova failed a drugs test. She tested positive for meldonium, a drug which was added to the list of banned substances on January 1st that year. It was revealed that Sharapova had been taking the drug for ten years to treat a magnesium deficiency and a family history of diabetes.

Throughout the incident, the Russian has pleaded her innocence. Sharapova has stated that she was unaware that the drug had become banned and she never consumed it to enhance her performance. Despite admitting negligence, she was slammed with a 24-month ban by the International Tennis Federation (ITF). This sentence was reduced to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for sport (CAS), who concluded that there was ‘no significant fault or negligence.‘ Still, the CAS concluded the 30-year-old should be held accountable for her failure to check the list of banned substances.

There continues to be a war of words between Sharapova and the ITF, who she accuses of ‘trying to make an example of her’. During a recent interview with The Times newspaper, it is alleged that the ITF knew about Sharapova’s meldonium consumption in November 2015.

“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?” Sharapova said about the ITF’s handling of her case.

The ITF have repeatedly denied allegations of wrongdoing by Sharapova.

Why Stuttgart?

It is no coincidence that Sharapova’s return will be in Stuttgart. Besides the tournament falling in the same week her ban ends, she has deep ties with the event. Between 2012-2014, she was undefeated, winning three consecutive titles. Furthermore, both Sharapova and the tournament is sponsored by Porsche. Porsche was one of the few sponsors to support the multiple grand slam champion throughout her ban.

In January tournament director, Markus Günthardt, pledged his full support for Sharapova after the announcement of her wildcard.

“I’m really happy for Maria that she’s back after a long break. Particularly pleasing for me is that it’s going to be our audience that gets to watch her comeback live,” he said.
“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.”

Why has there been so much debate?

The return to the tour is a controversial one. Due to Sharapova’s tour absence, she had to be granted a wildcard into the tournament.Victoria Azarenka has described her return as a ‘good thing for tennis’. Meanwhile, Former US Open champion Juan Martin del Potro had previously said ‘it will be nice to see her back.’

On the other hand, some players are not so thrilled about her wildcard entry. Opponents have argued that it sends out the wrong example to give a pass to a player guilty of violating anti-doping rules. One of those include Roberta Vinci, Sharapova’s first round opponent.

Furthermore, some have expressed disappointment with Sharapova being allowed in the tournament. She was officially banned from the event during the first two days of competition. Sharapova has had to train at the Sportverein Sillenbuch tennis club as she is prohibited from entering the grounds of a WTA event until April 26th.

When will Sharapova play?

Sharapova’s clash against Vinci will be the first of the night matches. It will get underway not before 18:30 local time (17:30 GMT). It will be her fifth appearance in Stuttgart and her first competitive match on the clay since the 2015 French Open. She currently has a 13-1 win-loss record at the tournament.

“As she gets ready for the match, I’m sure she’ll be nervous but incredibly excited. She has evolved a lot as a person in the last 15 months, realised there is more to life than tennis, and that might help her. I think she’s in a really good place.” One unnamed source told The Daily Telegraph about Sharapova’s return to the tour.

Sharapova currently has a 2-0 head-to-head lead over Vinci.

How can I watch it?

With the WTA yet to create their streaming service, there are others ways fans can watch the match. In the UK viewers can watch it on BT Sport 1. Other international broadcasters include Digisport, Fox Sports, RTVE, Bein Sports and Super Tennis. A full list of broadcasters can be viewed at http://www.wtatennis.com/where-watch.

Alternatively, the match will also be live streamed by selected betting websites. Usually the betting websites require consumers to sign up and deposit a set amount of money into their account before granting access to their streaming service.

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Jannik Sinner: “Rafa Nadal is superior in his head and knows exactly what to do and when to do it”

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Jannik Sinner made a major breakthrough season in 2020 winning his maiden ATP title in Sofia becoming and reached his first Grand Slam quarter finals at Roland Garros in his debut at this tournament at the age of 19. He has become the youngest player to win an ATP Tour title. 

 

“After the final in Sofia I felt emotional. I am human, but I feel the emotions inside me. I was very happy but I know that I have to work very hard. Before the victory ceremony I was a bit angry as I was still trying to understand why I had lost the second set. It was a strange season. I would have liked to play more matches and learn more about the life on the Tour and how to train with the biggest players on the circuit. I am now feeling more comfortable than last year”, said Sinner.

The Italian player is the first debutant beat Alexander Zverev en route to reaching the Roland Garros quarter final since Rafael Nadal achieved this feat in 2005 en route to his first French Open title. 

He lost to Rafael Nadal in the quarter finals in Paris after playing at great level in the first two sets. En route to the quarter final in Paris Sinner beat David Goffin, Benjamin Bonzi, Federico Coria and Alexander Zverev. 

“Rafael Nadal is superior in his head. He pulls very hard but above all he understands the decisive moments. He knows exactly what to do and when to do it. It’s really something else a tennis player. What I am missing to get there ? Well, the blows and the body, as well as the body. Let’s say a little bit of everything. The doctor said I still have to finish growing and developing. The truth is that I have to improve myself in every aspect, both physically and mentally. It takes time to get there”, said Sinner in an interview to the Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera. 

Sinner was disappointed about Zverev’s comments after their match at Roland Garros. 

“I respect Zverev a lot because he has got more experience on the circuit, and he is great player. However, I do not respect his statements after his defeat to me at Roland Garros. He contradicted himself a lot. He said he had fever, but in the third and fourth sets, he ran more than me”, commented Sinner. 

Sinner became the youngest quarter finalist at a Grand Slam tournament since Bernard Tomic at Wimbledon 2011 and at Roland Garros since Novak Djokovic in 2006. The player coached by Riccardo Piatti earned the biggest win in his career when he beat Stefanos Tsitsipas en route to his his maiden third round at Masters 1000 level in Rome.

Jannik has reached his career best ranking at world number 37. 

In the interview Sinner talked about his passions outside tennis.  

“I like to go karting and play football every now and then. I cheer on AC Milan because my first roommate was an AC Milan fan and he also and he also made me passionate as the days went by. In general I also follow the chairs on Netflix and I believe that in Australia. ”, said Sinner. 

Sinner talked about his relationship with Riccardo Piatti. 

“Riccardo is my coach, but also a good friend. We talked about tennis all the time. During the lockdown we watched a lot of past tennis matches together”. 

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ATP Finals Day 8 Preview: Championship Sunday

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Dominic Thiem earned his 300th career victory yesterday in London (Ella Ling/ATP Tour)

Today either Dominic Thiem or Daniil Medvedev will win this event for the first time.

 

A year ago, Dominic Thiem was just a few points from winning this tournament, going down in defeat to Stefanos Tsitsipas in a third set tiebreak of the championship match.  Thiem went on to reach his third Major final at January’s Australian Open, but couldn’t hold on to a two-sets-to-one-lead.  At the next Slam, he would finally win his first Major title, in a dramatic, nerve-wracking five-set final against Sascha Zverev.  For the second consecutive year, he’s reached the championship match of this event after beating two of “The Big Three.”  Thiem defeated Rafael Nadal in a high-quality affair during round-robin play, and overcame Novak Djokovic in yesterday’s semifinals despite blowing four match points in the second set tiebreak, and despite going down 0-4 in the final set tiebreak.

A year ago, Daniil Medvedev came into this event on a 29-4 run, a stretch that saw him win three titles and reach six consecutive finals.  But the fatigued Russian went 0-3 in his ATP Finals debut.  In this abbreviated 2020 season, he did not advance to a tournament final until just two weeks ago, when he won first title in over a year at the Paris Masters.  Now he’s on a nine-match winning streak, having gone undefeated in the round-robin stage.  And just yesterday, he earned his first victory over Rafael Nadal in comeback fashion, after Nadal served for the match in the second set.

Dominic Thiem (3) vs. Daniil Medvedev (4)

Thiem is 3-1 against Medvedev overall, 2-1 on hard courts, and 1-0 indoors.  Their first meeting was two years ago in Daniil’s home country, where Dominic survived 7-6 in the third.  Last summer in Canada, Medvedev easily prevailed, losing only four games.  And in this year’s US Open semifinals, Dominic was victorious in straight sets.  Neither man will be fully fresh today, coming off semifinal matches just 24 hours ago against the top two players in the world, each of which approached three hours in length.  Thiem’s encounter with Djokovic seemed slightly more draining, both physically and emotionally. 

When they met two months ago in New York, Medvedev got off to a terrible start, losing the first set 6-2.  He struck almost twice as many errors as winners, winning only 65% of first serve points and a dismal 25% on his second serve.  But this week he’s served excellently, averaging 79% of first serve points won.  And some easy service games have enabled Daniil to apply more pressure to his opponents’ serve.  The result has been an average of over three breaks per match, Comparatively, Thiem has broken his opponent’s serve only once per match.  But an underrated aspect of the Austrian’s game is his ability to protect his own serve.  Outside of his dead rubber against Andrey Rublev, Dominic has only been broken two times in three matches.  And that includes clashes with two of the sport’s all-time great returners: Nadal and Djokovic. 

Thiem should be slightly favored based on their head-to-head, as well as his considerable edge in experience.  Regardless of the winner, let’s hope these two men provide us with an extended, enthralling encounter.  With the Australian tennis summer in doubt, it may be quite awhile before we see professional tennis of this caliber.

Doubles on Day 8:

In the doubles championship, it’s Wesley Koolhof and Nikola Mektic (5) vs. Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin (7).  Yesterday in the semifinals, Melzer and Roger-Vasselin came back from 1-7 down in the match tiebreak and saved a match point to advance.  Koolhof and Mektic prevailed on Saturday in straight sets.

Full order of play is here.

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ATP Finals Day 6 Preview: Novak Djokovic and Sascha Zverev Play for the Final Qualifying Spot

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Novak Djokovic hasn't won this event since 2015 (Ella Ling/ATP Tour)

The winner will join Rafael Nadal, Dominic Thiem, and Daniil Medvedev in Saturday’s semifinals.

 

Djokovic is a five-time champion of this event, yet is looking to avoid failing to advance out of the round-robin stage for the second straight year.  Zverev was the champion here two years ago, and is vying for his third consecutive semifinal.  Friday’s other singles match has no implications on the semifinals, as Daniil Medvedev has already advanced, while Diego Schwartzman cannot.

Novak Djokovic (1) vs. Sascha Zverev (5)

Zverev has a chance today to achieve what very few top players have: an even or better head-to-head record against Novak Djokovic.  Sascha is currently 2-3 against Novak, and 1-2 on hard courts.  They played twice at this event in 2018, with Djokovic easily prevailing in the round-robin stage, and Zverev avenging that loss a few days later in the final to win the biggest title of his career.  Their most recent encounter came last year at Roland Garros, with Novak winning in straight sets.  Notably, all five of their matches have been straight-set encounters, with none of the 11 sets even reaching a tiebreak.  So based on their history, grabbing the first set today will be extremely crucial.  Djokovic appeared unwilling to play long rallies on Wednesday against Medvedev, and admitted during his post-match press conference that he wasn’t feeling 100%.  Zverev hasn’t played his best this week either, but was able to tough out a three-set victory over Schwartzman two days ago to keep his advancement hopes alive.  If Djokovic is feeling fresher today, his 40-4 record on the year makes him a clear favorite.  If not, and if Zverev can limit his double faults, Sascha’s indoor hard court prowess makes him fully capable of eliminating the world No.1 from this tournament.

Daniil Medvedev (4) vs. Diego Schwartzman (8)

On Thursday, having already qualified for the semifinals, Dominic Thiem seemed rather uninterested in supplying resistance to Andrey Rublev.  In today’s dead rubber, which comes just 24 hours prior to the semifinals, will Medvedev fight to defeat Schwartzman?  Daniil knows he has an appointment on Saturday with Rafael Nadal, which he can safely assume will be a grueling task.  So I’m sure he’ll be looking to avoid an extended battle today.  And Schwartzman will be keen to not go 0-3 in his ATP Finals debut.  Medvedev is 4-0 against the Argentine, having won eight of nine sets played, which includes a straight-set win just two weeks ago at the Paris Masters.  Under normal circumstances, Daniil would be a strong favorite. But we’ll see how motivated the Russian is today, especially if Diego gains an early advantage.  These two men have a contentious history, going back to their intense battle in January at the ATP Cup where Schwartzman felt Medvedev was taunting him.  Diego would surely enjoy gaining his first win against Daniil.  And despite their lopsided head-to-head, that’s entirely plausible.

Doubles Matches on Day 6:

Mate Pavic and Bruno Soares (1) vs. John Peers and Michael Venus (6).  The winning team will secure the last remaining semifinal birth.

Marcel Granollers and Horacio Zeballos (4) vs. Jurgen Melzer and Edouard Roger-Vasselin (7).  This is a dead rubber, as Granollers and Zeballos have already advanced, while Melzer and Roger-Vasselin have been eliminated.

Full order of play is here.

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