Sharapova, Venus create memorable week of tennis news

It has been one of the more remarkable weeks on the tours, beginning with Maria Sharapova's blockbuster admission last Monday that she failed a drug test at Australia Open.

Then came Venus Williams' much-anticipated return to Indian Wells. Although she lost in straight sets, the joyous response as she walked onto the court felt bigger than the result. The week ended with some thrilling matches in the desert of California, with Novak Djokovic and Rafael Nadal needing three sets to win Sunday.

With that in mind, our writers weigh in on the latest news in another edition of Racket Response.

Carl Bialik@CarlBialik: Serena Williams has been No. 1 in the world for more than three years. She leads No. 2 Angelique Kerber by 3,545 ranking points -- even after Kerber upset the American in the Australian Open final. Can anyone challenge Williams in 2016?

Kerber has won just one match since the Australian Open and has lost her past six sets. Maria Sharapova is out indefinitely, suspended for using the banned drug meldonium. No. 4 Garbine Muguruza is just 6-5 this year, with all five losses coming to opponents outside the top 20. And No. 5 Simona Halep hasn't won more than two matches at the same event since the US Open -- a streak that could end in Indian Wells.

The WTA player to watch is Agnieszka Radwanska, who is 32-6 since the US Open with four titles. She hasn't fallen before the semifinals at any event during this run. Radwanska's poor start to 2015 might be a positive this season, considering she has few points to defend until June.

Still, to overtake Williams, Radwanska might have to do two things she hasn't done much of before: win on clay (she has two career titles, none since 2012) and beat Williams (Radwanska is 0-9 against her, winning just one set).

Leonardo Ayala@ESPNtenis: Juan Martin del Potro of Argentina made more progress this week in his attempt to recover the form that once made him a world No. 1 prospect.

After missing most of 2014 and 2015 with three wrist surgeries, del Potro played his second tournament of the year at Indian Wells. Not only did he win his first Masters 1000 match after almost 2½ years, against American Tim Smyczek, but he also faced a top-10 player (No. 7 Tomas Berdych) for the first time since 2013. Del Potro lost the match but played competitively, a welcome sign for a player who still has so many questions to answer.

As usual, his chief weapons were his serve and his powerful forehand. But del Potro still seemed too cautious with his two-handed backhand, putting too much slice on the ball.

Next stop for del Potro: the Miami Open, which will mark the first time since January 2014 that he'll play consecutive weeks on the ATP Tour.

Matt Wilansky@mattwilansky: Although the response to Maria Sharapova's failed drug desk has been fairly diplomatic from fellow players, there was some harsh backlash this weekend.

France's Kristina Mladenovic issued the strongest sentiments, telling French newspaper Le Parisien: "All the other players are saying she's a cheater. You sure doubt and think that she didn't deserve all she won until now. That's dreadful, but it's good that it's finally out. As far as I am concerned if I take an aspirin I worry 10 times about what I do. She's been taking this drug for 10 years, and it's a serious drug. She has played with the rules and thought, if it's not banned, then I can take it. For me that's very disappointing. I don't like the mentality to be the best by playing with the rules."

Mladenovic also said that she respected Sharapova but that "she wasn't really liked" nor was she very "polite."

No. 5 Halep's reaction wasn't quite as strident, but she did say to the media at Indian Wells: "I didn't speak with her before; there's no reason to speak now."

Sharapova is currently serving a provisional suspension and will have a preliminary hearing on or around March 23.

Who's trending high and low


Eugenie Bouchard: Quietly, the 42nd-ranked player is showing signs of the form that led her to a Wimbledon final in 2014. A week after reaching the Kuala Lumpur final in Malaysia, Bouchard is off to a quick start at Indian Wells. On Saturday, the Canadian beat Sloane Stephens in straight sets to reach the third round. Bouchard has won seven of her past nine matches.


Nick Kyrgios: Just when it finally looked as if he was playing up to his full potential by winning Marseille, his first career title, Kyrgios' antics took center stage again. In an opening-round loss against No. 49 Albert Ramos-Vinolas at Indian Wells, Kyrgios spewed foul language throughout the match, earning several warnings from the chair umpire. This comes just a week after Kyrgios pulled out of Davis Cup play with a virus, which did not sit well with fellow Aussie Bernard Tomic.