Tennis: Sharapova reaches first final since drugs ban

Maria Sharapova, currently ranked 86th, has also been handed a wildcard for next week’s Kremlin Cup in Moscow, which she will play for the first time since 2007. (AFP)
Updated 14 October 2017

Tennis: Sharapova reaches first final since drugs ban

TIANJIN, China: Five-time Grand Slam winner Maria Sharapova crushed Peng Shuai 6-3, 6-1 at the Tianjin Open on Saturday to reach her first final since serving a 15-month doping ban.
The 30-year-old Russian, playing on a wildcard in the seventh tournament of her comeback, hit top gear as she swept aside the Chinese third seed in one hour, 18 minutes.
In front of a large home crowd, a businesslike Sharapova broke four times and conceded zero breaks of her own before wrapping up the semifinal with a clinical crosscourt forehand.
In Sunday’s final — her first since she won the Italian Open in May 2015 — she will be the red-hot favorite against 102nd-ranked Belarusian Aryna Sabalenka, who beat qualifier Sara Errani 6-1, 6-3.
Sharapova has had a stop-start and injury-hit season since her controversial return at Stuttgart in April, following her ban for using the banned substance meldonium.
The statuesque former world number one reached the Stuttgart semis but she retired in the Italian Open second round and also withdrew from her second-round match at Stanford.
Sharapova missed Wimbledon qualifying because of injury and she wasn’t offered a wildcard to the French Open, but she reached the US Open last 16 on her return to Grand Slam tennis.
She has cut a swathe through the limited draw in Tianjin, only dropping one set so far in her victories over Irina-Camelia Begu, Magda Linette, Stefanie Voegele and Peng.
Sharapova, one of the world’s highest-earning female athletes, will now expect to win her 36th career title and end a trophy drought of more than two years, the longest since her debut win in 2003.
By contrast Sabalenka, 19, is gunning for her first WTA title after a run to the Tianjin final that included wins over China’s Duan Ying-Ying and Lin Zhu.
Sharapova, currently ranked 86th, has also been handed a wildcard for next week’s Kremlin Cup in Moscow, which she will play for the first time since 2007.


What next for Premier League’s ‘Project Restart’

Updated 03 June 2020

What next for Premier League’s ‘Project Restart’

  • Restart to begin with 2 matches on June 17, to ensure every side played same number of games

LONDON: The Premier League's return is just two weeks away but there are plenty of details for the 20 clubs in the English top-flight to work out before competitive action resumes on June 17.

AFP Sport looks at what is on the agenda at the latest in a series of meetings between the clubs on Thursday.

There have been squabbles over how final league standings should be decided if the season cannot be completed but clubs need a contingency arrangement if a spike in coronavirus cases wrecks their plans.

Most of the teams in the bottom half of the table are reportedly pushing for relegation to be scrapped if the season is not completed on the field.

That still seems highly unlikely, with the English Football Association and English Football League both insisting on promotion and relegation throughout the pyramid.

A points-per-game formula is the most likely option and is part of the reason why the restart will begin with two matches on June 17, to ensure every side has played the same number of games.

Once the two outstanding games — Manchester City vs. Arsenal and Aston Villa vs. Sheffield United — have been played, all 20 sides will have nine games remaining.

No dates for other matches have yet been released, but fixtures are expected to continue from where they left off in March and be crammed into just five weeks ahead of the FA Cup final on August 1.

A long layoff, little time together in contact training and a gruelling schedule mean players' bodies will be pushed to the limits.

In an attempt to minimize injuries and fatigue, world governing body FIFA has allowed leagues to temporarily change their rules to allow five substitutes.

Chelsea have also reportedly proposed increasing the number of substitutes available from seven to nine.

However, critics have suggested those changes will simply play into the hands of the bigger clubs with deeper squads.

Premier League clubs appear to have won their battle to have games played in their own grounds rather than on neutral sites.

However, the UK's national lead for football policing confirmed last week that a "small number" of fixtures will take place at neutral venues.

That is likely to include any match that could see Liverpool crowned champions for the first time in 30 years, to try and avoid crowds gathering at Anfield.

Liverpool manager Jurgen Klopp is unconcerned by playing at neutral venues, with results from four rounds of Germany's Bundesliga showing no advantage for home sides in a closed-doors environment.

"We will not have the help from the crowd but no team will have that, so where is the advantage?" Klopp told the BBC.

"Whoever we play it is the same situation, which is why I'm not too worried about it."

The use of VAR could also be dispensed with for the rest of the season should the clubs wish to further cut the number of people required for games to go ahead.

However, the Premier League's CEO Richard Masters is keen for it to remain.

"VAR has its own social-distancing issues, but we think there is a way of completing the season with VAR," Masters told Sky Sports.