Saturday 23 February 2019

WATCH: Maria Sharapova shuts down questions on meldonium use in tetchy exchange following Australian Open exit

Russia's Maria Sharapova reacts during the match against Australia's Ashleigh Barty
Russia's Maria Sharapova reacts during the match against Australia's Ashleigh Barty

Harry Clarke

Maria Sharapova shut down questions from journalists after crashing out of the Australian Open to Ashleigh Barty.

Barty looked to be cruising to victory after winning nine straight games to lead 4-0 in the decider only for Sharapova to fight back with a run of three in a row.

But Barty held firm to clinch victory with an ace on her fourth match point after two hours and 22 minutes and a place in her first slam quarter-final.

At the end of the second set, Sharapova was booed by the crowd after she took a seven-minute bathroom break and in her post-match press conference she was asked: "Did you think they [the fans] were a bit unfair to you? Did it affect you at all?"

"What do you want me to say to that question?" Sharapova replied. "I think that's a silly question to ask."

Sharapova returned from a drugs ban two years ago when she was found to be using meldonium, a medicine she claimed was to help treat magnesium deficiency and a family history of diabetes.

Meldonium was outlawed in 2016 and since her return, her performance in the deciding sets has taken a significant fall.

Sharapova was asked another perfectly legitimate question after her defeat to Barty. "Maria, you took meldonium legally for 10 years for your health problems. Now that it is banned and you can no longer take it, is it a struggle physically to deal with the demands of a Grand Slam fortnight?"

"Is there another question," was Sharapova's swift response.

Sharapova was looking to follow up her big upset of defending champion Caroline Wozniacki and looked strong in winning the opening set.

But from there her serve deserted her - the Russian hit 10 double faults in the match - while she finished with a tally of 51 unforced errors.

She found her game just in time to put Barty under pressure, with the Australian's nerves all too evident, and had two chances to level at 4-4, but Barty saved them both and kept it together to serve out the victory.

The 22-year-old, who came into the match nursing an abdominal problem, enjoyed huge support on Rod Laver Arena, with the crowd booing Sharapova after she took a long bathroom break at the end of the second set.

A relieved Barty said: "It was a little close wasn't it. I gave myself opportunities in lots of games in the third set, I couldn't take it.

"I just had to take a deep breath and trust the work I've done with my team. She's an absolute champion and she was never, ever going to go away."

A teenage prodigy, Barty spent more than a year out of the game before returning in 2016, including a spell playing professional cricket.

She added: "This is unreal. Playing on this beautiful court with a packed crowd, there's nothing better."

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