Maria Sharapova is not focusing on US Open wildcard, makes winning return in Stanford

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Back to business: Maria Sharapova.

Maria Sharapova is looking to avoid all drama surrounding a potential wildcard for the upcoming US Open, the Russian said on Monday after making a winning return at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford.

The Russian ex-world No1 was denied a wildcard by French Open organisers last May, making her unable to compete at a Grand Slam she has won twice. Her ranking was too low following a 15-month doping suspension to give her direct entry into Roland Garros, and the French Tennis Federation (FFT) refused to invite her on the basis of “protecting the integrity of the sport”.

She then missed Wimbledon qualifying because of a thigh injury and has returned to action this week following a two-and-a-half-month break. Competing in the United States for the first time since March 2015, Sharapova fought past Jennifer Brady 6-1, 4-6, 6-0 to make the Stanford second round. She next takes on Ukrainian No7 seed Lesia Tsurenko.

Sharapova, currently ranked No171 in the world, will need a wildcard if she were to gain direct entry into the US Open main draw; otherwise, the 30-year-old would have to compete in the qualifying tournament.

The topic of Sharapova and wildcards has been a controversial one since she returned from her suspension in April and she is hoping to avoid that ahead of the final Grand Slam of the year.

“It’s not something that I’m focusing on,” Sharapova told reporters on Monday when asked about whether she was expecting a US Open wildcard.

“When I started playing on the clay season, there was so much focus on the French Open wildcard, and Wimbledon, and really around the Grand Slams. And I understand that the Grand Slams are the big events, they’re the ones you want to compete at.

“But when you’ve been away from the game for such a long period of time, my focus is solely on the event that I’m playing at and for me playing here is just as big, and I’ll take away a lot of positives, maybe a few negatives, and I’ll have to work through those just as much as I would at the US Open.

“So my mind is not there. So much was put on the decision of the wildcard of the French Open and it didn’t work out. And that’s not really my frame of mind today and I’m not looking forward to what’s going to happen in five weeks.”

Sharapova has so far received invites for Stuttgart, Madrid, Rome, Stanford, Toronto and Cincinnati this season, and it’s likely she will get one for the US Open, which she won in 2006. That may come to the dismay of a number of her peers, who have been harsh critics of Sharapova since she tested positive for meldonium.

Did that negative reaction from some of her fellow players come as a surprise?

“I don’t think it was really an element of being surprised or not. I’m very fortunate and grateful for the tournaments that have provided me wildcards and I would say that 99 per cent of them have at this point, so I’m very thankful,” said Sharapova.

“A lot of these events I’ve played at before, and I have a history with the people and the fans and the tournament itself, so the opportunities that I have, I’m taking it, and I want to perform, I want to perform well and it means a lot to me to be here.”

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