Tuesday, 11 December 2018

True grit Sharapova back at French Open with point to prove

Maria Sharapova

ROME: There will be questions about suspensions, favouritism and rivalries, and fashion, parties and candy lines.

There will be accusations of slights – real or imagined – greeted either with a giggle, an icy stare or a pitch-perfect, withering put down.

It can only mean one thing – Maria Sharapova is about to play in a Grand Slam event.

But not just any Grand Slam.

This is the French Open where she has won two of her five career majors but where, 12 months ago, Roland Garros chiefs took to the moral high ground.

From there, they told the Russian icon that she was not welcome, her recently-concluded 15-month doping ban considered too raw to allow her the convenience of a wildcard into the clay court showpiece.

Injury then ruled her out of Wimbledon before she made a stunning Grand Slam return at the US Open under the lights of Arthur Ashe Court in August.

“Behind this little black dress and the Swarovski crystals, there is a girl with a lot of grit and she’s not going anywhere,” said Sharapova after seeing off second seed Simona Halep in her New York opener.

It could just as well have been a riposte to Roland Garros three months earlier.

Back then the former world number one had seen her ranking slump to 173 as she started to rebuild a career which also doubles as a multi-million dollar brand empire.

Now, thanks to the characteristic cussedness that has served her well since her tennis odyssey began in Russia before being honed in Florida, the 31-year-old Sharapova is back in the top 30 and guaranteed a seeded place when the 2018 French Open starts on Sunday.

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