Sharapova has bucket-list hit with Nadal

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For a couple of minutes, after Rafael Nadal’s practice in Rome on Monday, two-time French Open champion Maria Sharapova got to hit with him on court.

It was an item struck off the bucket list, Sharapova wrote on Twitter.

In 2012 and 2014, Sharapova and Nadal both won the French Open.

Sharapova also has won Rome three times, most recently in 2015. Nadal has won it seven times, although not since 2013.

Her referring to Nadal as the GOAT (the clay GOAT – she obviously meant) predictably had Roger Federer fans (among others) rushing to their keyboards to take offense.  

CiCi Bellis still out of action

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It’s been a fairly quiet absence for CiCi Bellis.

But the 19-year-old American has been out since Miami with an elbow issue.

Bellis actually made it to Rome. But she withdrew.

Her ranking hasn’t been too affected so far. But she has more than 400 points to defend over the next month (worth about 50 ranking spots). And she has withdrawn from Strasbourg next week.

(On a personal note, did you know she’s dating fellow 19-year-old Northern Californian Sam Riffice? Riffice is playing the pros this year, but has committed to the University of Florida for 2018-19).

WTA promos Bouchard, as she hits ITF

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Some tone-deafness on the part of the WTA Tour Twitter account this week, as it promoted Genie Bouchard  – and linked to an April photo shoot – the very week the 24-year-old Canadian takes to the ITF circuit at Cagnes-sur-Mer, France.

A year ago in Madrid, Bouchard upset Maria Sharapova in arguably one of the matches of the year for its intensity and drama. 

But that was a year ago. So it was just grist for the haters’ mill.

It might do Bouchard good to watch the video, though, before her first match in France. She was pumped.

Dane Caroline Wozniacki is quite a Dame

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One of of the most famous athletes to come out of Denmark, Caroline Wozniacki was honoured Monday.

She was presented with the knight cross of the Dannebrog, the first level of the Danish Order of Chivalry first established in 1671.

It’s for “meritorious civil or military service, for a particular contribution to the arts, sciences or business life or for those working for Danish interests.”

Unless Wozniacki gets convicted of treating, looting or gross misconduct, it’s a lifetime honor.

From now on, we shall refer to her as “Dame Caro”.

Stan Wawrinka closes in on return

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Stan Wawrinka says returning to action in Rome next week is the goal, after pulling out of Madrid as a precaution.

“I lost 10 days’ training because of a calf injury,” Wawrinka said Thursday as he confirmed his presence in Gstaad, after Wimbledon. “The knee is holding up. I’m convinced I’m seeing the light at the end of the tunnel.”

He called upon former coach Magnus Norman for a two-week training block. “After that, we’ll see,” he said.

Wawrinka’s schedule is a work in progress. He’s not ruling out Switzerland’s Davis Cup playoff tie in September.

After 622 days, Medina Garrigues returns

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Not that she’s been counting the days, but Spain’s Anabel Medina Garrigues was counting the days.

Her return, after 622 of them, didn’t end up with a win.

But Medina Garrigues and Arantxa Parra Santonja put up a fight against Johanna Konta and Shuai Zhang before going down 2-6, 6-3, 10-3 in their first-round doubles in Madrid.

Medina Garrigues, don’t forget, was Jelena Ostapenko’s coach last year. She’s Spain’s Fed Cup captain. But she always said she wasn’t necessarily retired.

With a protected ranking of No. 34, the 35-year-old also entered Rome and the French Open with Parra Santonja.

New tennis video game WTA-impaired

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The Tennis World Tour video game is set to launch May 22.

But as the players tested it out in Madrid Friday, one thing became apparent: there are almost no WTA Tour players on it.

In fact, an awkward moment as world No. 4 Elina Svitolina wanted to play as her own character, except … no.

In all, there are 24 men – headed by Roger Federer, but not Rafael Nadal or Novak Djokovic – and two legends (Agassi and McEnroe). 

Total number of women? Five, including Genie Bouchard.

We won’t talk about the 2017-vintage mismatched Nike green outfits.

Alexander Zverev in top company

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Alexander Zverev recorded the 135th ATP Tour-level win of his career Wednesday in Munich.

It was a tough one – 6-7 (14-12), 6-4, 6-2 over Yannick Hanfmann.

It’s a selective cutoff point. But of all the players on Tour, Zverev is the fourth-youngest to hit that number at 21 years, one month.

Ahead of him are Rafael Nadal (19 years, nine months), Novak Djokovic (20 years, 10 months) and Roger Federer (also 20 years, 10 months). 

Juan Martin del Potro was 21 years, two months and Andy Murray 21 years, three months.

Zverev hasn’t had had his big Slam breakthrough yet. Given that company, it’s seems to be a matter of time.

Azarenka hits Madrid, Rome – and SI

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After Victoria Azarenka made arrangements with her ongoing custody situation to play Indian Wells and Madrid, there still were question marks about where her next stops might be.

But there she was on a plane last week, son Leon in tow, on her way to Madrid for the Premier Mandatory event.

Azarenka also is in for Rome, as well as the French Open.

It seems as though there’s a piece about her in the works for Sports Illustrated, as she was photographed by SI’s Robert Beck a couple of weeks ago.

Jo-Wilfried Tsonga out of Madrid and Rome

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The day after having knee surgery in early April, France’s Jo-Wilfried Tsonga said the goal was to get on the clay at some point.

He didn’t specify. But if Tsonga is to do it, it will either have to be at the French Open or the week before at a warmup event in Lyon.

Tsonga’s withdrawal from both Masters 1000 series events in Madrid and Rome was official Wednesday.  He has played six matches and two tournaments this year.

The last one was in Montpellier, France in early February.

He was a semifinalist in Paris in 2013 and 2015.