Anyone assuming Maria Sharapova was going to engage in a war of words with her next opponent Eugenie Bouchard should think again as the Russian insisted on Sunday that her main focus would be her tennis and nothing else.
Sharapova and Bouchard are set to square off in the Madrid Open second round on Monday (22:00 Dubai time, 20:00 Madrid time) just two days after the Canadian reiterated her statements regarding her opponent, in which she branded her a “cheater” who shouldn’t be allowed back in the sport.
Bouchard said she would have a “bit more motivation” to beat Sharapova on the back of the comments she made about her return from a 15-month doping suspension.
Sharapova, who reached the semi-finals in Stuttgart in her first tournament back, began her Madrid campaign with a 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 win over 17th-seeded Mirjana Lucic-Baroni, whom she described as a “human slingshot”.
The former world No1 though would not get dragged into any drama when asked to respond to Bouchard’s comments, and insists she will not be affected by the digs aimed at her when she steps on the court.
“It’s not the way I go about my job, and I never really have. I’ve been in the public eye since I was a very young girl. I’ve heard a lot of things,” Sharapova told reporters on Sunday.
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“If everything affects you on and off the court, I think that would be a really challenging position to be in. Yeah, it’s not the way I think. My tennis speaks for itself, and that’s what I focus on.”
Sharapova is 4-0 head-to-head against Bouchard, but they’ve had tight clashes in the past, including a memorable three-set semi-final at Roland Garros in 2014.
The Russian five-time grand slam winner had an appropriate preparation for the Bouchard match in the form of Lucic-Baroni – a big-hitter who doesn’t give much rhythm to the person across the net from her.
Sharapova says Lucic-Baroni and Bouchard have some similarities in their games.
“I’m not quite sure how to describe the match because it feels like it happened so fast,” the 30-year-old said of Lucic-Baroni, who saved four set points before surrendering in the second and getting bulldozed in the decider.
“I thought she played really well. I was playing against, like, a human slingshot for a while there. Balls were coming so fast and deep. I mean, for a couple of sets, I don’t believe we had too many rallies over three balls.
“She goes for it. You have to be patient. Sometimes there’s not much you can do. Those are great shots, on the line. I mean, the breakpoints, I missed a couple of second-serve returns. That was obviously an error from my side. But she came up with some great winners. Just got to hand it to her.”
Sharapova has sent the Caja Magica into frenzy from the moment she arrived in Madrid and her practice sessions have been jam-packed by fans. The is understandably more attention, and scrutiny, surrounding the Russian since her return from her ban, but she feels she’s been handling it fairly routinely.
“It’s interesting. I feel like I’m still doing very much the same thing that I’m doing. I’m very much in my element. I think it’s always great to be the person that’s kind of in control of your actions while everything around you is moving in a different way. I don’t know how to explain it,” said Sharapova.
“Not much has changed from my end. I still go through my routines. I still go through my training. I’m around my team. But then there’s a little bit more around. I definitely feel it, but it doesn’t change anything that I do.
“I’m kind of the driver of that. I like being in that position. I like doing my work. I love being quiet about it and letting everyone around speak or have the noise, whatever it is.”