By Ros Satar
- Genie Bouchard def. Maria Sharapova [WC] 7-5 2-6 6-4
- Strictly business as Rome is the next stop with still no guarantee of Slam wildcards for Roland Garros or Wimbledon.
MADRID, SPAIN – Maria Sharapova faced a real test against critic Genie Bouchard and came up short with just her second tournament since serving a 15 month suspension.
Genie Bouchard def. Maria Sharapova [WC] 7-5 2-6 6-4
Setting aside the grudge match aspect of the match, it turned out to be one of missed opportunities for Maria Sharapova. Having gone 4-2 up in the first set, her usual stream-roller ground to a halt as Genie Bouchard lifted her level and played the sort of tennis that saw her reach a first Grand Slam final in 2014.
Sharapova noted: “I definitely thought I should have taken care of the first set. I had a let-down, being up a break. I was happy with the way I changed things around in the second, stepped in, was a little bit more aggressive inside the baseline. Then the third, kind of felt like it was a similar pattern: set up opportunities, breakpoints, and just did not convert them today.”
While Bouchard said that her motivation had come from players she would normally speak to approaching her to wish her luck in this encounter, Sharapova kept her comments strictly business, saying she was not at all surprised with the level that Bouchard had displayed in the match.
“We’ve played a few times. She’s always come up with really good matches. Played a three-setter on clay at the French Open. I didn’t expect anything different.”
Even acknowledging that in her last two tournaments the level of interest has been at an all time high surrounding the continuing circumstances of her come-back, she claimed to treat it as all part of the ‘game.’
She continued: “As I said, every match at this point is important. I’m just one of the two players that’s out on the court. Everything that surrounds myself, I don’t really know a lot of it. I don’t pay attention to much of it.
“I’ve been part of this game for many years. I know what the drill is. I know the excitement. I know there’s always a lot of talk and buzz, matchups, rivalries, news. It’s all part of the game.
“But at the end of the day, it’s just two athletes competing against each other, and I’m one of them. That’s how I treat this game.”
It was a taste of reality. While Stuttgart had a quality field as always, it is a small draw of 28 players and this time the draw fell kindly for her. It was not really going to be the case in a more hefty 64-draw with no byes for the women’s tournament.
For a time the excited squeals of speculation that with Serena Williams out until 2018, we could see Sharapova lifting trophies aloft with reckless abandon have died down. She is provisionally up to 210 in the rankings and has 250 rankings points since taking to the courts a couple of Wednesdays ago.
On Monday the Roland Garros organisers will take to Facebook Live to confirm what the situation is regarding Sharapova’s chances in competing at the tournament. This loss was no doubt a slightly more bitter pill to swallow than maybe even her loss to Kristina Mladenovic in Stuttgart.
She concluded: “I think I would be worried about myself if I sat here and said I’m pretty happy with losing a tennis match, no matter who I face, no matter what round it is, whether it’s the first round or final of a Grand Slam.
“You know, I’m a big competitor. What you work for for so many hours every single day is to be on the winning end of matches. Today was just not that day. Of course, I’m disappointed. That’s what’s going to make me a better player. That’s what’s going to win me more tournaments and more Grand Slams.”
With Bouchard referring to Sharapova’s return as ‘her so-called comeback, if you want to call it that,’ there is a long way to go before any match with Sharapova returns to anything like business as usual, no matter how well drilled Sharapova’s answers are.
Sharapova was granted a wild-card into the WTA Premier tournament in Rome, which takes place between 14-21 May.
Featured Image Credit: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography
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