Maria Sharapova Returns to Tennis Following Drug Suspension - UBITENNIS
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Maria Sharapova Returns to Tennis Following Drug Suspension

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Maria Sharapova (zimbio.com)

Maria Sharapova will make her much-anticipated return to tennis this week at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany, amid much controversy.

 

The former world No.1 was banned from competition for 15 months after failing a drug test at the 2016 Australian Open.  She tested positive for meldonium, which had been added to the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA)’s list of banned substances effective January 1, 2016.

Meldonium is a drug usually prescribed for heart conditions, but has also been linked to enhanced physical and mental endurance as it increases blood flow.  Sharapova admitted to using the drug dating back to 2006, citing irregular heart test results, a magnesium deficiency, and a family history of diabetes as the purposes.  These reasons were met with much speculation, which was furthered by the news that Sharapova was one of over 100 athletes who tested positive for meldonium last year.

Sharapova has received wild cards to enter the WTA Premier tournaments in Stuttgart, Madrid, and Rome.  The issuing of these wild cards to a player returning from a doping ban has been the topic of much conversation.  Adding to the controversy is Sharapova’s ban actually ends Wednesday, April 26th, with the Stuttgart tournament already underway.  She will not be allowed on the grounds until that date, when she will meet Roberta Vinci in her return match.  Many top WTA players have spoken out against Sharapova and the issuing of these wild cards.

World #2 Angelique Kerber told the press last month in Indian Wells “it’s a little bit strange also for the players that she can walk on site on Wednesday and she can play on Wednesday.”  Kerber also highlighted how Sharapova’s Stuttgart wild card could have gone to a fellow German player.  “It’s a German tournament, and we [have] so many good German players, so this is also a little bit strange.”

World #11 Caroline Wozniacki also spoke about Sharapova at Indian Wells.  “I think it’s very questionable allowing — no matter who it is — a player that is still banned to play a tournament that week,” said Wozniacki.  “From the tournament side, I think it’s disrespectful to the other players and the WTA.”

World #4 Dominika Cibulkova was much harsher with her comments.  Cibulkova was quoted by a Polish sports magazine as saying “I was surprised that most of the reactions were so diplomatic, because everyone’s opinion is actually totally different.  I didn’t make any statement, as I didn’t want to be the only person to openly say what they think about this case. I will only say that I don’t feel sorry at all for Sharapova and I don’t miss her on the tour.  She’s a totally unlikeable person. Arrogant, conceited and cold. When I sit beside her in the locker room, she won’t even say hello.”

It’s no secret Sharapova has never been the most popular player in the locker room, but Sharapova herself has never seem too concerned with that.  She recently reiterated this to LeParisien Magazine, stating “I have enough friends in my life. Playing in tournaments means going to the office. My goal is to be professional, do my job and be respected. It’s not talking to the girls about their new car, their shopping spree or their new guy.”  She also told LeParisien that she has been served her sentence, and “if players continue, despite this, to speak ill of me, then this is not correct.”

What will be more interesting is how Sharapova will be greeted by tennis fans.  She has a large fan base that will certainly support her, but has also always had her share of detractors who don’t appreciate her grunting or attitude.  Both sides will only become more steadfast in their convictions, especially in light of Sharapova’s own recent comments ahead of her return.

Since last year Sharapova has maintained she takes full responsibility for the ban and should have read the email where it was communicated.  However she also contends the communications related to the addition of meldonium to the banned substance list were not as clear or numerous as some in the media have, in her words, “distorted.”  It is clear Sharapova has no issue defending herself in the media by going on the offensive, so her initial press conferences will be must-see.

The biggest question regarding her return will be this: will she be able to again become a champion?  Regaining competitive form after not playing for over a year is challenging, but Sharapova does have experience with such comebacks.  She was out for nearly a year following major shoulder surgery in 2008.  While her return to form was slow, she went on to win two French Open titles, in 2012 and 2014 respectively.

Sharapova has dealt with her share of injuries over the years, but one would assume her body will feel good after this long layoff.  She turned 30 last week, but as we’ve seen on both the ATP and WTA tours this year, that’s now young in tennis years.  There is certainly plenty of room at the top of the WTA right now, especially with Serena Williams’ pregnancy announcement.  And one thing no one questions about Sharapova is her fighting spirit: who on the tour will fight harder or want it more than her?

Regardless of her results, Sharapova will remain a hot topic going forward. The French Tennis Federation will announce on May 15th if she will be granted a Roland Garros wild card.  Plus the defiant champion just announced the release of her autobiography in September.  The title?  “Unstoppable.”

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Arthur Rinderknech claims his first Challenger title in Istanbul

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French 25-year-old player Arthur Rinderknech started his 2021 season with his third career Challenger title in Istanbul after beating his compatriot Benjamin Bonzi 4-6 7-6 (7-1) 7-6 (7-3) after 2 hours and 17 minutes. In the erlier rounds he beat Next Gen player Brandon Nakashima, Marc-Andrea Huesler in the quarter final and Jozef Kovalik in the semifinal. 

 

Rinderknech becomes the first qualifier to win an ATP Challenger since Carlos Alcaraz won the Trieste tournament last August. 

Rinderknech won seven matches in eight days as a qualifier on the indoor hard courts of the TED Sports Club in Istanbul. The Frenchman has improved his best ranking by 43 spots to reach a career-high number 135 in the ATP Ranking. 

Rinderknech improved his best ranking by nearly 200 spots to a year-end position inside the top 200 in 2020. He started last year’s season with a Challenger title in Rennes and claimed his second title in Calgary. He received a main draw wild-card at Roland Garros and made his Grand Slam debut in the French capital. 

Rinderknech is playing this week in another Challenger tournament in the Open Quimper Bretagne Occidentale. He is one of nine players in the top 150 in Quimper. 

“It feels great to win the first Challenger of the year and even more when it’s a 125-level tournament. I am happy about the way I handled things this week and went through seven matches in eight days”, said Rinderknech. 

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‘I Play For Grand Slams’ – Serena Williams Hails Quarantine Measures Ahead Of Australian Open

The tennis star gives her own view about the quarantine process in Australia.

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Former world No.1 Serena Williams has praised Australian authorities over their handling of the COVID-19 pandemic as she nears her return to professional tennis.

 

The multiple Grand Slam winner is currently conducting her 14-day quarantine process in Adelaide along with her team and family as part of the rules set out by Tennis Australia. All players have been kept inside what has been described as a ‘bubble’ for their first two weeks of arriving in the country before they are allowed to play any tournaments. Those who test positive or are a contact case of somebody who has tested positive for COVID-19 must stay in their rooms at all times.

As a result of the procedures, some players have complained about the conditions and how they have been treated. Spain’s Paula Badosa, who has the coronavirus, says she feels ‘abandoned’ by authorities. The world No.67 has been moved to a health hotel with her coach following the positive test. There has also been some complaints from others over their rooms, food and allegations of preferential treatment for those in Adelaide.

On the other hand, Williams says she has no problems with what she describes as a ‘super intense’ quarantine as she pays tribute to those running the system.

“It’s super, super strict, but it’s really good,” Williams told The Late Show With Stephen Colbert.
“It’s insane and super intense but it’s super good because after that you can have a new normal like we were used to this time last year in the United States.
“It’s definitely hard with a three-year-old to be in the hotel all day, but it’s worth it because you want everyone to be safe at the end of the day.”

The 39-year-old will head to Melbourne Park next week with the goal of trying to tie the all-time record for most Grand Slam titles held by a singles player. It was at the Australian Open where she recorded her last major triumph back in 2017. However, since then Williams has only won one title which was at the ASB Classic 12 months ago. Although she did finish runner-up at four majors between 2018-2019.

“I play right now for Grand Slams and I love to have the opportunity to still be out there and to compete at this level,” she stated.
“It (the Australian Open) was one of my favourite slams growing up. I have so many friends in Melbourne, it’s really nice. Every time I win a Grand Slam it means the world to me so they are all really special.”

Williams’ Grand Slam tally currently stands at 23 which is one behind Margaret Court. Although Court won 13 of her titles prior to the start of the Open Era in 1968 which was when Grand Slams allowed professional players to compete with amateurs.

This Friday Williams will take on Naomi Osaka in the ‘Day at the Drive’ exhibition event in Adelaide.

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‘An Incredible Job’ – Nick Kyrgios Hails Strict Australian Open Quarantine Measures

The outspoken Australian also explains why he believes it is right to publicly criticise top names such as Novak Djokovic.

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Nick Kyrgios says he feels safer playing tennis than last year following a series of COVID-19 measures that have been implemented ahead of the Australian Open.

 

The former top-20 star has hailed the action taken by authorities which has triggered a somewhat mixed response from other players. Those playing in the first Grand Slam of the season are currently going through a 14-day quarantine with 72 players being unable to leave their room after being deemed a close contact of somebody who has tested positive for the virus. A series of positive tests was detected on flights en route to the country.

Although some players have criticised the process with allegations of poor room standards and preferential treatment for the top players who are currently based in Adelaide instead of Melbourne. Spain’s Paula Badosa tested positive for COVID-19 on the sixth day of her quarantine and had symptoms. In a recent interview with the Marca newspaper, Badosa says she feels ‘abandoned’ by authorities during what is the ‘worst experience’ of her career.

However, Kyrgios has hailed the comprehensive approach that has been taken by the authorities. He was one of the few players not to travel to Europe or North America during the second part of last year due to concerns related to the Pandemic. Compatriot Ash Barty was another to do the same.

“In Melbourne, with obviously the bubble, they’ve done an incredible job there. The authorities aren’t letting up and [are] making sure everyone is sticking by the rules,” Kyrgios told CNN.
“I actually feel quite safe. I didn’t really feel safe during last year, traveling and playing overseas, I thought it was a bit too soon to play.
“I think now the conditions are safe enough and everyone is going to work together and make sure we do it the right way.
“I don’t want to put anyone else at risk. I have loved ones that I don’t want to even have the chance to expose to Covid so I think it’s safe enough.”

Renowned for his at times fiery behaviour on the Tour and outspoken tone, the 25-year-old has no intention of changing his habits. Last summer he hit out at a series of his peers over their behaviour during the pandemic and blasted the Adria Tour. An exhibition series co-founded by Novak Djokovic which had to end early following an outbreak of the virus among players and staff members.

Djokovic is one of the players who Kyrgios has criticised the most in recent times. On January 18th he called the 17-time Grand Slam champion a ‘tool’ on Twitter after his letter to Craig Tiley was leaked to the public. Nevertheless, Kyrgios has no regrets over his comments as he feels it is vital to hold the top names accountable as he drew parallels between Djokovic and NBA great LeBron James.

I think it’s very important, especially one of the leaders of our sport. He’s technically our LeBron James,” he said.
“He has to set an example for all tennis players out there and set an example for tennis,”
added Kyrgios. “I think when he was doing some of the things that he was doing during the global pandemic, it just wasn’t the right time.
“I know everyone makes mistakes. Even some of us go off track sometimes but I think we need to hold each other accountable.
“I’m not doing any of this stuff for media attention, these are the morals that I’ve grown up with. I was just trying to do my part.”

Due to a combination of the COVID-19 pandemic and injury, Kyrgios hasn’t played a full competitive match on the ATP Tour since his fourth round loss to Rafael Nadal at the Australian Open almost a year ago.

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