Paris: Twice former champion Maria Sharapova was surprisingly snubbed by French Open organisers, who opted against handing the Russian a wildcard into this month’s claycourt grand slam on Tuesday.
The 30-year-old, who returned from a 15-month doping ban last month, had been expected to be fast-tracked into the qualifying competition for a tournament already without a host of leading players including Serena Williams.
However, in a French Tennis Federation (FFT) news conference broadcast on Facebook, FFT President Bernard Giudicelli announced that the 2012 and 2014 champion would play no part in this year’s tournament which starts later this month.
“You can get a wild card when you return from injury but you cannot get a wild card when returning from a doping suspension,” Giudicelli said. “I appreciate the media impact of Maria, I appreciate the broadcasters’ expectations but in conscience, it was not possible to go beyond the anti-doping code and beyond the application of the rules…
“She might be very disappointed, but it’s my responsibility to protect the game,” Giudicelli added.
Despite a semi-final run in Stuttgart in her first tournament back, her ranking, now at 211, was not high enough for her to gain an automatic place in the tournament, leaving the FFT with an awkward decision to make.
The news will be a big blow to former world number one Sharapova.
She had said she would “play the junior competition” if it meant she could compete at the French Open — a tournament that has provided some of her greatest career moments.
Sharapova rocked the tennis world when she announced last year that she had tested positive for heart drug meldonium at the Australian Open after failing to realise it had been added to WADA’s list of banned substances.
She had taken it for medical reasons for most of her career.
Sharapova’s return has been dogged by criticism with several leading players voicing their disapproval at the decision of WTA tournament organisers in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome to grant her a wildcard for those tournaments.
She reached the semi-finals in Stuttgart but was beaten early by one of her fiercest critics, Eugenie Bouchard, in Madrid.
The five-times grand slam champion is also sweating on her place at Wimbledon with the cut-off for direct entries into the main draw on Monday. She needs a semi-final run in Rome this week to claim a main draw spot at Wimbledon by right.
Her opening round win means that she should have a guaranteed slot in the Wimbledon qualifying tournament.