Former world No1 Sharapova returned to action last month after a 15-month ban for testing positive for the banned substance meldonium. This week, she was refused a wild card for the French Open, with French Tennis Federation [FFT] president Bernard Giudicelli saying: ‘There can be a wild card for the return from injuries; there cannot be a wild card for the return from doping.”
While many current and former tennis players agree with the FFT’s stance, chief executive of the Women’s Tennis Association Steve Simon was clearly on her side, saying this week that they had “no grounds to punish her further”.
Now the LTA appear firmly on Sharapova’s side, that may work in her favour when the All England Club sub-committee meet on June 20 to decide which players will be fast-tracked into the first round proper of Wimbledon. She has accumulated enough points already to enter qualifying for the event.
LTA chief executive Michael Downey, who is to step down this summer, said: “We have received a two-year commitment from one of the most famous athletes in the world, Maria Sharapova, to play the Aegon Classic Birmingham.
“In return we are providing Maria with a main draw wild card for this year. This wasn’t a decision we took lightly and we recognise not everyone will agree with it, however Maria has served her ban in full and is now back playing high-quality tennis.
“Now that Maria has earned direct entry into Wimbledon qualifying, we want to give British tennis fans the chance to see her compete on grass here in Britain beforehand.”
Andy Murray is arguably the most prominent current tennis player to have voiced his concerns over Sharapova, saying returning offenders should have to work their way back up. Former Wimbledon champion Pat Cash said this week that he fully supported the FFT’s decision to refuse her a wild card, adding that he hoped Wimbledon would follow suit.
Whether that happens now given the LTA’s stance remains to be seen. Wimbledon donates a large share of its profits to the LTA but the grand slam oversees its own tournament independently of the governing body.
Sharapova said: “I’m really excited to be coming back to Birmingham this year to play on the grass as part of my build up to Wimbledon and I thank the LTA for this opportunity.
“I have some great memories of playing there over the years, including winning the title on two previous occasions.”
Sharapova was initially given a two-year ban for using meldonium. This was reduced to 15 months on appeal by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Sharapova claimed she had been using the drug since 2006 to treat a recurring viral illness. A medical expert called upon by Sharapova to give evidence said the prescription had been justified “both as a cardio-protective agent and as a preventative agent for diabetes”.
Meldonium appeared on the World Anti-Doping Association’s banned list in 2016, with Sharapova claiming not to have opened the email which was sent to her outlining that it was now banned.
WADA claim the drug has “a positive effect on energy metabolism and stamina”.
Johanna Konta crashed out of the Italian Open yesterday at the third-round stage losing 6-1, 3-6, 6-1 in just under two hours to Venus Williams.
Source : EXPRESS