Sharapova comeback continues, Siegemund into Stuttgart last four

STUTTGART: Maria Sharapova’s comeback from a 15-month doping ban continued at the Porsche Grand Prix on Friday with a straight sets victory while Laura Siegemund delighted home fans to progress. Sharapova won her quarterfinal 6-3, 6-4 against Estonian qualifier Anett Kontaveit to set up a last four clash with France’s Kristina Mladenovic, who dispatched Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro 6-3, 6-2. In the other half of the quarters, German wildcard Siegmund downed second seed Karolina Pliskova 7-6 (7-3), 5-7, 6-3 and on Saturday now faces Romania’s Simona Halep, who thrashed Anastasija Sevastova 6-3, 6-1.
Sharapova, 30, controversially received a wildcard for Stuttgart, as well as for upcoming events in Madrid and Rome, instead of having to work her way up through qualifiers or small tournaments after her ban for taking meldonium.
And despite her lengthy absence, Sharapova appears to have returned in strong form. She dispatched Kontaveit in just 83 minutes on the indoor clay court, backing up four aces with 25 winners to 12 unforced errors.
“I thought I had a really good rhythm,” Sharapova said in her on court interview. “When I got my opportunity, I really rolled with it.”
Sharapova broke in the seventh game of the first set, pressurising Kontaveit into a backhand error and broke again for the set. When Kontaveit lost her serve early in the second, her fate seemed sealed.
The pair exchanged further breaks — Sharapova’s first dropped serve since her opening game in the tournament on Wednesday — and the Russian wobbled when attempting to serve out the tie. Kontaveit controlled the game and eventually broke back on her fifth chance. However, Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam winner, immediately proved her quality under pressure with a backhand winner for a first matchpoint which she duly took when Kontaveit’s chopped forehand flew long.
“I didn’t have a great game serving for the match, but I felt like there was something on the line and I had to deliver, so I stepped up in the next game, hit the right shots and didn’t back up or backdown,” Sharapova said. “Those are the moments I love putting myself into.”
Sharapova next faces Mladenovic as she continues her run in the Stuttgart tournament she won three times in succession 2012-14.
“No matter who I play, I’ll be looking at that opportunity and hopefully delivering, no matter who is across the net,” she said before her opponent was known. “I want to get different matches, play different types of players.”
Siegemund was offered a wildcard entry after her fairytale run to the Stuttgart final as a qualifier last year and she has more than justified the organisers’ faith.
“I believe you have seen amazing tennis from us both,” Siegemund told the fans. “At the end it makes almost no difference who wins.
“It was simply great to play. I’m very proud of the performance today.”
Pliskova failed to serve out the first set, giving Siegemund a break back through a double fault, and the home favourite stormed through the tiebreak. The Czech took a magnificent late break to love to settle the second set but looked exhausted in the decider. Siegemund broke for the final time in the second game of the third and served out for victory after a marathon 3 hours 10 minutes. — DPA