Her rightful place? Sharapova ready to be centre of attraction again

by Dave JAMES
Power-packed: Maria Sharapova plays a backhand return to Croatia's Donna Vekic

Maria Sharapova admitted Thursday she cannot wait to return to Roland Garros's Court Philippe Chatrier for the first time in three years, hinting that the famed arena was the perfect stage for her talents.

Sharapova, the champion in Paris in 2012 and 2014 and runner-up in 2013, has played her first two matches at this year's French Open on Court Suzanne Lenglen and then Court One.

In marked contrast, her old rival Serena Williams has been scheduled twice on Chatrier.

"There is also Sharapova," the former world number one fired back at a reporter who only name-checked her opponent on Saturday, Czech sixth seed Karolina Pliskova ahead of the showpiece clash.

The Russian star last played on Chatrier in 2015 when she lost to Lucie Safarova in the quarter-finals.

She was serving a one-year doping ban in 2016 and was refused a wildcard by Roland Garros organisers last year.

"I would love to be there again, of course. And, yeah, I think from a draw perspective it's a match that maybe people anticipated," she said.

"It's been a few years since I have been back on the court; so if I do have a chance to play on it I will welcome it with open arms, and if it's another court then it will be great."

Although she was eagerly anticipating a return to the event's biggest stage, Sharapova still allowed herself a moment of whimsical reflection for the Court One bullring which will be demolished once the 2018 tournament is over.

"I like the intimate atmosphere of the court," added the 31-year-old.

"I mean, sometimes you have a lot of room on the court and visually from a perception point of view it makes you back up a little bit but I think I still did that today even though it is more intimate, which I shouldn't have done."

Sharapova, the 28th seed, made the third round on Thursday by seeing off Croatia's Donna Vekic 7-5, 6-4, wrapping up victory on a fifth match point.

It was a far easier afternoon than her first round when she came back from 0-3 in the final set against Dutch qualifier Richel Hogenkamp.

If she gets past Pliskova, Sharapova could face Serena Williams in the last 16 but the Russian is thinking only of facing the big-serving Czech on Saturday.

"I don't expect any extremely long rallies against an opponent like that. But sometimes it's not what it takes to win a match," said Sharapova of a rival who fired 198 aces in her 2017 season.

Power-packed: Maria Sharapova plays a backhand return to Croatia's Donna Vekic