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MARIA Sharapova has responded to criticism of her by fellow players, saying she’s focused on taking the “high road” since returning to the court.

The Russian made her return to tennis earlier this year after serving a 15-month suspension for using a banned substance, but many on the tour didn’t believe she should be welcomed back with open arms.

Canadian Eugenie Bouchard was one rival who didn’t hold back.
“I don’t think a cheater at any sport should be allowed to play that sport again,” Bouchard said in April. “It’s so unfair to all the other players who do it the right way and are true. I think from the WTA it sends the wrong message to young kids: ‘Cheat and we’ll welcome you back with open arms.’”

Bouchard stood by those comments when asked several days ago if her stance on Sharapova had softened. She doubled down on her initial remarks while reflecting on her victory over the 30-year-old at the Madrid Open shortly after she made headlines for her blunt opinion.

“I went out and once I got on the court, I put everything else to the side and I just wanted to play as well as I could. I definitely had a little bit of extra motivation to kind of do it for all of us who have been fair to the sport and who have played the sport the true way it’s meant to be played,” Bouchard told Prime Time Sports.

But Sharapova has taken the high road in the face of all the hate being thrown her way. Writing a first-person piece for The Players’ Tribune, she said she’d made a conscious decision not to retaliate whenever someone spoke ill of her.

“I’m aware of what many of my peers have said about me, and how critical of me some of them have been in the press,” Sharapova wrote. “If you’re a human being with a normal, beating heart, you know … I don’t think that sort of thing will ever fully be possible to ignore. And I don’t think it will ever not be weird or hurtful to go through.

“But at the same time … I’ve always tried to keep a generous attitude toward critics in general — whoever they are, and whenever they’ve been there. I’ve never wanted to respond to the people trashing me by trashing them back; that’s always been important to me.

“I’ve always wanted to respond by showing grace — something I learned from my mum, one of the most graceful and elegant people I know. I’ve always wanted to face my critics by simply taking the high road. And by showing them, by showing everyone, that taking the high road is a choice.

“Which isn’t to say it’s an easy choice. Trust me — easy would be to do the opposite. It would be so easy for me to walk into a press conference, and sit down, and just take those questions about the things my peers have said about me as they come — to critique, and bash, and jab back, and get in the mud.

“In my heart, I honestly do have so much respect and admiration for everyone on tour — including my critics.”

A two-time champion at Roland Garros, Sharapova was denied a wildcard into this year’s French Open. She will have been hopeful of qualifying for Wimbledon but a hip injury suffered during May’s Italian Open ruled her out of appearing at the All England Club.
Having to miss more tennis after already being forced to sit on the sidelines for 15 months was tough to take.

“I was pretty down after all that. It seemed so cruel, after those 15 long months away from the game, to have finally started to feel like I was taking a step forward — only to be forced to take two steps back,” Sharapova wrote.

“To now have to skip the French and Wimbledon, both, for the second year in a row … to now have to come off tour again … it seemed like someone was playing a mean trick on me.

“I’m sure there are critics of mine, reading this now, and thinking, you know, karma. And if they want to think that, then they’re entitled. But it sure didn’t feel that way at the time. It sure didn’t feel like karma on that night, in that pain, in that MRI machine. On that night … I just wanted to play. It just felt bad.”

Sharapova was this week handed a wildcard into the Cincinnati WTA tournament, a key warm-up for the US Open that starts on August 12.

News.com.au