Sharapova to learn Paris fate May 15

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Maria Sharapova is going to have to play the waiting game.

The 30-year-old will return to tennis Wednesday in Stuttgart after serving a 15-month doping suspension. But she won’t find out if she’ll be granted a wild card into next month’s French Open until May 15. That’s two weeks before the main draw begins in Paris.

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Sharapova has won Roland Garros twice, in 2012 and 2014.

She and Serena Williams are undoubtedly the two most well-known, recognizable stars in the women’s game. But the absence of Williams – assured after the American star’s pregnancy was announced Wednesday – has no bearing on the decision, new federation president Bernard Giudicelli told the media Thursday.

“Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova are two separate cases. We’re organizing a Grand Slam tournament, not a ‘casting’,” Giudicelli asid.

In theory, the Russian could get into the qualifying on merit if she manages to do well in Stuttgart next week. The first official day Sharapova is allowed to play (April 26) falls on the Wednesday in the middle of the event. Serendipitously, the tournament (sponsored by Porsche, also a major Sharapova sponsor) could maneuver to get Sharapova a Wednesday start.

That’s not unusual in a tournament with a 28-player draw. The four top seeds have a first-round bye and need only play four matches to win it, thus allowing for a later start. But Sharapova, with a zero ranking and in on a wild card, is unseeded.

Slight possibility of a qualifying berth

She could, theoretically, earn her own way into the qualifying under a rule change that has been in place the last few years, since the return of former No. 1 Justine Henin after a short retirement.

Previously, a player needed to earn ranking points in three tournaments before their name would appear on the list. After Henin came back, unranked, as a dangerous floater at the Australian Open in 2010, she knocked off world No. 5 Elena Dementieva early in the event and reached the final.  The rule was modified after that.

Sharapova will be back on the WTA computer after one event as long as she earns 10 or more points. She would earn 100 points for winning her first-round match in Stuttgart. But to rise high enough to make the cut for the French Open qualifying (the deadline is May 1), she likely would have to reach the final. The 185 points Sharapova would earn for reaching the semis would put her just outside the top 250. Unless there are a lot of no-shows, that wouldn’t be high enough.

You’d have to think the French federation will also consider offering Sharapova a wild card into the qualifying. A compromise meant to “put her in her place,” or something along those lines. One they think she probably would turn down, but wouldn’t make them look like total bad guys. Who knows?

The waiting game

Giudicelli didn’t indicate why the tournament planned to wait so long. Previous statements indicate he’s not particularly leaning towards granting Sharapova leave to play. Back in March, in the early weeks of his tenure as French Federation president, he spoke about “integrity” as being one of the pledges of his new administration. “We can’t decide on one side to increase funds earmarked for the fight against doping and on the other … (invite her),” he said back then.

Sharapova
Sharapova with Rafael Nadal and former FFT president Jean Gachassin at the 2015 draw ceremony. We’re thinking Gachassin, a major fan, would have let her in. (Stephanie Myles/Tennis.Life)

The French federation’s track record would indicate little concern for the marquee value of the women’s field anyway. Generally, its focus has been on the men, unfortunately setting the tone across France. Just ask the French female players about that one.

From what we’ve read, it appears Wimbledon is waiting to see what the French Open does before it pronounces itself on the same issue.

So, as Sharapova returns, a lot of question marks remain about how busy her summer will be.

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