ATP | WTA Tennis • Maria Sharapova Practices With RAFAEL Nadal As Both Players Prepare For Wednesday In Rome Open 2018

Written by: on 15th May 2018
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ATP | WTA Tennis • Maria Sharapova Practices With RAFAEL Nadal As Both Players Prepare For Wednesday In Rome Open 2018

epa03714584 Defending champions Rafael Nadal of Spain (L) and Russian Maria Sharapova (R), pose for photographers during the draw ceremony of the 2013 French Open, at Roland Garros Stadium, in Paris, France, 24 May 2013. The tournament, that starts on 26 May, is the second Grand Slam of the season. EPA/CHRISTOPHE KARABA  |

By Ricky Dimon

Cross-gender practices are not exactly the norm on the professional circuit. But that is exactly what happened on Monday at the Internazionali BNL d’Italia.

When Maria Sharapova went out to practice, Rafael Nadal was still hard at work. Instead of waiting for the second-ranked Spaniard to wrap up his session, Sharapova took matters into her own hands. She approached the King of Clay and asked if she could hit some balls with him. Nadal said yes.

“I saw he was practicing on the court right before me,” the 31-year-old said of Nadal. “And I said to my team, ‘wouldn’t it be amazing if I just came up to Rafa and said ‘would you hit a couple balls with me?”. And they’re like, ‘yeah, what’s wrong with that?’ And I was like, ‘a lot of things. There’s a lot of things wrong with just coming up to Rafa.’ They’re like, ‘no, you should. It’s not like you’re asking him to go on a date.’ And so I did.

“He probably thought I was really weird. I think he still thinks I’m really weird.”

No matter. It was likely fun for both parties and it certainly did not hurt Sharapova, because she took the match court one day later and picked up her first win since the second round of the Australian Open by beating Ashleigh Barty 7-5, 3-6, 6-2 in two hours and 30 minutes. The Russian double-faulted five times and served at a modest 58 percent, but she aced Barty five times and also earned five service breaks.

Next up for Sharapova is a seventh career contest against Dominica Cibulkova, with the head-to-head series tied at three wins apiece (2-2 on clay). The two veterans have not squared off since the 2014 Australian Open, when the Slovakian scored a 3-6, 6-4, 6-1 victory.

Nadal, meanwhile, will kick off his Rome campaign against Damir Dzumhur. The underdog once “beat’ Nadal via retirement at the 2016 Miami Masters, but the 16-time major champion dominated 6-1, 6-3, 6-1 earlier this season at the Australian Open.

Going up against Nadal on clay is tough enough regardless of the situation, but Dzumhur may be in for an especially tough day at the offense because the top seed is hoping to make amends for a rare clay-court loss at the Madrid Masters (to Dominic Thiem in the quarterfinals). Nadal had been 14-0 on the surface this season and had won 50 consecutive clay-court sets dating back to the 2017 French Open.

Ricky contributes to 10sballs.com and also maintains his own tennis website, The Grandstand. You can follow him on twitter at @Dimonator.

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