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MARIA SHARAPOVA REACHES SEMI -FINALS OF PORSCHE TENNIS GRAND PRIX

The draw in Germany has been kind to the Russian, but she has not dropped so much as a set and has looked in great touch

Without her even being guaranteed entry into the field, some bookmakers have already made Maria Sharapova favourite to win next month’s French Open.

That is based on the impressive evidence of her reaching Saturday’s semi-finals of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, in which she faces her first match with a potential grudge element, against Kristina Mladvenovic.

Should Sharapova win – following Friday’s 6-3 6-4 victory over Anett Kontaveit – then she will be guaranteed entry into the qualifying event for both the French Open and Wimbledon. A direct entry into the main draw of SW19 is very much looking achievable.

Mladenovic is an interesting opponent, because when Sharapova first admitted testing positive for Mildronate a year last March the feisty Frenchwoman went further than most in her criticism.

Kontaveit is ranked a modest 73 in the world, but started confidently and posed Sharapova a number of questions

Offering the view that ‘all the other players are saying she’s a cheater,’ Mladenovic at the time told Le Parisien: ‘She can play with words and find a good lawyer but on the principles of the situation, she’s wrong.’

On Friday, asked if Sharapova should have received a wildcard this week Mladenovic said: ‘I totally understand the tournament wanting her here because she is very famous. The question is why would she get that extra help compared to other players.’

The former world No 1 can amass enough points to play in qualifying for the next two Grand Slams if she wins her next game

Sharapova’s latest comfortable victory came on the day that the tennis authorities announced they would substantially step up drug testing in the game. The timing of this week might not have been entirely coincidental.

The Estonian shaded it in the first six games, but could not capitalise on her half chances before the Russian took over

There will now be 8,000 tests per year and 250 players covered by biological passports. Equally significant is the fact that, belatedly, many of the samples will go into long term storage for retroactive examination in future.

Sharapova took her first break opportunity in the first set to lead 4-3 before clinically earning the remaining two game points

When asked about the development Sharapova replied, ‘That’s great,’ although she declined to say how often she had been tested in the past.

Her composure only slipped after she had poured praise the coaching staff that have stuck with her. When Sportsmail asked if they had been upset that she had kept her long-term use of Midronate secret from them she became flustered and fired back: ‘That’s such an inappropriate question.’

Everything on court, however, is going to plan, and she has made the semi-finals without dropping a set.

Already she is guaranteed to be around 260 in the world rankings after just one tournament and, should she beat the much-improved world No 19 on Saturday, then it will be close to the 180-mark.

The ‘cut off’ for the Roland Garros and Wimbledon qualifying entry will be around 200, so she will be well inside that.

Andy Murray came back from the brink on Friday to score a potentially significant win as he made the semi-finals of the Barcelona Open.

The world No 1 badly struggled at times but defeated his conqueror of the Monte Carlo Open, Albert Ramos-Vinolas, 2-6 6-4 7-6, at one point having been 0-40 on serve at 4-4 in the second set.

Murray was also an early break down in the decider against the world No 19, but now has another tough assignment, against last year’s French Open semi-finalist Dominic Thiem.

British No 4 Aljaz Bedene kept up his remarkable run of form when he reached the semi-finals of the ATP event in Budapest with what was his fifteenth consecutive victory, beating second seed Ivo Karlovic 6-4 6-3.

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