Five-time grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova has been given a wildcard to play in the Italian Open in May, organisers said on Wednesday, which sparked further debate over whether players returning from doping suspensions should be given invitations to tournaments rather than having to work their way back up the rankings.
The former world No1 makes her return to the circuit in Stuttgart in April after completing a 15-month doping ban.
“We officially announce the wildcard for the three-time Rome champion @MariaSharapova into the main draw,“ organisers announced on Twitter.
Sharapova hasn’t played on tour since testing positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.
An initial two-year ban by the International Tennis Federation was reduced to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
The Rome tournament runs from May 15 to May 21. She has also been handed a wildcard for the May 6-13 Madrid Open. Grand slam organisers might face a dilemma on whether they will invite Sharapova to play at Roland Garros or Wimbledon.
Sharapova is a two-time French Open champion but will not be able to play in Paris unless she receives a wildcard since the entry deadline for the tournament is before her return date.
For Wimbledon (July 3-16), the 2004 winner might actually make it into the event if she captures enough points in Stuttgart, Madrid, and Rome. But the All England Club might be faced with a predicament if Sharapova doesn’t make it into the draw via her own ranking.
As a grand slam champion, Sharapova can receive an infinite number of wildcards into tournaments.
Andy Murray told the Times in Dubai that he believed players returning from doping suspensions should not be given wildcards.
“I think you should really have to work your way back,” Murray told the British daily.
“However, the majority of tournaments are going to do what they think is best for their event.
“If they think having big names there is going to sell more seats, then they’re going to do that…
“She (Sharapova) has an opportunity to try to improve her ranking up until that point and potentially not need a wildcard (for Wimbledon),” he added. “But then if she doesn’t, that becomes Wimbledon’s decision and how they want to play that. I’m sure they’ll think long and hard about it and how they feel people will view it.”
Murray was asked to elaborate on his comments on Wednesday. He said: “I’m extremely clear on how I feel about anti-doping and I don’t know really what else to say about it.”
Roger Federer was not as dead-set in his verdict regarding the matter (wildcards for doping offenders) when asked about it in Dubai on Wednesday.
“Could see it either way, depending on who you are, and don’t know if it matters what the cause was for being banned, because at the end, it’s all sort of the same. Banned is banned, you know,” said Federer.
“It’s a tough one. I really don’t know what to answer on that one, to be quite honest.”
Andy Murray banished old memories of a heavy defeat to Guillermo Garcia-Lopez by cruising past the Spaniard 6-2, 6-0 on Wednesday night to reach the quarter-finals in Dubai for a fifth time in his career.
The world No1 needed just 72 minutes to take out Garcia-Lopez and described his form this week as “way better” than the start of the year.
Murray began his 2017 campaign by losing the Doha final to Novak Djokovic – which ended his 28-match winning streak – and then suffered a shock fourth round defeat to Mischa Zverev at the Australian Open.
After a five-week break, Murray returned to action in Dubai and has been convincing in his wins over Malek Jaziri and Garcia-Lopez in his first two rounds.
“It was way better than how I played at the beginning of the year, that’s for sure,” Murray said on Wednesday after his second round win.
“You know, playing aggressive, feeling more solid, you know, when I’m in position to dictate the points, I’m doing it, moving forward.
“I hit my forehand very well last couple of matches. I served better today. It’s been a good start. Obviously matches will get tougher, but I’m much happier with how I’m playing.”
The last time the two had met was in Indian Wells in 2012 when Garcia-Lopez claimed a comfortable win over Murray.
But Wednesday’s Garcia-Lopez was a different type of opponent. Ranked No97 in the world, the Spaniard only just ended an 11-match losing streak last week in Delray Beach and his opening round victory in Dubai over Viktor Troicki was just his second win of the season.
The first four games were a grind and took about half an hour to complete but Murray was in the zone soon after, breaking then consolidating for a 4-1 advantage.
The Brit broke again in game eight to seal the opening set.
Murray got his hands on two break points in his the Spaniard’s first service game of the second and he only needed one chance to inch ahead 2-0 on a long ball from his opponent.
The world No1 was in an untouchable mood and he opened up a 5-0 gap with a sensational volley only he can make look that easy.
The 29-year-old got his first match point on a forehand winner but Garcia-Lopez saved it with an overhead smash.
Murray closed out the contest on his second chance though when Garcia-Lopez sent a backhand into the net.
Murray was asked again about Sharapova & wildcards: Im extremely clear on how I feel about antidoping & yeah I dunno really what else to say— Reem Abulleil (@ReemAbulleil) March 1, 2017
“Often the start of the match is key, especially the way that that one got going. When I got the early break, pretty much was almost 30 minutes in and we’d only played four games,” said Murray, who next takes on Germany’s Philipp Kohlschreiber.
“Mentally, that was important for me, to be up at that stage.
“It could have gone either way, obviously, first few games. But being up at that stage helped, and then I loosened up a bit after that and played really well.”
Murray went to the net 12 times during the match and lost just one of those points up front.
“It’s something I used to do a lot more earlier in my career, and then sometimes you can get away from that,” said Murray.
““It’s obviously sometimes feel like it’s more high-risk going to the net, but if you trust your shot and you’re feeling confident and striking it well, when you’re in the middle of the court, it’s very difficult, especially on a surface like this, to make the passes.
“So, yeah, I think that the surface here allows it. The surface in Australia also allowed it, as well, and I used it to my advantage tonight.”
World No1 Andy Murray and seven-time champion Roger Federer both feature in a glittering evening session at the Dubai Duty Free Tennis Championships.
Scot Murray faces Guillermo García-Lopez in the round of 16 at 7pm while Federer comes up against Russian qualifier Evgeny Donskoy after the completion of that match.
Fourth seed Gael Monfils and Dan Evans will also go head to head earlier in the day on Centre Court.
See the complete schedule below: