Maria Sharapova

Dalila Jakupovic
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Australian Open player quits qualifying match after coughing spell in hazardous air conditions

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MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Smoke haze and poor air quality caused by wildfires temporarily suspended practice sessions for the Australian Open at Melbourne Park on Tuesday, but qualifying began later in the morning in “very poor” conditions and amid complaints by at least one player who was forced to forfeit her match.

At the Kooyong Classic exhibition in Melbourne, former No. 1-ranked Maria Sharapova struggled in the heat and smoke and her match against Laura Siegemund was called off late in the second set. Siegemund won the first set in a tiebreaker but players and officials decided to stop play at 5-5 in the second.

“Both players are feeling the smoke so we are going to stop the match at this point,” the umpire said.

At Melbourne Park, Slovenian Dalila Jakupovic was leading her first-round Australian Open qualifying match against Switzerland’s Stefanie Voegele when she dropped to her knees with a coughing spell. Ranked 180th, Jakupovic was a set up and one point away from a tiebreaker in the second set when she experienced breathing difficulties and retired from the match.

“I was really scared that I would collapse,” Jakupovic told Australian Associated Press. “I don’t have asthma and never had breathing problems. I actually like heat. The physio came again and I thought it would be better. But the points were a bit longer and I just couldn’t breathe anymore and I just fell on the floor.”

Jakupovic said it was “not fair” that officials asked players to take the court in those conditions.

“It’s not healthy for us. I was surprised, I thought we would not be playing today but we don’t have much choice.”

Former Wimbledon semifinalist Eugenie Bouchard needed some medical assistance during her first qualifying match before beating You Xiaodi 4-6, 7-6 (4), 6-1.

Organizers said further decisions on match scheduling would be made using onsite data and in close consultation with its medical team, the Bureau of Meteorology, and scientists from the Environmental Protection Agency in Victoria state.

Melbourne started the day with hazardous air pollution as smoke from wildfires in Victoria’s east and in southern New South Wales state drifted through.

The central business district, close to where Melbourne Park is located, recorded overnight hazardous levels of fine particles in the air and the EPA categorized the air quality as “very poor.”

Firefighters in the region spent the night being called out to fire alarms triggered by the smoke haze.

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Maria Sharapova appears set to miss Tokyo Olympics

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Maria Sharapova, who would have a difficult time qualifying for the Olympics next year, committed to play an event in California the week of the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova is scheduled to play World Team Tennis matches in California during the Olympic tennis events in late July, according to a press release. Sharapova’s longtime agent hasn’t responded to a message seeking confirmation that she is ruling out the Tokyo Games.

Sharapova, 32 and the 2012 Olympic silver medalist, was barred from the Rio Games due to her 15-month meldonium suspension in 2016 and 2017. That alone could rule her ineligible for Tokyo, given the World Anti-Doping Agency’s sanctions against Russia on Monday.

Sharapova is ranked No. 131 after a season shortened by shoulder surgery. She would have to be among the top four ranked Russian women after the French Open in June for possible automatic Olympic qualification. She is currently the 14th Russian.

Olympic eligibility rules include minimum participation requirements in Fed Cup, which Sharapova hasn’t done in this Olympic cycle, though exceptions can be made.

Sharapova’s passion for the Olympics is well documented.

She carried the Russian flag into the London 2012 Opening Ceremony and carried the Olympic flame into Fisht Stadium at the Sochi 2014 Opening Ceremony, where she worked for NBC Olympics.

“It was the one thing that my parents allowed me to watch on TV late into the evening was the Olympics,” Sharapova said in 2017. “I grew up watching figure skating and hockey and a little bit of tennis. … Just capturing the Opening Ceremonies and seeing all the countries and the little hats that they wore, and I, as a little girl, I just imagined that maybe it would be me. But I never, ever thought that I would be carrying the flag.

“I received that [flag] honor in a text message, which is a very Russian way of communicating. I originally thought it was a joke, a big fat joke. Then I showed it to my mother, and she [said], no, they probably wouldn’t joke like that.”

In February 2016, Sharapova entered a Fed Cup tie, despite saying she was injured, in order to receive Olympic eligibility. One month later, her failed drug test was announced.

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Serena Williams routs Maria Sharapova at U.S. Open

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NEW YORK — Serena Williams‘ first match against Maria Sharapova at the U.S. Open had the same result as their last 18 meetings around the globe. A Williams victory, further cementing that it is a rivalry in every sense except the win-loss record.

Williams cruised 6-1, 6-1 in the highest-profile first-round match of her career. It marked her most lopsided win over Sharapova since the 2012 Olympic final.

“Every time I come up against her, I just bring out some of my best tennis,” Williams said, later noting that she didn’t know she had a 19-match win streak over Sharapova. “Every practice after [learning she would play Sharapova on Thursday] was super intense and super focused because it’s an incredibly tough draw.”

She was dialed in from the start Monday night, beginning her march to what she hopes is a record-tying 24th Grand Slam singles title and first as a mom. Williams won nearly twice as many points as Sharapova, who had 20 unforced errors and just six winners.

“If [Williams] can play seven matches like this, the U.S. Open is hers,” Chris Evert said on ESPN2.

Williams was runner-up at three of her six Slams since returning last year from life-threatening childbirth. Most memorably, she dropped the last U.S. Open final to Naomi Osaka, overshadowed by her spat with chair umpire Carlos Ramos.

It was revealed last week that Ramos would not be working any of Williams’ matches at the U.S. Open.

“I don’t know who that is,” she said when asked about that Ramos measure Monday night.

The eighth seed Williams next gets 17-year-old American wild card Caty McNally in the second round Wednesday. Williams, 37, hasn’t finished a non-major tournament this season, retiring and withdrawing from the last two with a back injury.

U.S. OPEN DRAWS: Men | Women

It’s been 15 years since Sharapova only wins against Williams, both in the Wimbledon final and at the year-end championships. Williams vowed to put the hammer down in their rivalry and has won 18 straight sets against the Russian since 2013. This marked their first meeting since 2016.

“Her game matches up really well against mine,” Williams said. “Her ball somehow lands in my strike zone. It’s just perfect for me.”

The frostiness between the two icons has been well-documented. They’ve taken jabs at each other’s personal lives. Sharapova, in her 2017 book, wrote about Williams’ private sobbing in the locker room after that 2004 Wimbledon final. Williams called what she read 100 percent hearsay.

This may well have been their last meeting, particularly due to the 32-year-old Sharapova’s recent setbacks. She is 2-5 since February shoulder surgery and will drop out of the top 100 after the U.S. Open.

“Bottom line is, I believe in my ability,” Sharapova said when asked her motivation at this point in her career. “You can write me off. There are many people that can write me off, especially after going down 6-1, 6-1 in the first round of the U.S. Open. As long as it’s not the person that’s inside of you, you’ll be OK.

“I really want to play as much as I can till the end of the year.”

Every top-10 seed in action advanced Monday, led by top-ranked defending champion Novak Djokovic. The Serb swept Spaniard Roberto Carballés Baena 6-4, 6-1, 6-4.

Djokovic, winner of four of the last five majors, saw his early draw open up when 2017 U.S. Open finalist Kevin Anderson withdrew with a right knee injury. Then potential second-round opponent Sam Querrey was upset Monday. Querrey memorably ousted Djokovic at 2016 Wimbledon. Red-hot Russian Daniil Medvedev is the only other top-16 seed left in Djokovic’s quarter of the draw.

Roger Federer, a possible semifinal opponent for Djokovic, dropped the first set to 190th-ranked Indian Sumit Nagal but overcame the rustiness to win 4-6, 6-1, 6-2, 6-4.

Venus Williams matched Martina Navratilova‘s record 21 U.S. Open main-draw appearances in the Open Era. The 39-year-old swept Chinese Zheng Saisai 6-1, 6-0 to avoid losing in the first round of a third straight major for the first time in her career. Venus’ second round should be much closer against No. 5 seed Elina Svitolina.

Tuesday’s featured matches include top-ranked Osaka against Russian Anna Blinkova at 12 p.m. ET. No. 2 Rafael Nadal gets Aussie John Millman at 7 p.m. Sloane StephensSimona Halep and 15-year-old Coco Gauff also play their first-round matches.

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