Tennis

Sharapova sails into Stuttgart semis

Russian star unfazed by Bouchard's outburst as she continues winning ways

Former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova cruised into the Stuttgart Grand Prix semi-finals yesterday, extending her winning comeback from a doping suspension with a smooth 6-3, 6-4 victory over Estonian qualifier Anett Kontaveit.

Wildcard entrant Sharapova returned to action this week following her 15-month ban, but has looked like she never really went away in winning her three matches so far without dropping a set.

Sharapova has also received wildcards for upcoming tournaments in Madrid and Rome, angering some players who say a doping offender should start from the lower-tier tournaments and earn back ranking points instead.

Reaching the Stuttgart final could be enough to move Sharapova's ranking back above 200 and secure her a spot in the qualifying tournament for the French Open and, if she did well in Madrid and Rome, she might make the main draw for Wimbledon.

The 21-year-old Kontaveit, who battled through the Stuttgart qualifiers into the main draw, confirmed her fine current form early in yesterday's match, comfortably holding serve and matching Sharapova's power from the baseline.

UPPED THE PRESSURE

The Estonian world No. 76, who reached the final in Biel earlier this month, was broken twice in a row though as Sharapova upped the pressure, attacking every serve of her opponent to win five games in a row.

The 30-year-old Russian broke again early in the second set and, despite twice dropping her serve in a late bout of nerves, she broke the Estonian again, sealing victory on the first match-point as Kontaveit sent a forehand long.

Sharapova will next play the winner of the quarter-final between France's Kristina Mladenovic and Spaniard Carla Suarez Navarro.

On Thursday, Sharapova hit back at Eugenie Bouchard's "cheater" claims, telling the Canadian that she is "way above" getting into a slanging match over her controversial comeback from a doping ban.

Bouchard, long seen as the Russian's heir in the sport's marketability stakes, had attacked Sharapova over her return from a 15-month suspension and suggested the former world No. 1 should be kicked out of tennis for life.

Sharapova attempted to put Bouchard in her place, saying: "I don't have anything to say - I am way above that."

She added: "I felt pretty good, the adrenaline and the challenge of each opponent is exciting. You forget anything you feel in your body, despite not playing for 15 months."

- WIRE SERVICES