Chakvetadze takes weary Sharapova's place in Dubai sun

Maria Sharapova, complaining of a virus, withdrew from the Dubai Championships here yesterday, while another blonde Russian was pleased just to be on court. Anna Chakvetadze, a 6-2, 2-6, 6-4 winner over Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska, is putting her life back together after a robbery at her Moscow home two months ago, when the world No 6 and her parents were tied up as six masked assailants stole money and goods worth more than £150,000.

Chakvetadze, who was bound by her wrists in an attack that targeted her wealthy businessman father, lost feeling in the fingers of her left hand for several days. She was forced to abandon plans for pre-season training in warm weather climes and was well below her best at last month's Australian Open, where she lost in the third round to Maria Kirilenko.

"Life has to go on – you can't just dwell on the past," Chakvetadze said yesterday. "After what happened I wanted to move somewhere else in Moscow, but my parents didn't want to. Now we have bodyguards in the house and alarms. I couldn't sleep in my room for the first three nights, but now it's OK."

Was it odd to share the house with bodyguards? "I don't think it's strange. Sometimes you live in your house and you think you're safe, but you're not. I think this can happen to anyone. I never thought it would happen to me. I just thought it was something that happened in the movies. And when it does, you have to protect yourself."

The strength of the field here is such that Radwanska, the world No 19, had to qualify. The 19-year-old Pole, a quarter-finalist in Melbourne, provided a stern test for Chakvetadze, whose aggression eventually won the day.

Sharapova beat Radwanska in the semi-finals in Doha last week on the way to her second title this year. However, the Australian Open champion felt under the weather all week and woke up here yesterday with a worsening cough. At least her withdrawal preserves her 100 per cent record in 2008 after her victories in Melbourne and Doha and her winning Fed Cup debut against Israel.

The 20-year-old Russian blamed her ill health on too many long-haul flights. "I've done a lot of travelling in the last few weeks – going from Australia to Israel, then home, with no rest at all, practising for Doha and going there. I have to be smart about my decisions and I have made some wrong ones in the past – getting injured and getting sick, and going out there and not being 100 per cent. Then you are liable to hurt yourself. I have a long year."

She added: "Realistically, I don't think I can play five matches and as an athlete you have to be mentally and physically ready. After a few really long weeks you need a rest.

"I'll go home and have a vacation. I'll go somewhere where there's a limited amount of people around. I'll have a book in front of me and read. I'll have a fresh frame of mind for Indian Wells and Miami."

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