She may be a divisive figure on the WTA Tour but there is no doubt that Maria Sharapova has given it a much needed boost coming into the summer months, especially with three of the game’s top players out in Kvitova, Azarenka and Serena Williams. The Russian plays Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the second round of her third tournament back.
A number of players were vocal about Sharapova’s doping ban and how tournaments were rolling out the carpet for her on return. Two of the loudest ended up actually being the two players to beat her so far. Kristina Mladenovic and Eugenie Bouchard both won dramatic three setters in Stuttgart and Madrid respectively. These were the type of matches that Sharapova thrived in and would grit her way through in previous years. She is only 7 matches into her return though and should get better as time and matches pass. Sharapova had little trouble in her opening match, attacking the Christina Mchale serve at will and breaking seven times in total in a 6-4 6-2 win.
Lucic-Baroni’s second wind in her career has been a great thing to witness and only two weeks ago she broke into the top 20 – a career high for her at the age of 35. Her power game has troubled many of the game’s top players and she has 3 top 10 wins on the year to her name, two against Agnieszka Radwanska and one against Karolina Pliskova. Lucic-Baroni opened her account at this tournament with a win over Lucie Safarova in three sets, running off the last 4 games of the match on her way to a three set victory. Lucic-Baroni troubled Sharapova last week in Madrid, taking the first set against her. However, she faded as time went on and would lose the final set 6-0 to exit the tournament.
Decisions on future wildcards have drawn a lot of debate and no more than what the grand slams should do for a former champion. French Open officials intend to announce their decision for a Sharapova tomorrow but Wimbledon will be hoping a lengthy run for her this week ensures there is no controversial decision to make. Making the semi finals should see her on 600 points, which should be enough for a spot in the top 100 and with it, direct entry to Wimbledon.
Prediction: Maria Sharapova in straight sets