Maria Sharapova's return from suspension sparking controversy, debate

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Maria Sharapova's return from a drug suspension is sparking controversy and debate about her treatment and what the French Open will do. File photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI.
Maria Sharapova's return from a drug suspension is sparking controversy and debate about her treatment and what the French Open will do. File photo by Hugo Philpott/UPI. | License Photo

Maria Sharapova plays her first match on Wednesday after a 15-month suspension and her return is sparking plenty of debate.

Several players were upset that Sharapova was handed a wild card into the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany, where she faces Italy's Roberta Vinci on Wednesday night on the very first day she is eligible to play again.


More players are watching how the French Open handles the situation involving Sharapova, who drew the suspension after testing positive for the banned substance meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.

French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli indicated that no decision has been made but published reports indicate that Sharapova will likely get a wild card into French Open qualifying and not the main draw.

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The wild cards won't be publicly announced until mid-May and the situation will be observed closely with Giudicelli expressing in the past that he is against doping.

"I hope that president Bernard Giudicelli holds firm on what he initially said and doesn't offer her a wild-card for Roland Garros," French player Alize Cornet said at a press conference in Stuttgart.

"A player who has tested positive should start from scratch like everyone else and win her place back. You shouldn't roll out the red carpet for her. Unfortunately tennis remains a business ... but, morally, it's not good."

Sharapova was initially suspended for 24 months but had her penalty reduced by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Sharapova, 30, said she had taken meldonium for several years for medical reasons, and insisted she didn't know it was added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's banned list of substances.

The doping penalty hurt Sharapova's reputation and WTA CEO Steve Simon says Sharapova has paid the price for her actions and should be welcomed back to the sport.

"Maria is a star," Simon said. "There's going to be a big impact. You can see the excitement about Wednesday. There are people on all sides of the fence, but it's a great story. We wish her success. She served her penalty and we look forward to having her back."

The five-time Grand Slam winner won't receive a lot of friendly welcomes when she steps onto the tennis grounds on Wednesday.

In addition to Cornet, the list of players who have expressed disapproval over Sharapova being granted a wild card into this week's tournament include World No. 2 Angelique Kerber, World No. 5 Simona Halep, World No. 8 Agnieszka Radwanska and World No. 11 Caroline Wozniacki.

Halep had originally expressed support for Sharapova to receive a wild card but has changed her tune now that the tournament is underway.

"In my opinion, for the kids, for the young players, it's not OK to help with wild-card players who have been banned for doping," Halep said.

Cornet remained even more forceful in her stance against Sharapova.

"I find it shameful that the WTA is promoting a player who tested positive."

Former tennis pro Kim Clijsters, now serving in a "legend ambassador" role for the WTA, said it is time for everyone to move on.

"I think she's done her time," Clijsters said. "She has done hard punishment. I was disappointed and surprised when the news came out, but I think she has done her punishment. She is restarting her career with zero ranking points and has to work her way back."

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