Maria Sharapova preparing for match vs. Monica Puig

The Monica Puig Invitational will run next week for Puetro Rico.

Maria Sharapova took to social media recently to remind her tennis fans of an upcoming match at the inaugural Monica Puig Invitational. Sharapova spends more time tweeting about Sugarpova these days than tennis it seems, however on Monday her account read: “Join me in Puerto Rico on 12/15 when I play @MonicaAce93.” The @MonicaAce93 handle refers to Puig, Puerto Rico’s top player.

Sharapova has been sitting out with suspension since early in the 2016 season. She tested positive for a banned substance at the Australian Open, news that made international headlines in March. Since that time, Sharapova has been fighting the suspension with partial results. She did manage to get it reduced from two years to one-and-a-quarter years. Currently her expected return date is in late April, which will be enough time for her to at least attempt to prepare for the 2017 French Open.

Puig enjoyed a very successful 2016 season, one that saw her do better than normal in several tour events. The highlight of her year and career was a gold medal at the Rio Olympics in women’s singles. She defeated Angelique Kerber in the championship match, the German then ranked No. 2 in the world. The Rio Olympics did not offer ranking points to participants and Puig still remains outside of the top 30 as a result. However, she was recently honored as the Best Female Athlete from the 2016 Rio Olympics at the ANOC Awards.

The Monica Puig Invitational seems to be a one-match affair. In researching the event I found nothing mentioned about any other players besides Sharapova and Puig participating. The ticket sales page at ticketpop.com describes the event as “Monica Puig vs. Maria Sharapova on Thursday, December 15 at 7pm at Coliseo de Puerto Rico.” Tennis invitationals, like the one in Abu Dhabi later this month, do normally feature more than just one match. However, I think if more players were signed on to the event that there would be more marketing of those players as well. The Facebook page for the group doesn’t mention anything except for the Sharapova/Puig contest.

A lot of times tennis invitationals, which do not offer ranking points but may have a financial component, are kind of hit-the-ball-and-smile events. Sharapova does bring a 1-0 record against Puig into the contest, but when they first played it was before Puig improved to the gold medalist that she now is. It will be interesting to see how Sharapova does against a strong competitor. In truth, I think she would be smart to try and get involved in as many exhibition matches as possible in the months ahead so as to reduce the time it takes for her to get back to tip-top tennis when she again becomes eligible to play on tour.

Shane Lambert