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Grudge match: Sharapova to play Bouchard in Madrid

Grudge match: Sharapova to play Bouchard in Madrid

MADRID — Maria Sharapova’s reward for advancing to the second round of the Madrid Open on Sunday is a match against Canada’s Eugenie Bouchard, one of the most outspoken players against the Russian’s return after a doping ban.

Sharapova recovered from a shaky opening to defeat Mirjana Lucic-Baroni of Croatia 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 in the first round.

Playing in her second tournament since a 15-month doping suspension, Sharapova denied there would be extra motivation to defeat Bouchard after the Westmount, Que., native previously called her “a cheater” and said she should be banned for life from the sport.

“It’s not the way I go about my job,” the 30-year-old Sharapova said. “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. It’s not the way I think. My tennis speaks for itself, and that’s what I focus on.”

Monday’s match against Bouchard, the 2014 Wimbledon finalist, will be Sharapova’s sixth since getting back on tour after testing positive for meldonium at last year’s Australian Open. She played her first tournament after the ban in Stuttgart last month, being eliminated in the semifinals by 17th-ranked Kristina Mladenovic of France.

Bouchard, who on Saturday won her first main-draw match since January, has said Sharapova’s return was “unfair to all the other players who do it the right way.” She said she was hoping to play against the Russian in Madrid.

Sharapova expects to face a difficult opponent regardless of the off-the-court controversy.

“I think in terms of a game style, there’s a little bit of similarities to who I played today: very aggressive, inside the court, takes the ball on the rise, doesn’t give you much time,” Sharapova said. “All the things that hopefully I can improve from today’s match and take it against her.”

Sharapova took control of her opening match in Madrid after struggling early against the 20th-ranked Lucic-Baroni, cruising to victory in the final set after more than two hours on the centre court, where she was loudly cheered by the fans.

Sharapova, the 2014 winner in Madrid, had 16 winners and only 10 unforced errors in her opening-round victory, her fourth since a controversial return to tennis.

The Russian was broken three times in the first set, but only once in the rest of the match at the clay-court tournament. She had a total of 19 break opportunities, converting seven of them.

Sharapova said it was “extremely important” to get the opening-round victory.

“The first match of a tournament is always one of the most difficult and it’s been a while since I played on this court,” she said. “I was just so happy to be back out here, to have the opportunity to play against a really tough opponent and come out and be a winner in three sets.”

The five-time Grand Slam champion and former top-ranked player has been relying on wild cards because she lost her ranking following the doping ban.

“My goal is to play as many matches as I can right now,” Sharapova said. “When you are out of the game for a long time you just want to play and want to compete and find yourself in different situations of the match. And like this one, it was extremely tough, not many rallies, she forced me to come out with some of my good tennis and I really had to dig deep.”

In other matches Sunday, top-seeded Angelique Kerber of Germany defeated Timea Babos of Hungary 6-4, 6-2, while defending champion Simona Halep beat Kristyna Pliskova of the Czech Republic 6-1, 6-2.

In the men’s tournament, ninth-seeded David Goffin of Belgium defeated Karen Khachanov of Russia 6-2, 7-6 (8), and Fabio Fognini of Italy beat Joao Sousa of Portugal 6-4, 6-4 to set up a second-round match against Rafael Nadal.

___

Tales Azzoni on Twitter: http://twitter.com/tazzoni

Tales Azzoni, The Associated Press

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