Maria Sharapova and Madison Keys pull out of the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships

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Maria Sharapova‘s long-awaited return to Dubai will no longer happen this month as the Russian ex-world No. 1 announced her withdrawal from the tournament.

Sharapova’s last — and only — appearance at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships was in 2006, and she had accepted a wildcard into next week’s event.

But the five-time Grand Slam champion has pulled out citing injury (reportedly feeling pain in her forearms) and it is yet to be determined who will be taking her wildcard instead.

Sharapova lost her opener in Doha last Monday to Monica Niculescu in three sets and is currently ranked No. 41 in the world. She is 21-10 win-loss since she returned from her doping ban last April.

American world No. 14 Madison Keys, who was meant to make her Dubai debut next week, has also withdrawn due to illness.

Keys, last year’s US Open runner-up, lost her Doha second round to Catherine ‘CiCi’ Bellis 2-6, 6-3, 6-0 on Wednesday.

“Unfortunately both Maria Sharapova and Madison Keys have regretfully had to withdraw from the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships due to injury and illness,” said tournament director Salah Tahlak.

“We are sorry that neither Maria nor Madison will be able to play in Dubai, but we still have one of the strongest fields ever assembled for the WTA event. Maria said that she is very sorry she cannot be here and hopes to come back next year. We wish her and Madison a speedy recovery.”

The WTA tournament at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships begins on Monday February 19 and concludes on Saturday February 24, with the ATP event kicking off on Monday February 26.

World No. 2 Simona Halep will headline the field along with defending champion, world No. 3 Elina Svitolina and reigning Wimbledon champion, world No. 4 Garbine Muguruza.

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ATP to probe 'racial prejudice' allegations

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In trouble: Ryan Harrison

The Association of Tennis Professionals on Tuesday says it has launched an internal investigation after a first-round match between two American players at the New York Open boiled over on the court.

The ATP Tour officials say they are reviewing “allegations of racial prejudice” after Ryan Harrison and Donald Young exchanged words in the first set and had to be separated by the chair umpire during a changeover in play on Monday.

“The ATP takes any allegations of racial prejudice extremely seriously,” the organisation said in a statement. “A further review of all video and audio recording from the match will take place as this matter is investigated further.

“No further comment will be made until the completion of the investigation.”

The two continued their exchange later on their social media profiles.

African-American Young, 28, posted on Twitter after the match: “I’m shocked and disappointed, Ryan Harrison, to hear you tell me how you really feel about me as a black Tennis player in the middle of our NY match.”

The 25-year-old Harrison, who won the match 6-3, 7-6 (7/4) shot back on Twitter, “The accusations made by Donald Young tonight following our match are absolutely untrue. I’m extremely disappointed that someone would say this in reaction to a lost Tennis match. Any video/audio will 100 per cent clear me.”

Harrison and Young have met eight times since their first match in 2010, with Harrison holding an 6-2 lead.
In matches on Tuesday, Japan’s Kei Nishikori continued his comeback from right wrist surgery with a 7-5, 6-3 opening match win over American wildcard Noah Rubin.

“He started very well, very aggressive. Serving well,” Nishikori said. “I think he played a little better than me in the first set. Second set I was playing a little better, a little more aggressive.”

The 28-year-old Nishikori has now won six matches in a row and will next face Russian Evgeny Donsov who defeated Dominican Victor Estrella Burgos 7-5, 6-1.

Spaniard Adrian Menendez-Maceiras saved five match points to beat seventh seed Steve Johnson 1-6, 6-3, 7-6 (9/7).

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Petra Kvitova's St. Petersburg success, Julia Goerges' top-10 debut and other takeaways from the tennis week

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Triumphant in St. Petrasburg.

An on-fire Petra Kvitova cruising on an indoor court is one of the most impressive sights in tennis and lucky for us, we got to watch the Czech be at her unplayable best to clinch the title in St. Petersburg on Sunday.

A little over a year ago, Kvitova was attacked by a home intruder, who stabbed her left playing hand. She has since had surgery, recovered, and claimed two titles, in Birmingham last June and now St. Petersburg.

As the great Billie Jean King said in her congratulatory tweet to Kvitova on Sunday, the two-time Wimbledon champion is “incredibly resilient” and “a champion in tennis and in life”.

Kvitova, who had accepted a wildcard into the tournament, needed just 65 minutes to take out defending champion Kristina Mladenovic 6-1, 6-2 in the final in Russia, to cap a tremendous week with a 21st career title.

Here’s a look at five takeaways from Kvitova’s big run in ‘St. Petrasburg’ and other action from the week gone by in tennis. (For the main takeaways from last weekend’s Davis Cup action, click here)

PETRA’S WIN IMPRESSIVE ON MANY FRONTS

Kvitova took down some big scalps en route to the title, with the average ranking of her opponents being a high 17.2. Her victims throughout the week looked like this: World No. 21 Elena Vesnina, No. 37 Irina-Camelia Begu, No. 6 Jelena Ostapenko, No. 12 Julia Goerges, and No.10 Kristina Mladenovic.

The Czech lefty improved her record in finals to 21-7. That is a 75 per cent winning record in finals. While Kvitova is the first to admit she has struggled mentally on court in various moments in the past, her success rate in title matches is testament to the fact that she can be real clutch when it matters the most.

“I love to play finals. Probably I was born for it,” she was quoted as saying by WTA Insider.

That is a fair statement.

Mladenovic’s comments after the final echoed those of many other players who have been on the receiving end of an in-form Kvitova drubbing.

“There’s absolutely nothing you can do when she’s playing like this, no matter who she playing. I’ve played I think all the best players in the world and no one smashes winners like this for an hour. Just a big congrats to her,” said the Frenchwoman.

Well-said!

GOERGES’ TOP-10 DEBUT

Also a player who boasts a killer forehand that can drop jaws when it’s clicking is Germany’s Goerges, whose incredible streak of winning three consecutive tournaments between October 2017 and January 2018 is finally being rewarded by a place in the world’s top-10 for the first time in her career.

The 29-year-old Goerges joins her compatriot Angelique Kerber, which makes it the first time since 1997 (Steffi Graf and Anke Huber) that two German women are ranked in the top-10.

KOSTYUK KEEPING AT IT

The 15-year-old Marta Kostyuk backed up her historic run to the Australian Open third round, as a qualifier, by winning a $60k title in Burnie, toppling top-seeded Viktorija Golubic in straight sets. The Ukrainian teen started the year ranked 523 and will rise to 185 on Monday. Her victory celebration was a gold medal-winning performance as well.

KEI’S COMEBACK IN FULL SWING

Kei Nishikori’s return from a wrist injury that kept him out of the game since the Canada Masters last August up until two weeks ago has resulted in a Challenger title win in Dallas over the weekend.

The Japanese ex-world No. 4 chose to drop down a tier to get some matches in and after losing his opening round to Dennis Novikov in the Newport Beach Challenger in his first tournament back, he rebounded by winning the trophy in Dallas (ironically defeating Novikov in the first round), taking out Mackenzie McDonald in the final.

While there are plenty of players who have done this in the past, I’m not sure how I feel about someone ranked in the top-30 playing a Challenger. Richard Gasquet also did that last September, when he was looking for some match play upon return from injury.

It’s understandable that players would want to ease themselves into competition after a lengthy break but Challengers are there for players with a lower ranking who aren’t able to compete on the ATP tour and who struggle with finances week-in, week-out, trying to make it into the big leagues. Nishikori took a spot in a draw that could have gone to someone falling under that category.

That said, it’s nice to see Nishikori back on court and picking up titles. It was his first trophy success in two years.

MARINO RETURNS

Canada’s Rebecca Marino, who quit tennis in 2013 due to struggles with depression, made a triumphant return to the sport, winning the $15k title in Antalya, in what was her first tournament in five years. Marino, a former top-40 player, claimed eight successive wins — three in qualifying and five in main draw — en route to lifting the trophy.

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