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Stuttgart Open: Maria Sharapova receiving ‘extra help’ says semi-final opponent

Maria Sharapova has faced criticism from some of her rivals for her comeback

Maria Sharapova is receiving “extra help” to qualify for tournaments following her 15-month doping ban, says her next opponent Kristina Mladenovic.

Sharapova beat Anett Kontaveit 6-4 6-3 to set up a last-four match with Mladenovic at the Stuttgart Open.

This is one of three events for which the Russian has been given wildcard entries after returning from her ban for testing positive for meldonium.

“I understand tournaments want her in the draw,” said Mladenovic.

“She is very famous and they want more attention, which is part of the business.

“On the other hand, you can ask if it is fair to get a wildcard. It’s a fact that she was caught by anti-doping, but she wasn’t the first one.

“Others have also had the right to come back and play tennis, but with a different road – they wouldn’t get invitations to tournaments.

“Of course, she is authorised to play tennis again, but why would she get that extra help compared to other players?”

Kristina Mladenovic is ranked number 19 in the world

‘I let my tennis do the talking’

When asked whether Mladenovic’s comments would motivate her in their encounter, Sharapova replied: “Not at all”.

She added: “I am not someone that uses it as part of my comeback. I have let my tennis do the talking.

“My results have spoken for everything that needs to be said. The biggest part of my comeback is what happens on court.”

Five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova’s world ranking points expired during her suspension.

But she is yet to drop a set in Germany and will earn an automatic place in qualifying at the French Open if she reaches the final in Stuttgart.

She has also been given wildcard entries for the upcoming events in Madrid and Rome.

The former world number one was called “a cheat” by 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard on Thursday.

Sharapova said she was “way above” replying to criticism of her comeback by her rivals.

Some bookmakers already make Maria Sharapova the favourite for next month’s French Open

Sharapova eases into Stuttgart semis

Sharapova continued her fine form following her return with a straight sets victory over Estonian qualifier Kontaveit to reach the last four in Stuttgart.

The 30-year-old broke twice in the first set, and dug deep in the second to take victory in one hour 23 minutes.

“I served quite well, which gave me confidence. I’m happy,” said Sharapova.

“I kept myself in good shape, because once you lose it, it’s hard to get it back.”

Mladenovic booked her place in the last four with a 6-3 6-2 win over Spain’s Carla Suarez Navarro 6-3 6-2 on Friday.

Analysis

BBC tennis correspondent Russell Fuller

The draw has been kind to Sharapova – the frailties of the sport’s leading lights mean she has not yet faced a top-30 player – but she is playing exceptionally well after 15 months free of competition.

She says she will take no extra motivation from the comments made by Mladenovic, or from the knowledge just one more win will guarantee a place in French Open qualifying.

But her tone changes significantly when the issue of drugs is raised: her answers became very curt when replying to questions about the proposed increase in annual tests.

And when asked whether her team – about whom she had just spoken glowingly – were upset she did not tell them about her meldonium use, she replied: “That is such an inappropriate question. Can we do one last one from someone else?”

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