The tennis world has been abuzz for a few weeks now about one topic of conversation–will the French Tennis Federation (FFT, which is short for Fédération Française de Tennis) grant Maria Sharapova a Wild Card into this year’s French Open? Arguments have been made both for and against by just about every tennis outlet. Plenty of players, both former and current, have weighed in on the issue as well.
This was never going to be an easy decision for the FFT and new French Open tournament director Guy Forget. The two issues at hand are really simple. Sharapova is a star that draws lots of fans to both the stands and television sets. When she plays, especially at a Grand Slam, sports fans talk about tennis. On the other hand, she received a 15-month ban for using the newly-banned substance Meldonium, so maybe it would send the wrong message about doping to let her back into the higher-level tournaments so quickly.
The tournament decided to wait until as late as reasonably possible to make a decision, so it announced that it would be telling the world the decision on Sharapova’s Wild Card via Facebook Live on May 16th. This gave the tournament time to judge whether developing events could influence the decision (for example, Serena Williams’ withdrawal from the tournament due to pregnancy has to have had some impact on the tournament’s need for another player with huge name recognition), as well as to get a better feel for the pulse of the tennis community and fans on what the right thing to do is. Additionally, waiting through Madrid and part of Rome gave the FFT more time to evaluate her level of play.
FFT president Bernard Guidicelli announced all 16 men’s and women’s Wild Cards via Facebook Live. In the end, the tournament decided not to give Sharapova a Wild Card. The potential backlash and the sign that it would send to high-profile players about what the ITF might be willing to overlook when coming back from doping bans were just too much, and the FFT did not give Sharapova an easy way back into the tournament. This decision must have been especially difficult after Federer’s surprising withdrawal from the tournament yesterday had to make the FFT feel more pressure to get another big name in the draw.
Sharapova also was not granted a Wild Card into qualifying, as Giudicelli spoke about how it would not be right to grant her a Wild Card after her ranking was lost due to breaking rules. He apologized to Sharapova and her fans, but he said he owes it to the game to be fair, which he felt that giving a Wild Card to Sharapova would not be.
Sharapova is still competing in Rome, and faces Mirjana Lucic-Baroni about half an hour after this announcement was made. One more win in Rome will get her ranking high enough to earn her way directly into qualifying for Wimbledon, and a deep run her could earn her a direct spot into Wimbledon.
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