Tennis: Clijsters supports Maria's return

Maria Sharapova no longer has a ranking and is dependent on wild cards to compete at WTA events.
Maria Sharapova no longer has a ranking and is dependent on wild cards to compete at WTA events. PHOTO: REUTERS

Despite rivals' chorus of disapproval, former star says Sharapova has served her time

If the dipping temperatures in Stuttgart, looking to turn icy in the coming days, are getting to Maria Sharapova a little more than others, she can hardly be blamed.

After all, more of her peers on the professional women's tennis tour have publicly disagreed with the concept of her getting a wild card into tournaments than those who spoke out in her defence.

But the Russian, who returns to competition today at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix following a 15-month doping ban, can at least count on some warmth from Kim Clijsters, a former rival who has exchanged several steely stares with her across the net before.

As far as the Belgian is concerned, Sharapova - who tested positive for meldonium at last year's Australian Open - has paid her dues.

Said the former world No. 1, who is in Germany as a legend ambassador for the Oct 22-29 BNP Paribas WTA Finals Singapore: "(Sharapova) has done her time, and she's done her punishment.

"I was disappointed and surprised when the news came out, but now she's done her punishment and she's starting her career with zero ranking. She has to build her way up anyway."

PRACTICAL VIEWPOINT

She still has all the Grand Slams that she's won, she's still the name. I assume for sponsors, spectators, especially in this situation, everyone wants to see how well she will do.

KIM CLIJSTERS, taking a more moderate stance on the wild card issue than some active players who voiced their disapproval.

 

Clijsters struck a different tune from many active players on tour.

Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska and Denmark's Caroline Wozniacki have been among the most vocal, objecting to tournament organisers handing Sharapova a way into tournaments. The Russian no longer has a ranking and is dependent on wild cards to compete at WTA events.

The 30-year-old tennis star with five Grand Slam titles will also be playing in Madrid and Rome. She opens her campaign against Italian Roberta Vinci, an opponent she has not lost to in two meetings so far. It will be the first time the Russian is allowed on-site at the Porsche Arena.

Clijsters' more forgiving stance, perhaps, stems from a unique perspective as former player and official. The 33-year-old was tournament director of a WTA tournament in Antwerp in 2015.

Said Clijsters: "Having been both sides, as a tournament director and as a player, it's up to the tournament whether they want to give a wild card or not.

"She still has all the Grand Slams that she's won, she's still the name. I assume for sponsors, spectators, especially in this situation, everyone wants to see how well she will do.

"It's a tough situation for Maria to be in. All eyes will be on her. I'm sure it was really tough for her to be on the sidelines for that long. She's had the career that she's had - and I don't think she needs to be punished more because of 'the reason'," added the four-time Grand Slam champion.

"In a week's time, this news will be over and she will be back on tour, maybe playing some of her best tennis. I'm excited to watch her play... I'm interested to see, just like everyone else is, to see how she will do."

•Kim Clijsters, a legend ambassador for this year's WTA Finals Singapore, will be in town for the Oct 22-29 event.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 26, 2017, with the headline 'Clijsters supports Maria's return'. Print Edition | Subscribe