'They are scared to speak'

Eugenie Bouchard (left) and Maria Sharapova exchanging a handshake at the end of their Madrid Open second-round match on Monday. Bouchard won the game 7-5, 2-6, 6-4.
Eugenie Bouchard (left) and Maria Sharapova exchanging a handshake at the end of their Madrid Open second-round match on Monday. Bouchard won the game 7-5, 2-6, 6-4.PHOTO: REUTERS

Bouchard claims players privately support her view that Sharapova should get a life ban

MADRID • Eugenie Bouchard has said that plenty of other players on the WTA Tour share her outspoken views on Maria Sharapova's return from a 15-month doping ban but are too "scared" to speak out.

The Canadian beat Sharapova for the first time in five meetings in the second round of the Madrid Open on Monday 7-5, 2-6, 6-4 a week after labelling the Russian "a cheater".

Bouchard claimed Sharapova should have been banned for life after testing positive for meldonium at the Australian Open last year, rather than be granted with a series of wild cards for big events.

"I definitely had some extra motivation going into today," said Bouchard. "I was actually quite inspired before the match because I had a lot of players coming up to me privately wishing me good luck.

"Players I don't normally speak to, getting a lot of texts from people in the tennis world that were just rooting for me. I wanted to do it for myself, but also all these people.

"It showed me that most people have my opinion, and they were just maybe scared to speak out, but I've gotten a lot of support, so I was inspired and motivated to play."

The two exchanged a frosty handshake at the end of a three-hour encounter as Bouchard registered just her second WTA Tour win since the Australian Open in January.

"She said, 'Well played'," Bouchard said when asked what words were exchanged at the net.

"I think she's been playing really well in her so-called comeback, if you want to call it that."

Sharapova claimed the extra attention caused by the bad blood between her and Bouchard had not affected her performance.

"I've been part of this game for many years," said the Russian.

"I know there's always a lot of talk and buzz, match-ups, rivalries. It's all part of the game."

She also insisted there was no disappointment having lost to Bouchard despite vowing to let her tennis do the talking before the grudge match.

And she believes she will rise to the top of the tennis world again to add to her five Grand Slam titles.

"I think I would be worried about myself if I sat here and said I'm pretty happy with losing a tennis match, no matter who I face, no matter what round it is, whether it's the first round or the final of a Grand Slam," she said.

"I'm a big competitor. What you work for so many hours every single day is to be on the winning end of matches. Today was just not that day. Of course, I'm disappointed.

"That's what's going to make me a better player. That's what's going to win me more tournaments and more Grand Slams."

Sharapova will be awarded a wild card by Britain's Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) to play at next month's Aegon Classic in Birmingham, according to a report in The Times of London.

Her current ranking of 258 is too low to merit a direct entry for the grass-court event and the organisers are looking to give her one of the four available wild cards.

She last won the Birmingham event in 2005 but her most recent appearance was in 2010. The tournament is scheduled to be played from June 17-25 ahead of the Wimbledon, starting on July 3.

Sharapova's hopes of featuring in this year's Wimbledon could hinge on a June 20 meeting of tournament organisers unless the Russian finds form in the forthcoming event in Rome.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE, REUTERS

ATP MADRID OPEN

Day 3: StarHub Ch201, 6pm

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 10, 2017, with the headline ''They are scared to speak''. Print Edition | Subscribe