Video - Battle lines drawn as Maria Sharapova prepares to face off against Eugenie Bouchard
Maria Sharapova will take on Eugenie Bouchard at the Madrid Masters tonight - in what will be one of the most eagerly anticipated grudge matches of the tennis season.
Sharapova continued her comeback from a 15-month drugs ban with a 4-6 6-4 6-0 triumph over Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, as she battles her way back up the tennis rankings in her bid to qualify for the French Open later this month and Wimbledon in July.
That story will continue on Monday evening, when she locks horns with one of the most outspoken critics of her return to the game.
Canadian star Bouchard admits Sharapova was one of her big heroes as she made her way onto the tennis tour, but that opinion has changed after a drugs ban imposed after the Russian failed a test at the 2016 Australian Open after she was found to have taken the banned substance meldonium.
"She's a cheater and I don't think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play that sport again," declared Bouchard.
"It's so unfair to all the other players who do it the right way and are true. She's definitely not someone I can look up to any more."
Sharapova refused to be drawn into a war of words with Bouchard following her inflammatory interview, but the pair are now set for a meeting on court in the first of the night matches at Madrid's space-age tennis centre.
"My tennis speaks for itself, and that’s what I focus on," said Sharapova on Sunday.
"I’ve been in the public eye since I was a very young girl. I’ve heard a lot of things
"If everything affects you on and off the court, I think that would be a really challenging position to be in. Yeah, it's not the way I think.
“It’s not the way I go about my job, and I never really have."
It's fair to suggest the battle of the egos and personalities will be just as fascinating as the sporting contest when Sharapova slugs it out with Bouchard.
Victory for Sharapova would give her another huge boost in her rapid rise up the tennis rankings and if she was to win the tournament in Madrid this week, she would be back in the world's top 50 next Monday.