Maria Sharapova likely will still need a wild card to get into the Premier-level WTA tournament in Toronto this August.
So the Rogers Cup will give her one.
“Maria is a Grand Slam champion and a fan favourite. She has served her suspension and we know our guests will be excited to see her play,” Toronto Rogers Cup tournament director Karl Hale said in a press release. “She will join what is set to be a star-studded field, as we look forward to welcoming the best of women’s tennis back to Toronto this summer.”
For the Canadian events, the women and men alternate between Montreal and Toronto. This summer, the women will be in Toronto.
The tournament is referred to as a “virtual joint event” with the ATP. But for practical purposes, the men have theirs and the women theirs, in a different city.
Over the last few years, since the Cincinnati tournament held the following week raised the status of its women’s event and invested significantly in infrastructure, the two Canadian tournaments have been played the same week instead of back-to-back as they were for many years.
All about the Benjamins
Unlike when the women are in Montreal, the attendance drops off significantly for them in Toronto, compared to the men. That’s by Rogers Cup standards; by the measure of nearly every other WTA-only event, Canada remains the gold standard.
So the circumstances are different than they were last week, when the French federation declined to issue a wild-card invitation to Sharapova for the French Open.
For the Rogers Cup, the addition of the former No. 1 to a field that will not have Serena Williams is purely a business call. It will hope for a boost in attendance because of the interest in the Russian, whose star power reaches beyond dedicated tennis fans.
But that doesn’t mean there weren’t extended discussions within Tennis Canada about whether or not it was a good idea. There were.
Some of Sharapova’s previous invitations to tournaments came in places where IMG (Sharapova’s management company) had a stake. Or, one of Sharapova’s personal sponsors (like Porsche in Stuttgart) was prominent. Or the tournament was otherwise privately owned.
The Rogers Cup is owned and operated by a national federation, Tennis Canada. That’s a similar structure to that of the Grand Slam tournaments. But the tournaments themselves are under the aegis of the ATP and WTA Tour, not the International Tennis Federation. Still, it means there are more considerations than mere money on the table when making a decision on this type of thing.
In the end, though, money won out.
The entry deadline for the Rogers Cup is coming up quickly – June 26.
That doesn’t even give Sharapova an opportunity to qualify and amass ranking points at Wimbledon. All she has left to play before that date is the grass-court tuneup event in Birmingham. It’s a Premier-level tournament, but the 470 points she would earn for winning the title would only put her just inside the top 80.
That’s not close to high enough to get into Toronto
Here’s the press-release quote from Sharapova:
“I’m really looking forward to coming back to Canada. I have some great memories of playing Toronto in the past, and the tournament and the fans have always been so supportive. This is one of the biggest events of the year and I hope to play my best tennis that week.”
It’s a nice quote. But Sharapova hasn’t exactly been the most faithful Rogers Cup attendee during her career. There have been plenty of planned appearances, but also plenty of last-minute withdrawals.
Sharapova first played it in 2003, so there have been 14 editions during her career – seven each in Montreal and Toronto. Obviously she couldn’t play it in 2016 because she was serving her suspension. Beyond that, she hasn’t been to Toronto since 2011.
Sharapova has played Toronto three times: 2003, 2009 (when she lost in the final to Elena Dementieva) and 2011. She has played Montreal three times as well: 2004, 2008 (both Olympic years) and 2014.
In 2012, she did fly to Montreal right after the Olympic singles final against Serena Williams at Wimbledon, and thus avoided a fine. But Sharapova ended up withdrawing from the tournament with a stomach bug she contracted the day before the gold-medal final.