LONDON: Maria Sharapova promised to let her tennis do the talking when she meets Eugenie Bouchard in the second round of the Madrid Open in a match laced with tension over Sharapova’s 15-month doping ban. Bouchard labelled the Russian “a cheater” last week and suggested Sharapova should have been kicked out of tennis for life rather than welcomed back with a series of wildcards for high-profile tournaments. The two will meet on either Monday or Tuesday. Sharapova, 30, though, claimed she has had enough experience in the public spotlight since making her breakthrough by winning Wimbledon as a 17-year-old to deal with the circus around her return to the sport. “I’ve been in the public eye since I was a very young girl. I’ve heard a lot of things,” she said after beating Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 4-6, 6-4, 6-0 in the Spanish capital on Sunday. “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.”
Sharapova made the semi-finals in Stuttgart in her first tournament since testing positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open last week. And despite consistent criticism of high-profile figures in the sport over the ease with which she has been welcomed back, the five-time Grand Slam champion claimed to be in her element. “I love being quiet about it and letting everyone around speak or have the noise,” she added. “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.” Should Sharapova extend her unbeaten record over Bouchard to five matches, she will also edge closer to qualifying for Wimbledon in June without the need of a wildcard from the All England Club. “I would love to be in a position to compete in that event. It’s very meaningful to me,” Sharapova added.