Monday 23 October 2017

Maria Sharapova to play Wimbledon qualifiers instead of seeking wildcard entry

RANCHO MIRAGE, CA - MARCH 28: Maria Sharapova of Russia making a key note speech during the ANA Inspiring Women in Sports Conference as a preview for the 2017 ANA Inspiration at the Mission Hills Country Club on March 28, 2017 in Rancho Mirage, California. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)
RANCHO MIRAGE, CA - MARCH 28: Maria Sharapova of Russia making a key note speech during the ANA Inspiring Women in Sports Conference as a preview for the 2017 ANA Inspiration at the Mission Hills Country Club on March 28, 2017 in Rancho Mirage, California. (Photo by David Cannon/Getty Images)

Maria Sharapova has announced she will not seek a wild card into Wimbledon's main draw and will instead play the qualifying rounds to secure her place.

The Russian was denied a return to grand slam tennis at the French Open following her 15-month doping ban. The French Tennis Federation this week decided against offering her a wild card either to the main draw or to qualifying.

Now Sharapova has taken the decision on whether to give her a Wimbledon main draw wild card out of the hands of organisers by backing herself to come through the preliminaries, which take place at Roehampton in the week leading up to the grass-court major.

In a statement on her website, titled 'An update on my grass court tournament schedule', Sharapova said: "A few months ago, I received a wild card offer from Birmingham, one of my most memorable tournaments as a young player. I am so grateful and excited to be playing this event again!

"Because of my improved ranking after the first three tournaments of my return, I will also be playing the qualifying of Wimbledon in Roehampton, and will not be requesting a wild card into the main draw.

"I have already started getting treatment on the injury I sustained a few days ago in Rome, and will begin my preparation as soon I get better."

Sharapova guaranteed she would be clear to enter the Wimbledon qualifiers by winning a first-round match against American Christina McHale at the Italian Open on Monday, before retiring injured in the third set against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni a day later.

That came hours after the French tennis authorities turned her down for Roland Garros, saying it would be wrong to hand a wild card to a player returning from a doping suspension.

The five-time grand slam tournament winner will climb into the top 200 on Monday, high enough to earn a trip to London, albeit for a Wimbledon match programme that will begin earlier than usual.

She will need to win three matches to earn a place in the first round of the tournament itself.

Despite the Lawn Tennis Association welcoming her into the Aegon Classic in Birmingham, it was not a foregone conclusion that Sharapova would be afforded such treatment by Wimbledon's tennis sub-committee.

The committee, headed by former British number one Tim Henman, is due to make its choices on June 20. Wimbledon's website states wild cards are typically offered "on the basis of past performance at Wimbledon or to increase British interest".

All England Club chairman Philip Brook said on May 3: "We will wait and see whether Maria applies for a wild card and, if so, we will consider the case alongside everyone else's."

Any wild card for Sharapova, who was Wimbledon champion as a 17-year-old in 2004, would have divided opinion.

She was banned from the sport after testing positive for meldonium, which was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned list at the start of 2016.

She has denied using it for any performance-enhancing purpose, and an initial two-year ban was cut on appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which concluded that while she committed an anti-doping violation there was "no significant fault" on her part.

Men's world number one and reigning Wimbledon champion Andy Murray has been clear in his view that returning offenders should have to work their way back up and the same opinion has been expressed by a number of players on the women's tour.

The Wimbledon qualifying event, at the Bank of England Sports Grounds, will be ticketed for the first time this year, and there will be a live broadcast from one court.

Sharapova last played at Wimbledon in 2015, when she lost in straight sets to Serena Williams in the semi-finals.

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