Maria Sharapova’s comeback continued to blossom on the clay of Stuttgart yesterday, but there will be no opportunity for British No. 1 Johanna Konta to go up against the most talked-about woman in global sport.
Konta lost her own second-round match yesterday against Anastasija Sevastova, the same opponent who ousted her from the US Open in September. She will now take a few days off after a draining week, which included that nightmarish encounter with Romanian Fed Cup captain Ilie Nastase. And perhaps Konta will be glad to be away from the ongoing controversy surrounding Sharapova. She has consistently declined to join the debate, saying on Tuesday that “So many things are happening in such quick succession right now that I can’t wait for things to be boring.”
As for Sharapova herself, she moved around the court more confidently yesterday than in her opening round, handing out a 7-5, 6-1 beatdown to fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova. She was also quicker to shut down any enquiries about her 15-month doping ban and its repercussions. On the subject of Eugenie Bouchard’s inflammatory comments on Thursday – in which Bouchard said “She's a cheater and I don't think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play that sport again” – Sharapova replied “I don’t need to comment on that. I’m so far above that.”
She also declined to clarify why she should be using an “orthopaedic doctor” – normally someone who specialises in muscles and bones – to advise on her cardiac irregularities and history of family diabetes. Sharapova has consistently said that she started using meldonium in 2006 to address those specific issues, but when asked on Thursday if she had found a permitted alternative medication, she replied “That information is between myself, the Women’s Tennis Association and the orthopaedic doctor I am working with now.”
Sharapova’s 7-5, 6-1 win over Makarova earned her a quarter-final today against Estonian qualifier Anett Kontaveit and gave her a minimum projected position of No. 379 in the world when the next set of rankings are released on Monday. Two more victories would take her to the final and guarantee her a place in the qualifying events at both Roland Garros and Wimbledon.
Meanwhile Dan Evans’s strong run in Barcelona ended at the hands of Dominic Thiem, the world No. 9, but Andy Murray turned in a 6-4, 6-4 victory over Feliciano Lopez that carries him into the quarter-finals.