WTA chief attacks Sharapova's French Open snub

Maria Sharapova (AFP)
Maria Sharapova (AFP)

Paris - The head of women's tennis on Wednesday attacked the French tennis federation's refusal to grant Maria Sharapova a wild card 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 on-going 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 publically 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 wild card requested," he said.

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

"While wild cards 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 on 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.

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