Maria Sharapova Prepares For Possible Wildcard Entry Into U.S Open

Maria Sharapova Prepares For Possible Wildcard Entry Into U.S Open

Maria Sharapova is preparing for her first WTA tournament in America since returning to pro tennis after her suspension, but her eyes are on a bigger prize: a trip to the U.S. Open.

However, the Russian former number-one is doing so amid a swirl of controversy, as many of her peers continue to express scrutiny for the 30-year-old’s return to the sport, from which she was banned in 2016 for using meldonium, a substance usually prescribed for heart conditions. Sharapova is set to make a return to North American WTA Tour events at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, California, next week, at the Rogers Cup in Toronto soon after and the Western & Southern Open, in Cincinnati. These less prominent tournaments are still of crucial importance to Sharapova, who can use them to continue her ongoing efforts to get back up to speed while awaiting word as to whether she will be given a wildcard entry in the U.S. Open in August.

The possibility of Sharapova getting into the U.S. Open, a Grand Slam tournament, after being disallowed from participation in the French Open and the Australian Open (she had to withdraw from Wimbledon due to injury) is what has her peers riled up. Strictly speaking, that isn’t true, as many fellow tennis pros haven’t stopped being riled up since it was announced last March that Sharapova was being put on a two-year suspension from the sport. A sizeable majority of the big names in tennis, from Andy Murray to Serena Williams to John McEnroe, got in line to condemn her on a professional and sometimes personal basis whether or not she intended to take a banned substance which had only been banned two months before.

Sharapova has always contended she’d been taking meldonium since 2006 to treat a magnesium deficiency and a mild heart irregularity upon doctor’s orders. Furthermore, Don Catlin, one of the founders of modern anti-doping testing and the scientific director of the Banned Substances Control group, said the drug doesn’t have any proven performance-enhancing properties. Naturally, the Russian Tennis Federation circled the wagons around the country’s biggest tennis star, but endorsement from that body probably did her more harm than good given the anti-Russian bias prevalent across most polite circles in recent years.

Despite being handed a two-year ban, Sharapova returned to pro competition after 15 months. The Court of Arbitration for Sport issued a ruling in October of 2016 that, though Sharapova did commit an anti-doping violation, but she wasn’t significantly at fault. The Court’s rational was that Sharapova did not knowingly take a prohibited substance, but she did bear some degree of fault, having not kept up with what drugs were banned by World Anti-Doping Agency, so 15 months was a sufficient punishment.

Her first tournament back after more than a year away from the sport came this April, when she was given permission to enter the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany, where she fell in the semi-finals. Since then, she competed at tournaments in Madrid and Rome, falling in the second round in both cases, climbing her way slowly up to a world ranking of 173 overall.

So now we wait: will she get approval to participate at the U.S. Open or won’t she? A not insignificant amount of bettors are already laying money down that she’ll win the whole thing outright. Bovada has her at +700 to win the women’s tournament, same as two-time Grand Slam winner Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who frankly expressed her personal dislike for Sharapova in the wake of the doping suspension. Azarenka just returned to the sport herself, though she was out on maternity leave.

The two women, longtime rivals who split at roughly 50 percent in 15 matches against each other, could face off again in Cincinnati on come mid-August. Whatever criticisms levied against her, Sharapova seems encouraged by the intense support she’s gotten from her dedicated fanbase. She wrote a length column for The Players’ Tribune in which she expressed her gratitude for those that stuck with while so much of the sporting world was against her and probably still doesn’t want to see her make a comeback.

She also used some ink to dish on the social media-obsessed attitude of some competitors on the WTA tour, who Sharapova said are hungry for attention and validation. Sharapova said she’s never been someone that wants to be known or loved or even understood by everyone, much less the community of tennis pros that came out against her.

As for her upcoming tournaments, Sharapova said her dozens or critics will show up regardless, but so will the thousands of fans that have her back. USA online sportsbooks will give you one guess as to which group she cares more about.