Thursday 21 September 2017

Sharapova advances but avoids talk on Williams' rift

Jim White

According to Maria Sharapova, the locker room at Wimbledon is a lonely place. It is certainly not somewhere she has found many friends.

"I'm not really close to many players," she said after her first-round victory over Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic.

"I think just because you're in the same sport it doesn't mean that you have to be friends with everyone, that just because you're a tennis player you're going to get along with tennis players."

And there is certainly one tennis player with whom Sharapova does not get along: a card signed by Serena Williams is unlikely to plop on to her doormat this Christmas.

The spat between the two women, a verbal squall over past and present love interest conducted via a trail of catty press statements, has added a soap opera narrative to the women's draw at this year's championship.

And even if she were unwilling to add further spice – "Wimbledon has started, this is my work. I'd really appreciate it if we move on" – Sharapova arrived on the Centre Court evidently determined that the plotline should follow its natural course to a meeting between the pair in the final.

Mind, her opponent did not make it easy. Sharapova was hustled, bustled and made to squawk by a woman making only her second appearance at SW19.

UNYIELDING

A hard-fought, insistent and unyielding first-round challenge for a player at the top of the women's draw. Who would have thought it? Certainly not Sharapova.

"In the first set we didn't break each other," she said. "In women's tennis that's kind of rare."

Wearing a pair of etiquette-challenging orange undershorts, Sharapova was unquestionably required to graft.

Up in the box reserved for the player's guests, Grigor Dimitrov – her boyfriend and Williams' ex – for much of the match bore the look of a man concerned he might have backed the wrong horse.

As Mladenovic's serves had her stretching, as a flurry of double-handed backhands left her flat-footed, Sharapova was more than a little uncomfortable.

You always know when the Russian feels under threat on court: the volume of her yelps increases. From merely challenging the further reaches of the Richter scale they start to threaten the very steel structure of the show court, a hyena wail of military pitch and scale.

And for much of the first set, as the Frenchwoman's serve scorched the turf, the former champion was yelping.

It was just the workout she might have wished for. A proper examination. The sort of thing, in short, which might make her almost feel friendly towards her opponent. Almost. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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