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.”