Sunday 21 October 2018

Sharapova's invite puts officials on defensive

Former ladies single's champion Russia's Maria Sharapova poses for a photo with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup on Margaret Court Arena during the ceremony for the official draw at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne. Photo: AP
Former ladies single's champion Russia's Maria Sharapova poses for a photo with the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup on Margaret Court Arena during the ceremony for the official draw at the Australian Open tennis championships in Melbourne. Photo: AP

Simon Briggs

The Australian Open defended its decision to ask Maria Sharapova to carry the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup into the draw ceremony, arguing that she was the only former champion who had been available for the showpiece event.

Sharapova - whose last act at Melbourne Park was to provide a tainted urine sample in January 2016 - received a big build-up as she walked on to Margaret Court Arena with the trophy.

An obsequious interview with Hamish McLachlan ensued, in which the Channel Seven host talked of her "time out" as if she had taken a holiday rather than served a 15-month doping ban.

In normal circumstances, defending champion Serena Williams would have appeared at the draw, but she is at home in Florida with her four-month-old daughter Alexis Olympia.

And the only other former champion in this year's event is Angelique Kerber, who is due to appear in the semi-finals at the Sydney International today.

Asked why Sharapova had been chosen, Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley replied: "As part of the tradition, we have the former champions (for the draw ceremony). We needed a former champion to come, she accepted the invite."

Tiley was then asked whether it was appropriate for Sharapova's first public appearance here since her doping offence to be couched in such celebratory terms.

"In fairness to Maria, the adjudication has occurred on that," he said.

"It's her 10-year anniversary (Sharapova won her lone Australian Open title in 2008). Maria is an Australian Open champion. She deserved the opportunity."

As for the actual draw itself, Kyle Edmund - the only British male representative - takes on US Open finalist Kevin Anderson.

The British women enjoyed better fortunes, on paper at least.

Johanna Konta will play Madison Brengle, who is ranked No 92. Heather Watson, who moved into the Hobart semi-final yesterday with a 6-0, 6-4 win over Donna Vekic, has drawn Russia's Yulia Putintseva. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent

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