If Maria Sharapova thought she would be welcomed back to the WTA Tour with open arms, then she is in for quite a shock.A number of top female players are unhappy with the fact that Sharapova will be given a wildcard into the Stuttgart Open next month. The Russian is a three-time winner of the event.
It will be the first tournament Sharapova has played since the Australian Open in January of last year due to being found with the banned drug meldonium in her system.
The initial suspension was for two years, but on appeal in October last year, it was reduced to 15 months.
With the ban being backdated to January 2016, it means that the five-time Grand Slam winner is free to play in April.
However, the main controversy is not so much about the ban ending, it is more to do with her free pass into the Stuttgart tournament.
Her ban officially ends on April 26, which is already three days into the tournament, but the organisers have still seen fit to give Sharapova a wildcard and they are not in breach of rules regarding handing out wildcards.
However, The Daily Mail reported that there was a backlash to the decision from her fellow tour professionals.
World number four Dominika Cibulkova spoke out about the decision, saying: “I don’t think it’s right, for me it’s not OK and I have spoken to some other players and nobody is OK with it and it’s all a little strange.”
Cibulkova is one of the few players on the female tour to discuss the situation with Sharapova in a public forum and she went further saying she should have returned at a smaller tournament.
“It’s not about her, but everyone who was doping should start from zero,” Cibulkova said.
Cibulkova’s comment alludes to the fact that there are two smaller tournaments starting in Prague and Rabat the following week which may have been more suitable environments to start her career again.
British number one Johanna Konta struck a diplomatic tone, not willing to offer too much of an opinion either way.
Konta said: “It’s not an incredibly simple thing to decide on and I don’t have much of an opinion.”
Konta was beaten by Sharapova in Wimbledon 2015 where it was later found that the Russian had taken meldonium six times in the same week they played each other.
In the day and age of bland quotes from athletes, it is refreshing to get a bit of raw honesty from Cibulkova. One thing is certain, it will be a not to be missed clash the next time they meet in a tournament. — Givemesport
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