Bad day for Maria Sharapova, as Rome injury is followed by French Open rejection

Maria Sharapova will not take part in the French Open after she was not handed a wildcard entry

maria sharapova
Maria Sharapova in action at a previous Rome tournament Photo: Marianne Bevis

Maria Sharapova’s strong return at the end of April from her 15-month ban for a doping violation has this week taken a serious dip in fortune.

The former world No1 and five-time Major champion, who reached the semi-finals of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart after being offered a wild card, was also give wild-card entries to the big Premier events ahead of the French Open: Madrid and Rome. However, last week she lost in the second round to Eugenie Bouchard, and yesterday she was forced to retire in the deciding set of her second-round match in Rome, at a break up, against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.

In a statement afterwards, Sharapova said: “I apologise for having to withdraw from my match today with a left thigh injury. I will be getting all the necessary examinations to make sure it is not serious. I want to thank the tournament for giving me the opportunity to play in this special event again.”

But the early loss dealt her an additional blow. With a ranking of 211, her first-round win over Christina McHale ensured she would rise above the cut-off ranking to enter the qualifying rounds at Wimbledon, but she needed to reach the semi-finals in Rome, where she has been the champion three times in her last five appearances, to qualify direct into the main draw. Now she will have to wait until the 20 June to discover whether Wimbledon will give its 2004 champion the required wild-card.

If the French Open is a guide, however, that decision is likely to be negative. While Sharapova was making her exit from Rome, the French Tennis Federation was broadcasting its decision on wild cards at Roland Garros, which begins on 28 May.

In announcing the decision, Bernard Giudicelli, President of the FFT, said: “It is my responsibility and my mission to protect the game and protect high standards of the game played without any ‘doping’ on the result, so that is our decision.”

He went on, in a statement addressed direct to Sharapova:

“I merely wished to say that I had decided not to award you the wild card that you had requested. No-one will ever be able to take away the two titles which you won here at Roland Garros, because you won them according to the rules, owing nothing to anyone.

“I read very carefully articles 100 and 101 of the Court of Arbitration for Sport which reduced the length of your ban. While it is true that the CAS reduced your ban, it agreed with the independent tribunal which stated that you had violated the anti-doping programme which applies to tennis, for which you were suspended for 15 months.”

Sharapova’s original two-year ban, which began at last year’s Australian Open, was later reduced to 15 months by the CAS, which decided that her continued use of meldonium after it had been added to the list of banned substances had not been an intentional violation.

Giudicelli continued:

“You served your ban with dignity and respect, and now it is in the past. Nevertheless, while wild cards can be awarded to players returning from injury, this cannot be the case for those coming back from doping bans.”

That is a comment subsequently refuted by the WTA’s chief executive, Steve Simon. In his own statement, he said:

“Wild cards are offered at tournaments’ sole discretion… What I do not agree with is the basis put forward by the FFT for their decision with respect to Sharapova. She has complied with the sanction imposed by CAS… There are no grounds for any member of the TADP to penalize any player beyond the sanctions set forth in the final decision resolving these matters.”

The grey area centres around whether a player who has slipped down the rankings due to a doping ban should be treated the same as one who, for example, has missed an extended period and lost ranking points due to injury. Many believe not, and that Sharapova should have to work her way back into contention. The concluding statement of Giudicelli suggests that he, for one, is firmly in that camp:

“It is now up to you, day by day, one tournament after the next, to find the strength within you to win more major titles, without owing anything to anyone.”

Certainly it is bold decision by the FFT, especially given that this year’s tournament will also be missing three-time champion Serena Williams due to pregnancy, as well as Victoria Azarenka, who is still on maternity leave. The day before the Sharapova decision, Roger Federer also confirmed that he will not play at this year’s French Open.

Sharapova will need, and will probably be awarded, wild cards to one or two grass tournaments to prepare for her Wimbledon comeback, whether she has to play three rounds of qualifying or gets that wild card into the main draw. Her options include the Aegon Classic in Birmingham and the Aegon International at Eastbourne.

And while the All England Club has already announced that qualifying rounds at Roehampton this year will, for the first time, require a £5 ticket in advance to help manage numbers and security, there may have to be some hasty reviews at those grass Premiers, too. Sharapova has always been a big draw: This summer, interest is sure to double.

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