Sports Tennis 17 May 2017 Maria Sharapova slam ...

Maria Sharapova slammed by Andy Murray, WTA shows support

DECCAN CHRONICLE WITH AGENCY INPUTS
Published May 17, 2017, 3:52 pm IST
Updated May 17, 2017, 5:06 pm IST
Maria Sharapova had been taking meldonium for years, but overlooked announcements by WADA that it added the drug to its banned list 2016.
Maria Sharapova, who won at Roland Garros in 2012 and 2014, has been denied a wildcard entry for the 2017 French Open. (Photo: AFP)
 Maria Sharapova, who won at Roland Garros in 2012 and 2014, has been denied a wildcard entry for the 2017 French Open. (Photo: AFP)

Paris: The head of women's tennis on Wednesday attacked the French tennis federation's refusal to grant Maria Sharapova a wildcard for the French Open as "groundless".

The Russian former world number one was told on Tuesday that despite serving her 15-month ban for doping she would have to miss the second Grand Slam of the season.

 

Announcing the decision, FFT president Bernard Guidicelli said he was sorry for Sharapova but added "it is my responsibility and my mission to respect the high standards of the game to be played without any doping."

WTA chief executive Steve Simon took issue with the FFT's hard line stance on the two-time French Open champion in a strongly worded statement.

Whilst acknowledging that wildcards were granted at a tournament's discretion, Simon said: "What I do not agree with is the basis put forward by the FFT for their decision with respect to Maria Sharapova.

 

"She has complied with the sanction imposed by CAS (the Court of Arbitration for Sport).

"The tennis anti-doping program (TADP) is a uniform effort supported by the Grand Slams, WTA, ITF and ATP.

"There are no grounds for any member of the TADP to penalise any player beyond the sanctions set forth in the final decisions resolving these matters."

The five-time Grand Slam champion was banned for two years for using meldonium, with the penalty later reduced by CAS which ruled she was not an intentional doper.

After the ban expired on April 26, the Russian returned to competition at the Stuttgart Open, reaching the semi-finals, and progressed to the last 32 of the Madrid Open, too late to earn herself a qualifying spot for Paris.

 

She is guaranteed a qualifying spot at Wimbledon in July after winning her opening match at the ongoing Rome Masters, although she missed a chance at direct entrance into the main draw after a second-round exit on Tuesday.

Sharapova, whose ranking has plummeted to 211, could have earned her spot at Wimbledon by reaching the semi-finals in Italy but retired from her match against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in the final set with a thigh injury.

"I apologise for having to withdraw from my match with a left thigh injury," the player said in a statement. "I will be getting all the necessary examinations to make sure it is not serious."

 

The 2012 and 2014 French Open winner has yet to publicly comment on her Roland Garros snub which was delivered by Guidicelli on Facebook Live, ahead of the May 28-June 11 tournament.

"Nobody can deprive her of her two titles at Roland Garros, but today I can't grant her the wildcard requested," he said.

"The titles won here, she won within the rules without owing anything to anyone.

"While wildcards exist for players returning from injury, there is nothing for a return from a doping ban," he added.

"I know the media dimension of Maria and I'm measuring the expectations of the public and sponsors, but in all conscience it didn't appear possible to me to go beyond the strict application of the world anti-doping code."

 

French Open tournament director Guy Forget had earlier Tuesday said the decision over whether Sharapova would receive a wild card was going to be "very controversial".

"As you talk with players, it's very controversial. So no matter what happens, there will be a lot of questions around that wildcard," Forget told the BBC.

Last month former Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard blasted Sharapova as a "cheater" and suggested the Russian should be kicked out of tennis for life.

"I don't think that's right. She's a cheater and so to me, I don't think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play that sport again," Bouchard, the world number 52, told TRT World while playing at the Istanbul Cup.

 

Sharapova's absence leaves the women's French Open field wide open with Serena Williams, a three-time champion in Paris, sitting out the rest of the season as she prepares to give birth to her first child.

Maria Sharapova's popularity doesn't earn a French Open wild card

Maria Sharapova's popularity and past success did not earn her the wild-card invitation she needed to get into the French Open after serving a 15-month doping ban.

"I'm very sorry for Maria, very sorry for her fans. They might be disappointed; she might be very disappointed," French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli said Tuesday in a live broadcast via Facebook. "But it's my responsibility, it's my mission, to protect the game and protect the high standards of the game."

 

Giudicelli said he personally told Sharapova of his ruling during a phone call on Tuesday. The French Open begins May 28.

Three other tournaments, including the Italian Open this week, have given her wild cards since her suspension ended last month.

"While there can be a wild card for return from injury, there can't be a wild card for return from doping," Giudicelli said.

A tournament may grant a wild card to any eligible player. WTA CEO Steve Simon said he disagreed with the French federation's reasoning.

"She has complied with the sanction imposed," Simon said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press. "There are no grounds for any member of the (tennis anti-doping program) to penalize any player beyond the sanctions set forth in the final decision resolving these matters."

 

Sharapova did not comment on Tuesday's announcement. She skipped a news conference after pulling out of a second-round match in Rome on Tuesday because of a left thigh injury.

She is a two-time champion at Roland Garros, the owner of a total of five major titles, a former No. 1-ranked player and one of the world's most recognizable athletes. She returned to the WTA tour last month after testing positive for the newly banned heart drug meldonium at the Australian Open in January 2016.

Giudicelli acknowledged that plenty of fans would have wanted to see Sharapova play in Paris, where the French Open starts May 28.

 

"I read the results of several polls and I could see that about two-thirds were in favor of Maria being granted a wild card. Of course I felt some pressure," he said. "We did not want to treat Maria Sharapova differently."

He felt that offering Sharapova a short cut into the main draw would send the wrong message in the fight against doping in sports.

"I know that a lot of people might be disappointed by this decision," he said. "But nevertheless Roland Garros invests a lot - along with the other Grand Slams, the ATP, and the WTA - into the fight against doping. It was inconceivable to take a decision that would have been the opposite of this."

 

Sharapova, who has titles at all four majors, won at Roland Garros in 2012 and 2014.

Thanks to results via wild-card entries at her first two tournaments, she lifted her world ranking to outside the top 200 this week. But that wasn't good enough to make the cut even for the qualifying field at Roland Garros, so she will miss the tournament for a second straight year.

Sharapova initially was given a two-year suspension after testing positive for the banned heart drug meldonium at last year's Australian Open.

The Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced the ban on appeal, ruling she bore "less than significant fault" in the case and she could not "be considered to be an intentional doper." Sharapova had been taking meldonium for many years, but overlooked announcements by WADA that it added the drug to its banned list on Jan. 1, 2016.

 

"The Court of Arbitration reduced her suspension but also recognized that Maria was the sole person responsible for her misfortune," Giudicelli said. "It's not down to me to question that decision and, I repeat, we must respect decisions that were taken."

Top-ranked players Angelique Kerber and Andy Murray spoke out against Sharapova receiving wild cards.

“The French have decided what they want to do, and that’s fine with me,” Murray was quoted as saying in news.com.au.

Meanwhile Eugenie Bouchard openly called her a "cheater" who should be banned for life.

 

Many players believed Sharapova should have had to start in bottom-rung tournaments to improve her ranking, rather than receive free passes into events on the main tour.

She was given wild cards at Stuttgart and Madrid before the Italian Open this week. She was a past champion at all three.

"Must be tough for her, but it's the way it is," Novak Djokovic said in Rome about the French Open ruling. "In some tournaments, she's going to get that help in wild card and invitation; some not. Unfortunately, it's (a) Grand Slam, which is, for sure, for her, a big one."

 

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