Sharapova storms into quarters

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Maria Sharapova of Russia hits a return to Magda Linette of Poland during their match at the WTA Tianjin Open Tennis Tournament in Tianjin Thursday. — AFP

TIANJIN, China — Maria Sharapova surged into the Tianjin Open quarterfinals Thursday as she pursues her first tournament victory since her return from a doping ban.

The Russian former world No. 1 defeated Magda Linette of Poland 7-5, 6-3 and will play Swiss qualifier Stefanie Voegele.

The 30-year-old Sharapova has been on the comeback trail since April after serving a 15-month suspension for taking the banned substance meldonium.

Sharapova, a five-time major-winner, is now ranked a lowly 86 in the world and she needed a wildcard to enter the Tianjin tournament.

She saw off 71st-ranked Linette in just over 98 minutes to reach only her second quarterfinal since her return to action.

“We did a really good job of holding serve in the first set,” Sharapova was quoted as saying by the WTA website.

“I feel like I made a few too many errors on my return game which ultimately led to a difficult first set.

“But once I broke her early in that second set I played a really good aggressive game and I felt like I had the momentum in the second.”

Wozniacki, Svitolina pull out

Defending champion Caroline Wozniacki and world No. 4 Elina Svitolina both withdrew from the Hong Kong Open with injuries Thursday, leaving the WTA event devastated after a spate of pre-tournament pullouts and early big name exits.

A tearful third seed Wozniacki appeared on center court just after her second-round match against Lizette Cabrera had been due to start to announce she had injured her elbow in practice.

“I want to apologize to everyone who came out today to watch this match,” said an emotional Wozniacki, who won the title on the same court 12 months ago.

Top seed Svitolina earlier withdrew from her last-16 match against Nicole Gibbs citing a right groin strain sustained during a mammoth, 3hr 21min quarterfinal defeat in Beijing last week to the eventual champion there, Caroline Garcia.

Ukraine’s Svitolina and Denmark’s Wozniacki both have one eye on this month’s lucrative WTA Finals in Singapore where the top eight will battle it out for a massive $7 million prize fund.

The tournament, which has just two seeds left standing at the last-eight stage, was rocked even before it started by the pullouts of three other big names.

US Open champion Sloane Stephens cried off with an injury after losing in the first round in both Wuhan and Beijing, her only appearances since her Flushing Meadows triumph.

British world No. 10 Johanna Konta also cancelled her trip because of a foot problem, while France’s 13th-ranked Kristina Mladenovic opted out with a knee injury.

Of the star players that did show up at Victoria Park, No. 2 seed Venus Williams was sent packing in her second-round match in straight sets Wednesday by Japanese teen sensation Naomi Osaka.

And she was swiftly followed by fourth seed Agnieszka Radwanska of Poland, beaten in three sets by the resurgent former US Open champion Sam Stosur.

In the little action that did take place court Thursday, China’s eighth seed Zhang Shuai was ousted by American Jennifer Brady 6-3, 6-4 who will face Gibbs in an all-American quarterfinal.

It left Wang Qiang as the sole Chinese representative in the draw after she breezed past Thailand’s Luksika Kumkhum 6-4, 6-4.

Wang will face Australia’s Stosur in Friday for a place in the semifinals and Cabrera, the world No. 155, has an all-Australian last-eight match against Daria Gavrilova, the seventh seed.

The only other seed remaining, number six Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova, will play Osaka.

Big-hitting American Brady, ranked 70, easily overcame an out-of-sorts local crowd favourite Zhang 6-3, 6-4 in just over an hour. — Agencies


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