Angelique Kerber, the current No. 1 has taken the view that awarding Sharapova a wild card has taken away the opportunity from a German who could perhaps use that wild card to advance her career. I agree. Following Stuttgart’s lead, both Madrid and Rome announced that they have awarded Ms. Sharapova a wild card into their events. In addition, the French Tennis Federation has announced that Ms. Sharapova has reached out to them and has met with that organisation to secure a wildcard into the French Open this year. Both the FFT and the AELTC have adopted a wait and see approach regarding requests for a wild card from the Sharapova camp.
Many may have forgotten that at the ITF hearing, Ms. Sharapova’s team stated that:
“It is argued that any period of ineligibility would disproportionately affect Ms Sharapova in causing her a very substantial loss of earnings and sponsorships, exclusion from the 2016 Olympics, and irreparable damage to her reputation. There is nothing unfair in the rules being fairly and equitably applied to this player as to any other athlete subject to the WADA Code, whether professional or amateur. The rules are clear in stating: “ … the fact that a Player would lose the opportunity to earn large sums of money during a period of Ineligibility, or the fact that the Player only has a short time left in his or her career, or the timing of the sporting calendar, would not be relevant factors to be considered in reducing the period of Ineligibility under Article 10.5.1 or 10.5.2.” The rules cannot be circumvented by invoking the principle of proportionality. It would be contrary to the principles underlying the code, in particular respect for the rules which must apply equally to all, to allow an unprincipled exception to or waiver from the rules on the grounds of proportionality of sanction as it affects the particular circumstances of this player.”
I know that many people have taken exception to the ITF’s ruling and it would seem as if Ms. Sharapova and her team are more determined to pick up where they left off in terms of the money that can be made by Ms. Sharapova.
For years we have heard about Ms. Sharapova’s fighting spirit. We have heard about her capacity for hard work and her mental toughness. We have also heard about her ability to come back from adversity and how important it is for her to play tennis. I therefore have a few thoughts on a comeback that would be so much better for her image (which seems to be everything) and would be a guaranteed path to Hall of Fame glory.
· Play the ITF Challenger/Futures circuit – how fitting would it be for an icon of the sport to highlight the plight of players who play the Challenger/Futures circuit? I recall watching Challenger tennis when Nicole Vaidisova was staging her comeback to tennis.
· Play qualifying events. It would show Ms. Sharapova’s capacity for hard work. If she fails to make it through qualifying, try and go in as a lucky loser. With her skill set she would be able to vanquish her opponents. Recall 2007 when Serena Williams who was ranked 81 when won the Australian Open
· Recently, Francesca Schiavone, a decorated athlete who has made her mark on the sport in more ways than one played qualifying at the Australian Open. Schiavone has represented herself and her country and has been at the forefront of one of the most dynamic Fed Cup teams in history. She will probably need a wild card to play in her home tournament in Rome later this year. Why not take a page from that book?
I, like many tennis fans, love to hear and see a comeback story. One of the reasons why most people hate on court coaching is that it seems to give an unfair advantage to the player who calls their coach down mid match. This is how I and I know many others view this wild card situation with Ms. Sharapova. We view it as her being given an unfair advantage, in much the same way that her use of meldonium gave her an unfair advantage.
It is a smack in the face of other players who have played fairly for all their careers, to now be tasked with competing against a player who is being given a leg up because of who she is or who she used to be. How Sharapova returns to the sport she claims to love can either elevate or damage its reputation. It would do the tennis a world of good if they helped Sharapova do the former rather than the latter. However, I suspect that like Sharapova, they will let money rather than integrity guide their decisions.