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Sabalenka vs Sharapova tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Blockbuster Shenzhen Open quarterfinal in store

Hannah Wilks in WTA Tour 3 Jan 2019
  • Maria Sharapova faces Aryna Sabalenka in the quarterfinals of the Shenzhen Open
  • Sabalenka vs Sharapova is live from Shenzhen on Friday at 1pm local/5am GMT
Aryna Sabalenka (STR/AFP/Getty Images)

Maria Sharapova takes on Aryna Sabalenka in a blockbuster quarterfinal match at the Shenzhen Open on Friday.

In a rematch of the 2017 Tianjin final (and a match rescheduled for Friday after rain all but washed out Thursday's play), Maria Sharapova and Aryna Sabalenka meet once more on Chinese soil as they clash for a place in the semifinals at the Shenzhen Open.

Sabalenka and Sharapova have played just once before – in the final of the Tianjin Open in 2017, when Sharapova won 7-5, 7-6(8). But a lot has changed for both players in the intervening months. Will the result change too?

When Sabalenka faced Sharapova across the net in Tianjin in 2017, she was a little-known teenager ranked outside the top 100, playing her first WTA Tour final, noted by aficionados for the role she was playing for Belarus’s Fed Cup team in their run to the final but not widely known. Sabalenka would start 2018 inside the top 100 at world no. 73 – also in Shenzhen, where she lost to Simona Halep in the quarterfinals – break into the top 50 after making her second WTA Tour final in Lugano, and then absolutely explode in the second half of the year. 

Teaming up with former ATP World Tour pro Dimitry Tursunov, Sabalenka made the final of the Nature Valley International, losing to Caroline Wozniacki. She would go on to compile a 15-4 record on American hard courts, winning her first title at the Premier-level Connecticut Open in New Haven, making the semifinals of Cincinnati and knocking Petra Kvitova out of the US Open to reach the round of 16 where she became the only player in the tournament to take a set from eventual champion Naomi Osaka. Sabalenka would go on to win Wuhan and reach the quarterfinals of Beijing and Tianjin to finish the season as the world no. 12 and one of the most talked-about players of the year.

While Sabalenka’s star shot upwards, the clouds have been darkening around Sharapova. The Tianjin final marked the only title Sharapova has so far won in her return from her doping suspension, as it pushed her up to world no. 57 despite having struggled with injuries through 2017 after coming back to competition in April. The Russian did continue to push upwards in 2018 – she comes into Shenzhen ranked world no. 29, and had some very good results on clay, where she made the quarterfinals of the Mutua Madrid Open and the French Open (helped at the latter by a walkover from Serena Williams) and the semifinals of the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

But there were plenty of lows for Sharapova in 2018: She lost the only match she played on grass to qualifier Vitalia Diatchenko in the first round of Wimbledon, an incredibly messy performance, and compiled a modest 10-6 record on hard courts. Three of those wins did come on Chinese hard courts at the very start of the year in Shenzhen, where she made the semifinals before losing to Katerina Siniakova; but she only won back-to-back matches at three more hard-court events before the end of the year, the Australian Open, Montreal and the US Open where she reached the fourth round before losing to Carla Suarez Navarro.

Sharapova shut down her 2018 season after the US Open defeat and pulled out of scheduled events including her Tianjin title defense, saying she needed time to recover from injury, and indeed she often appeared to be struggling to be fit through the year, suffering from a wrist problem at the US Open and an arm injury which took her out of first Miami and then the Mubadala SVC in San Jose.

Sharapova comforts Wang Xinyu (STR/AFP/Getty Images)
Very popular with the Chinese crowds, Sharapova will have endeared herself to them further after her second-round match against Wang Xinyu in Shenzhen. Having beaten Timea Bacsinszky – herself very far from full match fitness after a spate of horrible injuries – in the first round, Sharapova dropped a marathon 73-minute first set to Wang 6-7(3) but was leading 5-2 in the second when the teenager retired. Sharapova crossed to the distraught 17-year-old’s bench and tried to comfort her.

‘Obviously, it’s a tough situation,’ Sharapova said afterwards. ‘It’s not the way either of us wants to finish the match, win or lose. I thought [Wang] was absolutely the dominant player in this match, and had all the opportunities to win it, even though I felt like I was finding my stride and getting a little bit closer to the line and being more aggressive.

‘She has all the tools to play well, and I think she showcased that, and it’s obviously a very unfortunate way to end the match.’

Sabalenka fought back from a set down against the tricky Tatjana Maria in the first round, but was less troubled by the hard-hitting Ekaterina Alexandrova in the second round, winning 6-3, 6-3 to book her place in the quarterfinals.

Sharapova has scored eight victories over top-20 players since returning to competition in April 2017, but with retirement rumours swirling around her and fueled by tough losses and seemingly intractable chronic issues, a win over Sabalenka – just about everybody’s top WTA player to watch in 2019 – would be a powerful statement that she intends to be a factor this year. Still, the Russian has had her travails against less formidable opposition so far in Shenzhen and Sabalenka is definitely possessed of the weapons to take Sharapova apart if she plays intelligently. It’s an excellent test for the Belarusian.

Sharapova vs Sabalenka tennis is live from Shenzhen on Friday at 1pm local/5am GMT

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Sabalenka vs Sharapova tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Blockbuster Shenzhen Open quarterfinal in store

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