French could make it hard for star

FIGHTING FIT: Maria Sharapova resumes her career in Stuttgart

Maria Sharapova’s hopes of a rapid return to grand slam tennis are likely to be set back by the French ruling body’s refusal to grant her automatic entry into the main draw for Roland Garros.

However, it is understood that Sharapova has a strong chance of receiving a wild card entry for the opening slam of the season next month.

As Sharapova prepares for her comeback from a drugs ban in Stuttgart today, she could be given a chance of making the French Open even if she fails to reach the final here on Sunday – the minimum requirement for her to earn a place in the slam’s preliminary tournament by right.

Last month, French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli met Sharapova in Los Angeles and sounded unconvinced about her suitability for a main-draw wild card – a pass usually given to emerging home nation talents or well-known players returning from injury.

“We will have to reflect on it . [It] is about an important topic like doping,” Giudicelli, who has promised to deliver his verdict in the middle of next month, said.

But by inviting Sharapova into the qualifying event, the FFT would win on every level.

While this could not be portrayed as a craven surrender to her profile and influence, it would give a huge boost to the preliminary week at Roland Garros – and the most likely end result would still find Sharapova reaching the main draw via three wins over low-ranked opponents.

Sharapova may carry the stigma of a positive doping test but she is also a global icon.

This makes her especially valuable at a time when the absence of pregnant Serena Williams, as well as the possible unavailability of new mother Victoria Azarenka and knife-attack victim Petra Kvitova could leave women’s draws short of star quality.

Sharapova ends her 15-month ban today with a first-round match against Italy’s Roberta Vinci. – The Telegraph

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