Sports

Sharapova awaits decision on French Open wild card

Published: 5:50 PM, May 16, 2017

ROME – Since her return from a 15-month suspension for a positive doping test, Maria Sharapova has had to rely on the generosity of tournament directors for wild-card entries while she rebuilt her ranking. On Monday, she reached a significant milestone en route to guaranteeing her right to compete.

By winning her first-round match at the Italian Open, 6-4, 6-2, against Christina McHale, Sharapova will move far enough inside the top 200 of the WTA rankings to at least secure direct entry into the qualifying draw of Wimbledon in June.

But Sharapova still needs a wild-card entry to the French Open, the coming Grand Slam event on the calendar. She will learn her fate for that event Wednesday morning (May 17) in an announcement that will be streamed live on Facebook by the French Federation of Tennis at 1 am Singapore time. Thirty minutes later, she will take the court for her second-round match against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.

But Sharapova is not painstakingly tracking her progress toward being able to qualify – far from it, actually. “Will I?” she said after her victory Monday. “I don’t know how the Wimbledon qualifying works or the rankings – I’m not really aware of that.”

Once the math was explained, Sharapova showed some sign of appreciating her achievement.

“Listen, winning matches will get me places,” she said. “So if that’s where it got me today, then I will take it.”

She added: “I think maybe you guys assume that I know these things, but I genuinely want to take care of each and every single week, and every single match is a priority for me.”

Although Sharapova said she was unaware of her status for Wimbledon, the tournament’s officials have apparently been highly aware of her potential presence at its qualifying event. Since 1925, qualifiers have been held not at the All England Club but at the small Bank of England club in the nearby suburb of Roehampton, with open admission. This year, the qualifying tournament will be a ticketed event, with attendance capped at 1,000 people.

Wimbledon’s chief executive, Richard Lewis, said the possibility of Sharapova’s descending onto the small facility in the same year was a mere coincidence.

“I know it does seem very convenient timing, but it is actually unrelated, genuinely unrelated,” said Lewis, according to the BBC.

Sharapova could still avoid Wimbledon qualifying altogether by reaching the semifinals here and landing inside (or close to) the top 100. To get there, Sharapova might have to face top-seeded Angelique Kerber in the third round and sixth-seeded Simona Halep in the quarterfinals.

Her second-round opponent, Lucic-Baroni, whom Sharapova beat in three sets in the opening round of Madrid last week, will be the first player to face Sharapova twice since her comeback. The 35-year-old Lucic-Baroni, who made a surprise run to the semifinals of the Australian Open in January, made it clear how she feels about Sharapova’s continued presence at tournaments via wild cards.

“I’m kind of tired answering these questions; she can answer questions for herself,” she said. “I feel the same way everybody else feels: You know the drill, you know what happened, you know what it is. Some people are forcing us to say everything is great, and blah blah, but it is what it is. I don’t much care for it.”

Lucic-Baroni declined to say who was forcing her to say everything was “great.” “I’m not going to say those things because then I’m going to get in trouble,” she said. “No, no – nobody is pressuring us to say anything.”

But Lucic-Baroni said she understood why players like Kristina Mladenovic have been repeatedly critical of Sharapova.

“She should be,” said Lucic-Baroni of Mladenovic. “Every player who isn’t doping is against it. I mean, it’s not surprising. I don’t care for these things. I know the way the real world works, and this is the way the real world works. Money and everything speaks for itself. Maybe they should give a wild card to Lance Armstrong, too? He’s won the Tour de France a few times. How is it any different?”

Lucic-Baroni was making a comparison between Armstrong, who was banned from Olympic sports for life for a sophisticated and extensive doping scheme, and Sharapova, who was ruled to have unwittingly taken the drug Meldonium after it had been banned.

Since her return, Sharapova has gone 5-2 – the two losses coming against two of her most vocal critics, Mladenovic and Eugenie Bouchard. Though she had not heard Lucic-Baroni’s comments, Sharapova insisted that such criticism did not distract her on the court.

“I have had to face a lot of, as you say, distractions or opinions or judgment since I was 17 years old,” said Sharapova. “And, you know, I play tennis for a lot of things, and those are just not them anymore.” THE NEW YORK TIMES