Maria Sharapova Return To Tennis Mired In Controversy

Maria Sharapova is coming off of her 15-month suspension for using a banned substance, making her return with a wild-card entry at the Porsche Grand Prix Tournament in Stuttgart. The manner of her return, along with her wild-card entries into two other tournaments in Madrid and Rome, have not settled well with many prominent tennis players.

Former top-ranked women's tennis player Caroline Wozniacki said that she finds Sharapova's easy return very questionable, especially considering that Maria Sharapova's ban won't be officially over until the third day of the tournament. Caroline expanded on her comment, saying, "I think it's disrespectful to other players and the WTA."

Numerous female tennis stars say that Maria Sharapova should have to earn her way back
Caroline Wozniacki was critical of Sharapova's return to tennis with a wild-card entry to Stuttgart. [Image by Lynne Sladky/AP Images]

Angelique Kerber, the current top seed in women's tennis was also critical of the timing, saying, "It's a little bit strange also, for the players, that she [Maria Sharapova] can walk on site on Wednesday and she can play on Wednesday."

In a recent interview, the No. 8 player in the world Agnieszka Radwanska gave her opinion on the matter. In a recent interview, Radwanska was sharply critical of the decision to give Sharapova a free pass into the tournament.

"This kind of entry into the tournament should be available only for players who were dropped in the ranking due to injury, illness or other random accident. Not for those suspended for doping. Maria should rebuild her career in a different way, beginning with smaller events. She wouldn't have a chance for (a wildcard) from my hands (if I was a tournament director)."
Maria Sharapova will return to tennis with a wild card entry
Agnieszka Radwanska is one of the top-seeded women's tennis players and also critical of Sharapova's easy return into the Stuttgart Open. [Image by Lynne Sladky/AP Images]

It remains to be seen whether the French Tennis Federation (FFT) will offer Sharapova a wild-card entry into the French Open. If Maria places well or even wins the tournament at Stuttgart, she could also qualify for the tournament.

Why the Controversy?

You might be asking yourself why other tennis players care how Maria Sharapova gets to play. The answer to this lies in the playing field at Stuttgart and the rest of the tournaments this year. With Serena Williams out of the picture with her recently announced pregnancy, keeping Sharapova off the field increases the chance for other players to win.

Wozniacki and Radwanska have never won a Grand Slam tournament, and keeping Sharapova from the French Open would eliminate huge competition for them. This is a point that Maria's agent Max Eisenbud brought up when he responded to Radwanska's criticism. He pointed out that Vika (Victoria Azarenka) is out of the sport as she trains to return after giving birth to her son last year. Also missing is Petra Kvitova, who was robbed and severely injured in a knife attack in the Czech Republic in December of 2016. And of course, Serena Williams is pregnant, meaning she won't be playing for at least two years.

In a private statement to New YorkTimes writer Ben Rothenberg, Eisenbud released the following statement.

Why was Maria Sharapova Suspended?

Sharapova's suspension was handed down on March 12, 2016, following a positive test for banned substances. The test was administered before the 2016 Australian Open and tested positive for meldonium, a heart medication that is usually prescribed to treat coronary artery disease. Essentially, meldonium expands arteries, increasing blood flow and oxygen flow throughout the body.

Maria Sharapova will return to tennis with a wild card entry
Maria Sharapova faced a two-year suspension but had it reduced to 15 months on appeal. [Image by Damian Dovarganes/AP Images File]

Maria Sharapova was prescribed the medication by her doctor initially in 2005 when she was 18-years-old because of a deficiency in magnesium and a family history of diabetes. She continued to take the medication even after she left his care in 2013. In 2016, the drug was placed on the World Anti-Doping Agency's list of banned substances. Maria contended that she did not read the email that notified her of meldonium's new status as a banned substance.

Sharapova was initially handed a ban of two years, but this was reduced to 15 months after an appeal.

[Featured Image by Isaac Brekken/AP Images]