No. 1 rank not focus for Maria


Maria Sharapova is keeping her feet on the ground over the possibility of wresting back the world No. 1 spot from Serena Williams at the Madrid Masters.

Williams is also competing in the Spanish capital but the Russian, currently ranked second in the world, says the American is not on her mind.

Following her Stuttgart success last week, Sharapova said on Friday: “I don’t want to think about it (the No 1 ranking) too much.

“It depends also on the other players. I can (only) control what is in my hands and try not to worry about it too much.”

The Madrid Masters gets under way on Saturday with both the men’s and women’s events back on red clay after last year’s controversial blue clay surface was banned.

Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal threatened to boycott the 2013 edition if organizers persisted with blue clay.

“I think we all know that last year was a very hopeful experiment and it didn’t turn out so well for the tournament or for the players,” said Sharapova.

“I think everyone kind of learned their lesson and we’re back to normal now. It feels pretty good. I think it’s quite heavy right now. I think also the conditions have been quite cold and muddy, so it’s feeling a little bit thick.

“I think over time it’s going to become a little bit faster.”

Victoria Azarenka, who was runnerup to Williams in last year’s women’s final, also welcomed the return to traditional red clay.

“I think I prefer them better than last year,” said Azarenka.

“I think they’re adjusted really well. The clay is red, so we’ll see how it goes during the matches. I came a little bit early to make sure I feel the surface, and it’s pretty good.”

Ferrer into semifinals

OEIRAS, Portugal

David Ferrer led the top three seeded players into the Portugal Open semifinals on Friday, beating Victor Hanescu of Romania 6-4, 7-6 (7-2).

Second-seeded Swiss Stanislas Wawrinka knocked out local favorite Gastao Elias 6-4, 6-4, and No. 3 Andreas Seppi beat No. 8 Tommy Robredo 6-4, 6-3.

Pablo Carreno-Busta rallied past fourth-seeded Fabio Fognini 3-6, 6-4, 6-4 to complete the final four.

In the women’s event, third-seeded Anastasia Pavlyuchenkova and No. 4 Carla Suarez Navarro will meet in the final on Saturday.

Pavlyuchenkova recovered to beat Romina Oprandi 0-6, 6-3, 6-1 to reach her first title match on clay. Navarro, last year’s finalist, overcame Kaia Kanepi 6-4, 6-1.

Nadal rips decision


Rafael Nadal says the decision to destroy the evidence in the Operation Puerto doping case is “a mistake.”

“My opinion is that the ruling wasn’t positive for anyone,” the tennis great said on Friday. “The only ones that benefited were the ones who cheated. The ones that are hurt are Spanish athletes and sports in general.”

In the verdict on Tuesday, the doctor at the heart of the doping ring, Eufemiano Fuentes, was found guilty and given a one-year suspended sentence for endangering the health of cyclists through blood doping.

Judge Julia Santamaria then cited privacy laws when ordering that the more than 100 blood bags seized by police seven years ago be destroyed.

That meant antidoping authorities cannot examine the evidence to try and identify more athletes who Fuentes helped to dope.

The judge’s decision has been widely criticized by antidoping organizations, who are looking at appealing.

“The image this transmits to the world isn’t the one we were hoping for,” Nadal said. “I think it is a mistake that the names (of Fuentes’ clients) are not known, but that is what happened. We will keep working so that sports stays clean and this doesn’t happen again in the future.”

Fuentes said during the trial that he had doping clients from sports other than cycling, but he was not asked by the judge to name them. Only a handful of cyclists have been identified as having doped with Fuentes.

Also on Friday, the president of Spain’s Olympic Committee, Alejandro Blanco, said Operation Puerto had been “a mistake and a horror” for Spanish sports.

“We have a judicial process that lasted seven years, which is the life span of a professional athlete,” Blanco said. “That doesn’t happen in any other country in the world and we must change it.

“We can’t have a judicial process that lasts seven years and not know who was behind it all.”