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Maria Sharapova is unbeaten against Alison Riske but the American is in tremendous form – can she get her first victory over Sharapova as the two wildcards clash in the first round of the Western & Southern Open on Monday?
Sharapova made back-to-back Cincinnati finals in 2010-11, finishing runner-up to Kim Clijsters and then claiming the title the following year when she beat Jelena Jankovic in the final, and made the semifinals on her last appearance in 2014, beating Simona Halep before losing to Ana Ivanovic.
But Sharapova has not played the tournament since, missing the entire US swing in 2015, serving a doping suspension in 2016 and not fit enough to play in 2017-18 as she has continued to battle a series of injuries after her return to competition.
Battling injury has also been the hallmark of Sharapova’s season; she has played just 12 matches in 2019, and nine of those came in January as she made the quarterfinals of Shenzhen and the round of 16 at the Australian Open before losing to Ashleigh Barty. After retiring in St Petersburg, Sharapova then underwent shoulder surgery in February and didn’t return until Mallorca in June, where she beat Viktoria Kuzmova before losing her next three matches: Beaten in straight sets by Angelique Kerber in Mallorca, retiring 0-5 down in the decider to Pauline Parmentier in the first round of Wimbledon due to a forearm injury and defeated by Anett Kontaveit last week in Toronto.
Sharapova actually led Kontaveit by a set and a break before the Estonian came back to win in what was a long, close match, so the Russian was certainly able to be competitive despite minimal match play in 2019.
‘I’m still building the confidence and my form, and that’s something that’s just going to come with time and with match play,’ Sharapova said. ‘Unfortunately, I just haven’t had that yet, so will just hopefully try to build on it.
‘There’s never the perfect scenario. I’m going to be coming up against tough players, long matches, and there are always going to be tests, and I always have to play my best tennis no matter who I play, so it will just take time to build that confidence again, because I have struggled with it for a long time.’
Sharapova has started working with Ricardo Piatti this summer in an attempt to get closer to something like her best form, and she’s still one of the best players around when she’s actually able to play.
Granted a wildcard into the Western & Southern Open, Sharapova drew another wildcard in the first round – something that seems considerably less fortunate when you consider the form that wildcard is in.
Alison Riske, Sharapova’s first-round opponent, has won 17 of her last 20 matches. After starting the year at world no. 62, Riske is now up to world no. 37 – just one place off her career-high ranking of world no. 36 gained in 2017.
The 29-year-old American has always been best known as a grass-court specialist but started the year by reaching her seventh WTA Tour final on hard courts in Shenzhen, a tournament where she also made the final in 2016-17. After a winless clay season, Riske won the $100k event in Surbiton and went on to win just her second WTA Tour title in ‘s-Hertogenbosch, beating Karolina Muchova and Veronika Kudermetova on her way to the final where she came back from a bagel set to beat world no. 4 Kiki Bertens.
Riske went on to deliver stellar performances at Wimbledon, beating Donna Vekic, Belinda Bencic and Ashleigh Barty to reach her first Grand Slam quarterfinal, where she pushed Serena Williams to a third set.
After taking advantage of the post-Wimbledon lull to get married, Riske qualified for the Rogers Cup and beat Maria Sakkari in the first round before losing to third seed Karolina Pliskova in three sets.
Riske is 4-6 in Cincinnati and only one of those previous wins came in the main draw, but she’s playing well enough at the moment to overturn that record. The big question is whether she can overcome an –3 head-to-head against Sharapova. Riske has managed to push Sharapova to a third set twice, once at Birmingham in 2010 and once on hard courts in Shenzhen in 2018 when Sharapova had to come back from a set down to win in three.
The flat strike Riske gets on the ball works perfectly on grass but is less effective on a slow hard court in humid conditions, but she’s very confident at the moment and Sharapova’s game is scrappy at best as she looks for her best form. Riske will never have a better opportunity to get a first win over Sharapova – and if she does, she’ll face Ashleigh Barty in the second round.
Sharapova vs Riske tennis is live from Cincinnati on Monday at 7pm local/12am BST
Sharapova vs Riske tennis live streaming, preview and predictions – Can in-form Riske get her first win over Sharapova in Cincinnati?
Can the in-form Alison Riske get her first victory over Maria Sharapova in four attempts as they face off in…
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