Take A Letter, Maria: Australian Open Defends Sharapova's Role In Draw Ceremony
Maria Sharapova on Thursday "took center stage" alongside Roger Federer at the Australian Open draw ceremony, a move that "surprised some" after she missed last year's tournament as part of her doping ban, according to Courtney Walsh of THE AUSTRALIAN. The ceremonial role is "usually carried out by the defending champion but Serena Williams remains sidelined as she recovers from giving birth." Tournament Dir Craig Tiley "defended the decision to invite" Sharapova to play a key role at the function, saying the tournament "wanted to have a former champion." Tiley: "In fairness to Maria, the adjudication has occurred on that. She deserved the opportunity.” Angelique Kerber, the '16 champion, is the "only other woman playing this year to have won" the tournament (THE AUSTRALIAN, 1/12). The London Times' Stuart Fraser tweeted, "To hell, apparently, with a message of deterrence for any player tempted to indulge in banned substances. ... Not a good look for the sport." N.Y. Times' Ben Rothenberg: "Sharapova often got a raw deal in her anti-doping hearings...but I still cannot believe #AusOpen had her carry the trophy onto court." However, beIN Sports' Tancredi Palmeri wrote, "Nonsense quarrel over Sharapova being testimonial for Australian Open draw. She doped, she was banned, she paid for it, over. You don’t see media doing any of that noise about Maradona" (TWITTER.com, 1/11).
BATTLE OF ATTRITION: In London, Vicki Hodges writes the lead up to this year's Australian Open, which begins Sunday night in the U.S., has "so far been dominated by injury doubts, player withdrawals and off-field issues." Organizers have been "sweating over which marquee players will actually turn up and be fit enough to see out the fortnight." Andy Murray "reluctantly made the call to pull out of his second successive grand slam with a long-standing hip injury," while Kei Nishikori, who has been sidelined with a wrist injury since last August, "needs more time to continue his rehab." In addition to Williams' absence, Victoria Azarenka will miss her "second straight slam due to an ongoing legal battle surrounding the custody of her son" (London TELEGRAPH, 1/10). Rafael Nadal's readiness had "been in doubt" after he "pulled out of an exhibition in Abu Dhabi and a tournament in Brisbane to start the season, citing his lack of preparation following an injury layoff" at the end of '17. But Nadal said that he "still believes he'll be ready to compete" next week (AP, 1/9).