U.S. Open Grants Maria Sharapova Wild-Card Entry, Her First Major Since January '16
The USTA has given Maria Sharapova a wild-card entry into the main U.S. Open draw, meaning she is set to play later this month "in a Grand Slam event for the first time since the Australian Open" in January '16, according to Matt Bonesteel of the WASHINGTON POST. Sharapova's year-long drug suspension ended in April, but she "did not play in either the French Open or Wimbledon." Her presence in N.Y. "should be a boost for the U.S. Open and ESPN, its broadcast partner, which now will get a big-name player for the Serena Williams-less women’s field" (WASHINGTONPOST.com, 8/15). Sharapova's return will "add some star power" to the U.S. Open, as Williams, Novak Djokovic and Stan Wawrinka are all "out of this year's tournament" (NYPOST.com, 8/15). The AP reported the USTA "didn’t consider her suspension in awarding the wild card, saying it was following past practice of granting them to former U.S. Open champions who needed them." The organization added that Sharapova had "volunteered to speak to young players at the USTA national campus about the importance of the tennis anti-doping program and the responsibility each player has to comply with it" (AP, 8/15).
LACK OF UNITY? In London, Simon Briggs writes the move displays the "lack of unity among tennis’s governing bodies." The USTA's decision "contradicts the stance taken by the French Tennis Federation (FFT) in May, when Sharapova was refused special treatment at Roland Garros." While the All England Club "never had to make a call, owing to Sharapova’s decision not to request a wild card for Wimbledon, it was common knowledge that she was going to have to fight her way through the qualifying event." The USTA "always looked as if they might take a less hawkish position, and that has now proved to be the case" (London TELEGRAPH, 8/16). In N.Y., Ben Rothenberg reports the USTA has "less discretion with its wild cards than other Grand Slam federations." Five of the eight "available are predetermined." Two go to Tennis Australia and the FTF in a "reciprocal swap," while another is "allotted for the NCAA singles champion if it is an American." A fourth "goes to the winner of the 18-and-under junior national championship," and the fifth "goes to the player who has accumulated the most ranking points in a set of tournaments over the summer, called the U.S. Open Wild Card Challenge" (N.Y. TIMES, 8/16).