Andy Murray is coming back after nearly a month out of the game. Maria Sharapova will next week make her return to tennis after a 15-month doping ban. And Petra Kvitova, the victim of an horrendous knife attack in December, is recovering well and says she could be back as soon as the French Open.
So many comebacks. But what to make of them? Our tennismash team of Vivienne Christie (VC), Matt Trollope (MT) and Leigh Rogers (LR) discuss these storylines as well as giving us their predictions for the title winner in Monte Carlo.
1. Maria Sharapova, set to return to the WTA tour next week is Stuttgart, said: “I’ve been serving my sentence … When the case [details] were still a bit unknown, everyone had the right to judge. But now that I have been through the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which is neutral, I say stop. If the players keep criticising me, then that is not correct.” Do you agree with her?
VC: Maria still maintains that fellow players are not her friends so she can’t – and won’t – expect much warmth from the locker-room. At the same time, her competitors can’t dispute the facts. After serving a sentence determined by an independent authority, there is nothing “wrong” about Sharapova’s return. Whatever judgments might exist, you can’t deny the boost that her comeback will create.
MT: Reputations are tarnished long after sentences have been served. Thus, Sharapova will return with a “clean slate” yet many of her rivals will not forgive what came before it – her regular use of a substance that she forever failed to declare on her doping control forms. I have no problem with Sharapova’s use of meldonium when it wasn’t banned and I’m thrilled she’s returning – women’s tennis desperately needs an injection of star power and spice. And I agree mostly with her sentiments. But it’s understandable she continues to suffer criticism from the playing group, especially given her reputation for being cold and aloof in the locker room.
LR: I can see where Maria is coming from with those comments. Yes she has served her sentence and next week becomes eligible to compete again. Is she deserving of a second chance? Of course. However, I actually don’t think that is what the players have been criticising since her sentencing. Most seem more upset with the preferential treatment she is getting. The other players are more frustrated with the tournaments who are offering her wildcards and in the case of Stuttgart, also making scheduling agreements for her benefit. If I was Maria I would be keeping my mouth shut. Don’t complain or play the victim. It’s time for her to compete and re-earn respect with her game. Actions certainly speak louder than words in this case.
2. What did you make of the news that Petra Kvitova is on the entry list for Roland Garros?
VC: Mostly I’m delighted to see Petra is so keen to return to the court, following the shocking attack that could well have been career threatening. And as far as the French Open goes, I’m cautiously optimistic. While Kvitova has never truly thrived at Roland Garros (aside from a semifinal run in 2012) I’d love to see the Czech find her Grand Slam footing before Wimbledon. A successful Kvitova comeback would provide a welcome boost to the women’s tour, which has seemed strangely subdued since Serena Williams’ record-breaking win at Australian Open 2017.
MT: It’s up there with the most heartwarming stories of the year. The attack on Kvitova was one of the more devastating things to happen in tennis and the tour has missed her popular, engaging presence. Many of us thought we may never see Petra on a tennis court again, given the severity of her injuries. So the news that she’s making steady, promising progress is wonderful. I’d be surprised to see her in Paris – the last thing she wants to do is rush a comeback – but perhaps a return to the lawns she’s dominated in London is more feasible?
LR: My first reaction was surprise. Of course it would be great to see Petra back – tennis certainly needs her. However, what she has been through, both physically and emotionally, is extremely difficult. To publicly set the French Open as a possible return only adds to the pressure of her comeback and creates expectations. What happens if she doesn’t make it? How will she cope with the disappointment if she’s not ready? I understand she wants to be positive and give herself every chance to be ready, however I am also concerned that rushing a return is only setting herself up for further setbacks. Hopefully that is not the case.
3. Andy Murray is back in action as the top seed at this week’s Monte Carlo Masters. Could his sub-par season so far be explained by the pressure he feels being ranked No.1?
VC: Many players who scale the mountain to world No.1 struggle at the summit. But I don’t think Andy Murray is overwhelmed by the pressure – or at least not mentally. The bigger issue is more likely the physical toll from the 50 plus matches, incorporating eight titles, Murray contested in the second half of 2016 to reach top spot. The clay season presents many opportunities but capitalising could come down to how Murray has recovered from the elbow injury that kept him off court for weeks.
MT: I don’t think so. I think Murray’s woes stem from the lingering exhaustion he’s suffering from his herculean effort to attain the year-end No.1 ranking last season. Like Djokovic, who’s been a shadow of his best ever since winning Roland Garros, Murray has exhibited some signs of burnout after ascending the summit. But with a month of rest and rehab under his belt after falling early in Indian Wells, he’ll hopefully be recharged and ready in Monte Carlo.
LR: I believe it is a combination of pressure, but also mental exhaustion from his incredible finish to the 2016 season. In recent years we have been spoilt by having champions such as Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic who have spent long stints at No.1 and showed extraordinarily resilience at the top. It is momentum no-one can keep up forever though. A month off is probably exactly what Murray needed to recharge, so I’m expecting him to bounce back in the coming weeks. More of the focus will be on Nadal and Djokovic on clay too, which should work to Murray’s advantage if the pressure of the No.1 ranking has been a contributing factor to his form dip.
4. Who’ll win Monte Carlo?
VC: Rafael Nadal.
MT: Rafael Nadal.
LR: Rafael Nadal.
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