Moscow - The
wild card tournament invitations awaiting Maria Sharapova when she
returns from a 15-month doping ban next month divided opinion among
players at Indian Wells.
"This is, all over, a strange situation," Germany's Angelique Kerber
said of the Stuttgart WTA tournament's decision to issue a wild card to
Sharapova, who will play her first match since the 2016 Australian Open
on April 26 - just hours after her ban for using meldonium ends.
"I don't know what to say about this because it's a little bit
strange for the other players that somebody can just walk on site
on Wednesday and play on Wednesday," added Kerber, who is set to return to
number one in the world after Serena Williams' withdrawal from the
tournament in the California desert.
"This is a German tournament," said Kerber, the reigning Stuttgart
champion who indicated that there were plenty of German players who
could benefit from a wild card.
Sharapova, without any world ranking to gain direct access to
tournaments in the wake of her ban, has also been issued wild cards to
play in Rome and Madrid.
She was also to meet with the French Tennis Federation to plead her
case for a wild card at Roland Garros, where she is a two-time champion,
although federation officials have voiced reservations about issuing a
wild card to someone convicted of a doping offense.
France's world number eight Jo-Wilfried Tsonga said he didn't think
five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova should get a French Open wild
"I would not do it," he said. "It's like if you give a sweet to a kid
who did a bad thing, it's going to do it again. It sends the wrong
Men's number one Andy Murray hit out at the wild cards already issued
Sharapova, telling The Times last week that he believed a player
"should have to work your way back" from a drugs ban."
Asked about it again at Indian Wells, Murray acknowledged that the
logistics of accommodating a star of Sharapova's magnitude could be
difficult for the lower-level tournaments she would need to play to
rebuild her ranking.
"The tournaments are well within their rights to give a wild card, there's nothing saying they can't," he said.
"There's no rule in place, so the tournaments are going to do what
they think is best for their event. But should you get a wild card into
every event when you come back? I'm not sure about that. That's
something that maybe should be looked at."
Romanian Simona Halep thinks Sharapova's past achievements justify the wild cards.
"She was number one in the world and won Grand Slam titles," Halep
said. "But even without wild cards she could come back easily.
"Her return is good for tennis. She is impatient, she wants to play and win."
But a tweet from the WTA, since taken down, indicating that
Sharapova's fellow players were all eagerly awaiting her return, drew a
sharp response from French player Alize Cornet who tweeted: "@WTA excuse
Cornet's tweet was also deleted - a sign perhaps of the divisiveness of the issue.
"The question of wild cards is complicated, I'm glad I'm not in
charge of their attribution," said Russian veteran Svetlana Kuznetsova.
"I've been supportive to her because I don't think this thing was
really that serious," Kuznetsova said of Sharapova, whose two-year ban
was reduced to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
"I understand, because if we talk about cheaters, people who cheat, you would say, 'Why would cheaters get a wild card?'
"But then if there is some mistake, you know, it's a little bit of a
different story. But it's really hard to say. I understand all the