What’s the story?
Former World No. 1 Maria Sharapova, who returns to tennis on the 27th of April, will receive a wild card to the French Open as the clay court season gets underway – but to qualifying, and not to the main event, as was initially believed to be the case.
In case you didn’t know...
Maria Sharapova, who has just completed serving out a shortened ban from tennis, will return to the sport on the 27th of April, 2017 at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany. The disgraced Russian ace and former World No. 1 will take on Italian doubles Slam winner Roberta Vinci in her first match there.
Last month it was revealed that the Russian ace would receive a wildcard to the French Open, a decision that was met with derision from many senior tennis players, among them French ace Jo-Wilfried Tsonga, who likened it to “giving a child candy for doing a bad thing,” while former World No. 2 Simona Halep was also unhappy with the decision.
Heart of the Matter
Now, The Telegraph is reporting that Sharapova, who has dropped completely out of the rankings as a result of being inactive on the tour for 15 months will receive a wildcard – but into qualifying and not the main draw at Roland Garros.
Without the wildcard to qualifying, Sharapova would have needed to at least reach the finals in Stuttgart, were she to be able to fight on the basis of rank alone. As it now stands, she will now be able to play the preliminary rounds without that proviso.
Bernard Giudicelli, the President of the French Tennis Federation, had last month addressed talk that granting Sharapova a wildcard would send across the ‘wrong message’ in terms of doping, especially since the Federation had been vocal against the issue.
At the time, Giudicelli said he was not entirely convinced Sharapova should be handed a wild card to the main draw, a decision the Federation have now confirmed.
Sharapova, despite the fact that she is returning from a drug ban, is likely to be a big draw in terms of fans and ticket sales, and an outright refusal for a wildcard may have affected Roland Garros thus – forming a fair middle ground for both player and organizers.
The French Open is Sharapova’s strongest Major – two of her five Grand Slam titles were won at Roland Garros.
A strong performance at Roland Garros would enable Sharapova to make up ranking points for Wimbledon, which will follow through the grass court season; the Russian will want to make the most of the absence of her biggest competitor, World No. 1 Serena Williams, who will be on maternity leave until 2018.
For now, Sharapova will gear up to play Italy’s Roberta Vinci at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany, to which she received a wildcard invitation prior to the end of her ban.