Venus Williams blamed poor fitness for her 55-minute defeat to Kristina Mladenovic at the St Petersburg Trophy yesterday, five days after losing to sister Serena in the Australian Open final.
The 36-year-old, seeded four, slumped to a 6-3, 6-1 defeat to her French opponent in her second round tie after receiving a first round bye.
“Today I wasn’t in my best of health,” Williams said. “I felt pain in my legs. I had similar feelings during my last match in Australia. I also felt some lack of energy. Definitely it wasn’t the best match in my life.
“Also she (Mladenovic) played really well. She has played almost a perfect match and gave me no chance today.”
Mladenovic raced into a 5-0 lead before Williams, who was experiencing problems with her left thigh, chalked up her first game of the match.
After taking the opening set in 28 minutes Mladenovic, the world number 51, broke at the start of the second.
She produced two more breaks to secure her win and to set up a quarter-final meeting with defending champion Roberta Vinci of Italy, who prevailed 6-4, 6-4 over German qualifier Andrea Petkovic.
“It wasn’t as easy as the scoreline indicates,” Mladenovic said.
“Venus is a top player and a great champion. For sure it was difficult for her to come here and compete at her best after playing in Australian Open final. “I tried to play very consistent and aggressive (tennis) from the beginning, trying to give her no time to adjust to the new conditions and it paid off.
“I have a lot of respect for Venus as I grew up watching her playing. And I’m proud to play with her on the same court and win.”
Vinci, the 33-year-old Italian and seeded sixth, needed an hour and 37 minutes to record her second win over the 52nd-ranked Petkovic in their third meeting.
“It was a difficult match,” Vinci said. “I started well and led 4-0 in the first but Andrea found a way to come back.”
Second seed Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia, winner of last year’s WTA finals in Singapore, experienced few troubles on her way to the last eight beating Croatian lucky loser Donna Vekic 6-2, 6-2. In the quarter-finals, Cibulkova will meet fifth seed and local crowd favourite Elena Vesnina, who battled back from a set down to beat Alize Cornet of France 2-6, 6-3, 6-3.
“I just couldn’t lose because my coach (former tennis star Andrei Chesnokov) celebrates his 50th birthday today,” Vesnina said. In Friday’s other quarter-finals, top seed Simona Halep will face Russian wildcard Natalia Vikhlyantseva while third seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova tackles Yulia Putintseva of Kazakhstan.
Sharapova boxes clever as return nears
Maria Sharapova said she refused to feel sorry for herself during her doping ban, occupying her time by studying at Harvard, writing a book and even learning how to box. The former world number one and five-time Grand Slam title winner told a Russian chat show that she particularly enjoyed lacing up a pair of boxing gloves as part of her fitness regime.
“I tried boxing as I needed to keep myself in good form. It was great as I could imagine some particular people whom I wanted to hit,” said the 29-year-old, without elaborating on the identity of her imagined targets.
Sharapova was banned from the sport after testing positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.
However, she will return to action at the Stuttgart clay court tournament on April 26 after her initial two-year ban was cut to 15 months.
Her reappearance in the sport will come seven days after her 30th birthday.
“I found out that I’m very good in resting,” added Sharapova when she was asked what lessons she had learned during her enforced absence from the tour and which has left her without a world ranking.
“Formerly I couldn’t imagine what to do during such a huge period of free time. I had almost 12 months to think, to read books etc.”
She added: “I also had a vacation in Croatia, I celebrated the New Year in Hawaii. I’ve never been in London as a tourist before. I’ve seen almost nothing there while playing at Wimbledon.” Sharapova, who studied at Harvard Business School to help expand her candy business, added she had written a book about her life. “I wrote a book which will be out in September. First it will be issued in English and then translated into Russian.”
Earlier on Wednesday Sharapova said it was too early to discuss the possibility of her participation in 2020 Olympics at Tokyo.
“Now I’m focused on my comeback,” the London Olympics silver medalist and 2008 Fed Cup winner told Russia’s TASS news agency, saying it was “still unclear” if she would play in Tokyo.
“I would really love to play (in the Tokyo Games). It was hard to watch people competing at (Rio) Olympics, while I was unable to play there,” she added.
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