Ever since it was announced Maria Sharapova’s ban for a failed a drugs test at last year’s Australian Open for meldonium was reduced, many questions have been asked surrounding her return to the game. Most have been answered. She will be back next week at the WTA Premier event in Stuttgart, an event which she won in 2012, 2013, and 2014, beating great players in Victoria Azarenka, Li Na, and Caroline Wozniacki in those respective finals.
However, there is one big question that hasn’t been answered, and that’s if she will get a wildcard into Roland Garros. As it stands she has not only got one to Stuttgart, but additionally Madrid and Rome. To many, including world number eight Agnieszka Radwanska, she does not deserve one into Roland Garros, saying that “She should win her place thanks to good results”. Of course if we look at the WTA rulebook there is no exact requirement for why a player should get a wildcard, and that brings us to reasons why Maria Sharapova does deserve a wildcard into the only Major on clay.
1. There are always ‘undeserving’ wildcards
The truth is every year, especially at the Grand Slams; many players who do not “deserve” to be in the draw get in. Reasons for this are perhaps unfair; Brits get wildcards to Wimbledon as we see every year and Australians into the Australian Open and so on. Just look at Alex Bogdanovic at Wimbledon with his wildcards, eight in total from 2002-2009 without a single win. If that is not as undeserving as a wildcard gets then I am not sure what is. So just because of their nationality they get in? Is that not unfair? How have they exactly “won” their place, as Radwanska wants Sharapova to do.
Sure, to many she does not deserve a wildcard but that does not change the fact that every year in tons of events we find players who do not deserve them who get one. So whether it’s because of a player’s nationality, past drugs ban or other reason, there’s tons of undeserving wildcards always given, and there is no reason to make such a big deal aboutSharapova’s case.
2. Her Popularity
As mentioned before, many events do often give wildcards to home favourites, which is seen as a reason for fans to get behind their players and attract attention to the event. The same can be said for big names such as former Wimbledon champion Lleyton Hewitt getting one for Wimbledon in 2015. Fans want to see these names in action and Maria Sharapova will be no different.
Sure, she is not French but there is a reason she was once the highest paid sportswoman in the world; she attracts fans and is a huge draw to every event she plays. This explains why she has already received wildcards into Stuttgart, Madrid, and Rome. If wildcards are going to be given by events to attract popularity and crowds then it is logical to give one to the former world number one.
Furthermore, many big female names will be absent from the event. Serena Williams recently announced she is 20 weeks pregnant, Victoria Azarenka is yet to return to tour, and two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova is only possibly playing.
3. Maria Sharapova is a former champion, not once, but twice
As mentioned earlier, Maria Sharapova was banned for taking meldonium, a substance that was only banned a few weeks prior to her failed drug test. She had actually been taking the substance for ten years up until that point when it was allowed. Sure it is her fault for not knowing it was recently banned but that doesn’t change the fact she has won the French Open twice, both within the last five years.
If anything, it would be disrespectful not to give her a wildcard. At the end of the day she won two titles legitimately and is one of the best players on clay. She has played a huge part in the event the last few years and deserves a chance to be part of this year’s.
4. It’s a Grand Slam
Unlike regular WTA events, Grand Slams are ITF events and this makes a difference. While of course every event, WTA or ITF, wants to attracts huge crowds, make fans happy and what not, Grand Slams are the pinnacle of our sport. That’s why the ITF’s priority should be doing what is best for tennis in general.
Keeping that in mind, a Grand Slam should be filled with the biggest and best names in the sport lining it up against one another. If Sharapova does not receive a wildcard despite being eligible to play then I quite honestly cannot see how it is good for the sport. These events should have the strongest fields possible to set them apart from regular events and give viewers the best tennis can offer.
With her return days away, Sharapova’s agent Max Eisenbud decided to break his silence after these comments from Radwanska. Here he goes: pic.twitter.com/WXUVxooeK5
— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) April 21, 2017
This relates perfectly to what Maria Sharapova’s agent said in response to the likes of Radwanska and Wozniacki being against the Russian superstar getting a wildcard. Calling both “journeymen” and that this is their “last chance to win a slam” due to “NO Serena, NO Maria, NO Vika and NO Petra”, it sums up how weak this major could be field wise. Of course the ITF cannot get Serena Williams and Azarenka to play for obvious reasons but when there is a chance of strengthening a field and making the sport look better through Maria Sharapova being in the event, it surely has to be taken.