Maria Sharapova recently returned to the Grand Slam spotlight at the US Open after completing a 15 month doping ban. The 2006 champion was granted a wildcard to compete by the tournament. A gesture which was not offered by the French Open earlier this year.
Sharapova was originally banned for 2 years after testing positive for heart drug meldonium at the Australian Open 2016. This ban was reduced to 15 months when it was found that Sharapova carried “less than significant fault” in the case and that she could not “be considered to be an intentional doper.”
Players who haven’t played in over a year have their rankings wiped. That meant, Sharapova started the season with a clean slate. So in order to play in the big tournaments, Sharapova would need to play in qualifying rounds or be offered a wildcard. Since she completed her ban there has been much debate whether Sharapova should be granted wildcards for tournaments.
Since her return Sharapova has been granted wildcards for many tournaments, like the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart, the Madrid Open, and the Italian Open in Rome. These tournaments have granted Sharapova wildcards as they know she will attract big crowds and help promote the tournament. An argument could be made that she has served her sentence and it has ruled that she was not an intentional doper. Also she is a veteran of the game who has earnt her stripes in the past, so why not give her a wildcard.
However, many of Sharapova’s peers have not reacted positively to her being granted wildcards. Many WTA Tour regulars such as Caroline Wozniacki, Dominika Cibulkova, Kristina Mladenovic, Agnieszka Radwanska, Eugenie Bouchard, Roberta Vinci and Mirjana Lucic Baroni have all been critical of tournaments offering Sharapova wildcards as they feel it brings the game in to disrepute. They feel she should have to participate in the qualifying rounds like any other player who doesn’t rank high enough. With some feeling she should have received a lifetime ban.
The biggest blow to Sharapova since her return came earlier this summer when she was refused a wildcard to the French Open. French Tennis Federation President Bernard Giudicelli stated;
"I'm very sorry for Maria, very sorry for her fans. They might be disappointed; she might be very disappointed," Giudicelli said. "But it's my responsibility, it's my mission, to protect the game and protect the high standards of the game."
Many of Sharapova’s fans found this decision harsh, but it sent a strong message out to the world against doping.
Sharapova’s return to Grand Slam tennis at the US Open was welcomed by her fans but there was much bitterness in the locker room. Much annoyance was caused by the decision to play her second round match on the court at the Arthur Ashe Stadium. If you consider the rank of Sharapova and her opponent, this was a misguided decision. Even if fans enjoyed it. It begs the question, were standards compromised in favour of publicity and revenue.
Sharapova to her credit has reacted positively since her return, even when she has been refused wildcards and forced to play in qualifying rounds. She stated;
“If this is what it takes to rise up again, then I am in it all the way, every day. No words, games, or actions will ever stop me from reaching my own dreams. And I have many.”
Considering she has served her sentence, I believe Sharapova is entitled to a second chance. But, the red carpet shouldn’t be rolled out for her and she should not receive preferential treatment. If she really is a great of the sport, she should be able to rise again on her own merit.