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Maria Sharapova Beats Caroline Wozniacki in a Third-Round Grudge Match

Maria Sharapova Beats Caroline Wozniacki in a Third-Round Grudge Match


MELBOURNE, Australia — Maria Sharapova walked up to the dais like she was walking into a bash. She wore a black crop top that fell to her waist and tights that were shimmery and chic.

“I don’t pull those out too often,” she chirped to a roomful of reporters, referring to the top. “I’m really happy.”

Known for her frosty reserve on the court, Sharapova was in a celebratory mood on Friday after dispatching the reigning champion and No. 3 seed, Caroline Wozniacki, 6-4, 4-6, 6-3, in a third-round grudge match.

Wozniacki, who is friends with the other women on the tour, and Sharapova, who keeps her competitors at arm’s length, are one-time Australian Open winners and full-time adversaries. Their clashing personalities don’t account for why they approached every point in the 2-hour, 24-minute slugfest as if they were playing for the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup instead of a berth in the Round of 16.

At this tournament in 2016, Sharapova, the 2008 champion from Russia, tested positive for meldonium, which had been newly added to the sport’s banned substances list. Sharapova, who has steadfastly maintained that she was unaware of the change in the drug’s status, received a two-year ban that later was reduced to 15 months.

When Sharapova returned to competition in 2017, many players, including Wozniacki of Denmark, were critical of her receiving wild cards and other forms of what they considered preferential treatment. That year, the animus between the pair seeped into the United States Open after Sharapova played a second-round match at Arthur Ashe Stadium while the much higher-seeded Wozniacki was relegated on the same day to an outside court, where she lost.

In an interview afterward with a Danish newspaper, Wozniacki questioned putting “someone who comes back from a drugs sentence,” as she worded it, on the main show court. “I think it doesn’t set a good example,” she said.

When Wozniacki’s comments were later relayed to her, Sharapova said it didn’t matter where she played, because all she cared about was that she was still in the tournament. Without mentioning Wozniacki by name, she added, “I’m not sure where she is.”

Friday’s match at Rod Laver Arena was the 11th competitive meeting between Wozniacki and Sharapova, who holds a 7-4 edge. But it was the first time they’d played since Sharapova’s suspension.

“It was definitely, you know, a match that I looked forward to when the draw came out,” said Sharapova, who conspicuously avoided looking at Wozniacki — and vice versa — during the pre-match coin toss.

But when they returned to the net nearly three hours later for the handshake, they made eye contact, two warriors to the battle born. Wozniacki’s strength is blasting balls from the baseline until her opponent blinks and, true to form, she engaged Sharapova in 23 rallies of at least nine shots. Sharapova won 17 of those points, including a 23-shot rally in the eighth game of the first set.

“Those are the rallies that I think many years ago that she used to win,” Sharapova said. “I thought I did a great job of getting a higher percentage of wins in those.”

Wozniacki had one forehand winner in the first two sets (to Sharapova’s 17) and prevailed in the second set despite hitting just one winner, off her backhand.

“You know I did my best out there,” Wozniacki said. “I was fighting till the end.”

Even as Wozniacki raced out to a 4-1 lead in the first set, she appeared to be long on guile and grit but short on gas. One of her second serves was clocked at 73 m.p.h. — and came back to her at 82 m.p.h.

Wozniacki, 28, was diagnosed with rheumatoid arthritis before last year’s U.S. Open, and Friday’s weather, which included rain and some thunder and lightning, presented perfect conditions for a flare-up. In Wozniacki’s post-match news conference, a reporter, who identified herself as a rheumatoid arthritis sufferer, said she had been in quite a bit of discomfort because of the weather and asked Wozniacki about her pain levels.

“I’m O.K.,” Wozniacki said, adding, “Definitely don’t want to blame it on anything else. You know, she was just a little bit better than me today. And that was really it.”

Wozniacki, who returned to the top of the women’s world rankings with her victory here last year, will tumble out of the top five when the new rankings come out after the tournament’s conclusion. She was asked if Friday’s defeat stung any less because she would forevermore be known as a major champion.

“I’m a competitor,” Wozniacki said, adding, “I hate losing more than I love winning. Obviously you’re sitting here and you’re a little sad. But, you know, that’s what drives you.”

The 31-year-old Sharapova regularly fields questions about her motivation. Her 2018 season ended prematurely, in September, after her surgically repaired right shoulder started giving her fits. According to Forbes, Sharapova, a five-time major winner who has completed the career Grand Slam, has earned more than $280 million in her career. With an ostrich-sized nest egg, why does she persist with the constant travel and daily grind?

The answer is simple, Sharapova said: For days like this.

“I felt very much in the moment,” she said. “I felt present.”

Sharapova added, “To be in the grind of things and to really have to figure out a way to be on top is what I missed.”



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