Tennis: Former world number one Sharapova determined to prove point on Slam return

In this file photo, Maria Sharapova, of Russia, returns a shot to Alexandra Dulgheru, of Romania, during the second round of the US Open tennis tournament, in New York, on Aug 27, 2014. (AP)
Updated 24 August 2017
0

Tennis: Former world number one Sharapova determined to prove point on Slam return

NEW YORK: Former world number one Maria Sharapova makes her first Grand Slam appearance next week since serving a 15-month doping suspension, bringing renewed passion and resolve to the US Open.
The 30-year-old Russian was given a wildcard into the tournament by the US Tennis Association (USTA), a move critics complained about earlier in the season but another key step in the road back for the five-time Grand Slam winner.
“When it comes to tennis, good or bad — there’s really only one thing that I know for certain — I’ve missed it,” Sharapova wrote on the Players’ Tribune website.
“Though these last two years have been tougher — so much tougher — than I ever could have anticipated... my passion for the game has never wavered. If anything, it has only grown stronger.”
Sharapova was issued a two-year suspension after testing positive for the banned heart and blood boosting drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced the ban on appeal.
She said that she had taken it for several years and did not know it had been placed on the banned list at the start of 2016.
Sharapova made her return in April at Stuttgart, reaching the semifinals as a wildcard, but such invitations sparked criticism from some WTA rivals, saying she should have to work her way back without such benefits, some suggesting a life ban.
“I’m aware of what many of my peers have said about me and how critical of me some of them have been,” she wrote.
“If you’re a human being with a normal, beating heart... I don’t think that sort of thing will ever fully be possible to ignore.”
Sharapova was refused a wildcard by French Open organizers and missed Wimbledon with a thigh injury, so the US Open will be her first Grand Slam event since last year’s Australian Open.
Shaking off criticism after the French Open snub, Sharapova tweeted, “If this is what it takes to rise up again, then I am in it all the way, everyday. No words, games or actions will ever stop me from reaching my own dreams. And I have many.”
Sharapova has missed three of the past four US Opens, her last visit ending in the 2014 fourth round.
The USTA defended its wildcard offer, saying, “Her suspension under the terms of the tennis anti-doping program was completed and therefore was not one of the factors weighed in our wildcard selection process.”
“Consistent with past practice, a wildcard was provided to a past US champion who needed the wildcard for entry into the main draw.”
Former world number one Sharapova won the 2006 US Open as well as Wimbledon in 2004, the 2008 Australian Open and the 2012 and 2014 French Opens.
“I’m sure this is a great moment for her to have an opportunity to be back to a place where she has done so well,” seven-time Grand Slam champion Venus Williams said.
Sharapova was bolstered by fans with “Welcome back Maria” signs in Germany and cheering support last month in Stanford, her first US match in more than two years.
“I feel like I just want to hug everyone and say thank you,” Sharapova said.
Sharapova defeated American Jennifer Brady 6-1, 4-6, 6-0 in her Stanford opener but suffered a left forearm injury and has not played competitively since.
“I feel like I’m playing catch-up against everyone who has had a head start,” she said of being hurt during US Open tuneup events.


‘Good, but not good enough’: Juan Antonio Pizzi on Saudi Arabia’s defeat to Uruguay

Updated 20 June 2018
0

‘Good, but not good enough’: Juan Antonio Pizzi on Saudi Arabia’s defeat to Uruguay

  • A Luis Suaréz goal midway through the first half gave Uruguay a 1-0 win
  • Pizzi had spoken passionately about the need for his side to demonstrate a higher level of focus and performance

ROSTOV-ON-DON: Good, but not good enough.
That was what Juan Antonio Pizzi stated as he declared himself pleased with his team’s performance in the 1-0 defeat to Uruguay on Wednesday night.
But he lamented his side’s lack of firepower as they exited the World Cup after just two matches.
Pizzi had spoken passionately about the need for his side to demonstrate a higher level of focus and performance in Rostov-on-Don after losing their opening game 5-0 to hosts Russia in Moscow last week.
The Argentine got his wish with a display that saw the Green Falcons fight throughout and edge possession against a Uruguay side ranked 14th in the world.
A Luis Suaréz goal midway through the first half after poor goalkeeping from Mohammed Al-Owais, however, was enough to hand the Green Falcons a 12th successive World Cup defeat.
The result means that even with a win against Egypt on Monday, the Green Falcons are no longer capable of progressing to the knock-out stages from Group A.
“We had a lot of ball possession and were able to impose our style of play and distribution,” said Pizzi. “We conceded a goal from a random play and didn’t have the weapons or tools to try to equalize. We kept the ball well and weren’t really troubled defensively, but lacked that ability to score.”
Indeed, for all their possession, Saudi Arabia have managed just three shots on target in 180 minutes of football. Against Russia, they failed to muster a single effort on target and the managed just three against Uruguay, two of which came in the final minutes when they knew they had to score or face elimination. None of the three shots came from a striker.
“This is our weakness. We have good ball possession, but no effectiveness. We lack the depth and skill required to win these games,” Pizzi added. “We have that deficiency and have looked for solutions, but we haven’t quite come up with one yet. But that is one of the reasons great forward are in high demand and are the elite players in world football.”
Pizzi had made four changes ahead of the match, dropping goalkeeper Abdullah Al-Mayouf in favor of Al-Owais and introducing Ali Al-Bulayhi at the heart of the defense alongside Osama Hawsawi. Further upfield, Hattan Bahberi came in for Yahya Al-Shehri and Fahad Al-Muwallad replaced Mohammed Al-Sahlawi. The changes, particularly the inclusion of Bahberi, seemed to give the side more impetus in midfield.
“The difference between the performance in the first game and this game is enormous,” Pizzi said. “The only way to compete at this level is to play at the level we did here. And even then it was not enough even to get a draw. Undoubtedly there were other factors aside from the pressure of playing in the opening game that made a difference, but it’s true that the difference was enormous.”
Many critics had predicted a deluge of goals from the likes of Suarez and Cavani, yet both were kept at bay. Save for a couple of half-chances early on, neither came close to scoring until the 23rd minute.
A corner from Carlos Sanchez sailed into the area and when Al-Owais came for it but failed to connect with his punch, Barcelona forward Suaréz was left with the simplest of tap-ins. He was so caught off-guard, he actually looked surprised as he reeled away in celebration.
“I believe you cannot be relaxed in any match,” Suarez said when asked by a Uruguayan journalist whether he had taken it easy against the Saudis.
“We wanted to win and to progress to the knock-out stage and this game simply showed how difficult it is. That’s the World Cup for you though and we are obviously delighted with how we have performed so far to progress.”
Uruguay coach Oscar Tabarez did not share his striker’s sentiments.
“Saudi Arabia wanted to excel and give a better account of themselves after losing to Russia,” he said.
“They did that very well and we have to respect them. But what surprised me the most is how we played. We underperformed.”