LONDON • World No. 1 Andy Murray believes that Maria Sharapova will be awarded a wild card for Wimbledon qualifying if she does not earn a place of her own accord.
Sharapova, who returned from a 15-month doping suspension last week, is in Madrid for the first of two back-to-back tournaments that will determine whether she participates by right at the All England Club in July.
The Russian has given herself a strong chance of booking a slot in qualifying for the Grand Slam tournament after an impressive return at the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart, where she earned 185 ranking points with a run to the semi-finals.
Reaching the third round at next week's Madrid Open would guarantee her a qualifying place at Wimbledon, while a semi-final appearance should be enough to see her into the main draw. Typically, the top 100 players receive direct entry to Grand Slam events. This number can vary depending on withdrawals and players using protected rankings. If qualifying is necessary, she would have to play three rounds to reach the main draw.
Even if she were to suffer an early exit in the Spanish capital, the Italian Open in Rome the following week would offer one last chance before the rankings deadline on May 29.
Murray was one of the first players this year to make his views known on the topic of doping offenders receiving wild cards, telling The Times of London in February: "I think you should really have to work your way back."
On Tuesday, though, the Scot acknowledged that a tricky decision for Wimbledon officials would likely be in favour of Sharapova, the 2004 champion, if they have to make one.
"I think there's a good chance Wimbledon would give her one to get into qualifying," he said. "I think we've got to wait and see what happens because there might not even be a decision to be made because she might be in the main draw after Madrid or Rome, so there's a good chance she can get in by right."
Wimbledon chiefs said yesterday that they will wait until June 20, just days ahead of the qualifying event, before deciding whether to give a wildcard to Sharapova, who this week re-entered the WTA rankings at No. 262. The cut-off ranking for Wimbledon qualifying entry will be around No. 200.
"We have a long established process for awarding wild cards. We consider requests for wild cards two weeks before the tournament," All England Club chief executive Richard Lewis said. "There will be a meeting on June 20 at which point it will be clear who has been accepted into the main draw based on rankings.
"No decision will be made until June 20."
Murray also doubts Sharapova will have any problems getting into the French Open, where she won two of her five Major titles.
"The French are going to make their decision (on May 16)," the two-time Wimbledon champion told the BBC . "There is no rule stopping them (offering her a wild card, as Stuttgart did).
"There is something to be said for working your way back up. In reality it's not a six-month or 12-month process. The tournaments are going to do what is best for them."
THE TIMES, LONDON, THE GUARDIAN, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE