Drawing Inspiration From ‘Ultimate Fighter’ Nadal, Sharapova Returns To WTA Tour At Mallorca Open

Toni Nadal and Maria Sharapova (photo: Mallorca Open/Alexandra Schaede)

MALLORCA, June 17, 2019 (by Michael Dickens)

The Mallorca Open, a WTA International grass-court event that begins Monday, brings world-class tennis to a world-class island just two weeks before the start of Wimbledon. Now in its fourth year, tournament director Toni Nadal has put together a 32-player field that features three Top 20 players, including World No. 6 and top seed Angelique Kerber of Germany, plus the return of former World No. 1 Maria Sharapova.

The Mallorca main draw also includes No. 12 Anastasija Sevastova of Latvia, who won the 2017 title, and No. 13 Belinda Bencic from Switzerland. They are seeded second and third. The remainder of the seeded players include: No. 21 Elise Mertens of Belgium, No. 26 Amanda Anisimova of the United States, No. 28 and 2016 titlist Caroline Garcia of France, No. 30 Sofia Kenin of the United States and No. 38 Katerina Siniakova from the Czech Republic. The draw also features American Alison Riske, ranked 61st, who won the Libema Open in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, Netherlands on Sunday.

Sharapova, 32, who has been sidelined since the St. Petersburg Ladies Trophy in late January with a shoulder injury that required surgery and rehabilitation, has garnered the most attention prior to Monday’s main draw start. The five-time Grand Slam champion, who as a 17-year-old won Wimbledon in 2004, has been working out in Santa Ponsa, Mallorca during the past week – pain free – with an eye toward playing Wimbledon next month.

“(My shoulder) is doing well. I took this time in order to come back to my first event and feel like I have a really good chance at it,” said Sharapova during a media interview session on Sunday.

“Being away from the game for a few months is always challenging, because you miss a lot of things, but from a shoulder perspective, I’m giving it a really good chance here. Every match is going to be a really good test.”

The Russian-born Sharapova, who now resides in Bradenton, Fla., said she’s been drawing a lot of inspiration from Rafael Nadal. As it happens, Mallorca’s most famous tennis resident will be practicing on Monday and Tuesday at the tournament site.

“He is the ultimate fighter and an amazing example of what you can achieve if you have the will and the passion for what you do,” Sharapova said of the 18-time Grand Slam champion Nadal.

“I’ve always admired the way he has fought through all the injuries he’s had and he’s the greatest example of that.

“The sport is so physical, especially the way he plays, but brings an optimistic perspective on his work that he can come back and be a champion. He is extremely motivated.”

Sharapova comes into the Mallorca Open currently ranked 86th, which reflects her inactivity due to her injury. She’s only played in nine matches spread over three tour events this season. Sharapova will face No. 44 Viktoria Kuzmova of Slovakia, who is ninth on tour with 170 service aces, in the first round on Tuesday. If she beats Kuzmova (18-14 this season) in her return to the WTA Tour, her likely second-round opponent will be Kerber.

Kerber, who will face a qualifier in her first-round match, went out in the first round of Roland Garros to Anastasia Potapova of Russia in straight sets. While it abruptly ended her clay season, it’s given her addition time to prepare on grass. Kerber, who is 9-1 in her last 10 matches on grass, arrives in Mallorca after attending Caroline Wozniacki’s wedding in Tuscany over the weekend.

Among many interesting first-round matches are: fourth seed Mertens versus wild card No. 72 Andrea Petkovic of Germany; No. 6 seed Garcia against No. 42 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus; No. 7 seed Kenin versus No. 69 Kristen Flipkens of Belgium; and No. 8 seed Siniakova facing No. 55 Alison Van Uytvanck of Belgium.