Friday 24 May 2019

Sharapova to benefit from wild cards on return to Tour

Maria Sharapova will return to the game next spring Photo: Robyn Beck/Getty Images
Maria Sharapova will return to the game next spring Photo: Robyn Beck/Getty Images

Gerard Hughes

Maria Sharapova can expect a spree of wild cards when she returns to the game at the end of next April, according to Steve Simon, the head of the Women's Tennis Association.

The 15-month ban will leave Sharapova without rankings points, and some had questioned whether major tournaments such as Wimbledon and the French Open might turn their back on her because of her doping conviction.

But Simon insisted yesterday that Sharapova would not have to fight her way up from the very bottom of the ladder. "I think the game will welcome Maria back, and I think it should," he said. "I don't speak for the slams, and I won't want to put them in a position, but Maria has conducted herself with a great deal of integrity.

"She admitted the positive test, she went through the process, and she came out with an extended penalty which she is now serving. When it is finished, she will deserve to be welcomed back. She has marketability, she is a player who can sell tickets. On the rankings table, she will be starting from scratch. But I'm sure she will be hungry to get back to the top."

Since the Court of Arbitration for Sport's verdict on Tuesday, cutting Sharapova's sentence from a two-year ban to 15 months, she has mounted a vigorous counter-attack. The ITF set out to make an example of her, she told the American TV host Charlie Rose, and also failed in its duty of care by not making meldonium's new status more obvious.

Simon did not object to Sharapova's aggressive stance, but added: "The ITF is committed to improving the anti-doping programme, and after learning from the experiences of this year we will all be in a better place."

Gilles Muller, the world No 36, said the CAS verdict "sends the wrong message". Tomas Berdych, who beat Muller in Tokyo yesterday, emphasised the role of individual responsibility, saying: "Every time I have to take something, I check with others many, many times to make sure it is legal."

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