LONDON - A score to settle in a personal feud and a place at Wimbledon - Maria Sharapova will not lack for incentive when she faces Eugenie Bouchard on Monday night.
The atmosphere is likely to be icier than the wastes of Sharapova’s Siberian origins when she meets someone who has gone further than any other player about her Meldonium ban.
They will play in the second round of the Madrid Open around 7pm British time after the Russian yesterday held off the powerful baseline challenge of Mirjana Lucic-Baroni to win 4-6, 6-4, 6-0.
A win for Sharapova will give her enough ranking points to guarantee a place in the Wimbledon qualifying draw, regardless of wildcard.
Bouchard is unrepentant about her recent blasts at Sharapova, calling her a ‘cheater’ and saying she should be banned for life.
‘Once I step on the court, everything will be to the side. But inside myself, I think I’ll have a bit more motivation,’ asserted the 23-year-old Canadian.
Sharapova maintained her position of declining to rise to the barbs. ‘I already commented about those comments from her last week,’ she said, referring to her previous stance that she was ‘above’ responses.
She denied she would be using the hostility as extra motivation. ‘It’s not the way I go about my job, and I never really have,’ she said. ‘I’ve been in the public eye since I was a very young girl. I’ve heard a lot of things.
‘If everything affects you on and off the court, that would be a really challenging position to be in.’
Sharapova ought to win, given Bouchard’s terrible recent form. But a fascinating dimension will be how similar they are.
Bouchard has followed the Sharapova playbook for much of her career. Many players will go up against the Russian with the good wishes of the locker room, but Bouchard is equally stand-offish with her peers, so feelings will be largely neutral within the sanctum.
Jo Konta received a degree of sympathy from Andy Murray after her defeat at the farcical hour of 2.17am on Sunday morning.
The British No 1 went down 3-6, 7-5, 6-4 against Germany’s Laura Siegemund in a match that began shortly before midnight, with a WTA spokesman blaming television demands.
‘It was a world feed match that needed to be produced for TV, therefore it had to stay on the Centre Court,’ he said, referring to the fact that it was not switched earlier to another arena.
Murray holds the Madrid record for a late finish at 3am two years ago when he beat Philipp Kohlschreiber, and made the point about how unsatisfactory such scheduling is for all concerned.
‘I don’t think it’s good for anyone - the tournament, the officials, the players, the media, there’s nobody watching. You finish at 2.30 in the morning and by the time you’re in bed it’s 5.30 or 6am, it’s not easy to recover.’
Novak Djokovic earlier revealed that he will still be working with spiritually-minded Spanish coach Pepe Imaz after clearing out his established support staff.
He hinted that his next coach is likely to be a big name: ‘I assume it’s going to be someone that has been through similar experiences to me,’ he said.
Seven-time Grand Slam winner Mats Wilander is one name that springs to mind.