Sharapova wants tough matches despite defeat

STUTTGART • Maria Sharapova said having more tough matches is her priority, after losing in the semi-finals of the Stuttgart tournament on her controversial comeback from a 15-month doping ban.

The five-time Grand Slam winner and former world No. 1 lost 6-3, 5-7, 4-6 to France's Kristina Mladenovic in a gruelling 2hr 38min showdown on Saturday night.

"I'm not angry, I'd have loved to have used the opportunity when I was ahead (2-0) in the second set, so I had a bit of a letdown which allowed her to get back in the match, gain confidence and play well," said Sharapova, who was playing her first tournament after testing positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.

"I didn't keep putting that pressure on her and if you allow that to happen to a player like her, it becomes dangerous."

Mladenovic went on to lose to German Laura Siegemund 1-6, 6-2, 6-7 (5-7) in yesterday's final.

Sharapova also has wild cards for the Madrid and Rome tournaments and leaves Germany with a world ranking of No. 260, having arrived with no ranking following her drug ban.

She will learn on May 16 whether she will be given a wild card for the main draw at the French Open, where she has twice been champion. The 30-year-old will need one to feature in Paris as her defeat on Saturday ruled her out of a qualifier spot.

The Russian jetted into Madrid yesterday to prepare for the WTA tournament in the Spanish capital and will play an exhibition match on Thursday.

"It's a fairly quick turnaround, but this is a process for me," she said. "I'll be in Europe for the next couple of months, but this is what I want to go through.

"I want the matches and to see how my body responds. I want to feel the tiredness of match play, it's different and you can't train that.

"I am treating Madrid and Rome just as importantly as the Grand Slams at this point, because I have been out of the game for so long."

She refused to blame a lack of fitness for her semi-final defeat.

"The way I played, I was really happy with that," she said. "You are never sure what level you are going to come onto the court with, but I feel this is a great base with which I started here."

She has already been installed as the bookmakers' joint-favourite alongside Romania's Simona Halep to capture the French Open, even before confirmation of Sharapova's participation at Roland Garros, the second Grand Slam of the year.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 01, 2017, with the headline 'Sharapova wants tough matches despite defeat'. Print Edition | Subscribe