Sharapova draws Vinci as agent fires broadside

BERLIN • Maria Sharapova will face Italian Roberta Vinci in her opening match at this week's Stuttgart tournament when the five-time Grand Slam champion returns from a 15-month doping ban.

The former world No. 1 was controversially handed a wild card into the clay-court event after her suspension wiped out her ranking.

If Sharapova wins on Wednesday - the first day she is eligible to play, she could face Agnieszka Radwanska in the second round.

Former world No. 2 Radwanska has been critical of Sharapova getting a wild card entry for the tournament, alongside fellow professionals like former world No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki of Denmark.

The Pole, who starts against Russia's Ekaterina Makarova, blasted her in an interview, insisting that tennis' poster girl should not be awarded wild cards after her ban.

Sharapova's agent Max Eisenbud added fuel to the fire by hitting back at 2012 Wimbledon finalist Radwanska and two-time US Open finalist Wozniacki, suggesting that they want to keep a title threat out of next month's French Open.

"All those 'journeyman' players like Radwanska and Wozniacki who have never won a slam, and the next generation passing them. They are smart to try to keep Maria out of Paris," Eisenbud said.

"NO Serena, NO Maria, NO Vika, NO Petra, it's their last chance to win a Slam," he added, in a nod to the absence of pregnant world No. 1 Serena Williams; two-time Wimbledon champion Petra Kvitova, who is attempting to return from a career-threatening hand injury; and former world No. 1 Victoria Azarenka of Belarus, who is expected to return in July after having a baby.

Eisenbud's statement raised some eyebrows.

"Radwanska and Wozniacki are journeyman? Wowwwww. So if you never won a slam that's what you are? Very kind words from Mr Eisenbud," tweeted Bruno Soares, who has two men's doubles and three mixed doubles titles from Grand Slam tournaments.

Sharapova was banned for two years after testing positive for meldonium at last year's Australian Open, but had her suspension cut to 15 months on appeal. She is an ambassador for Porsche, who sponsor the Stuttgart event.

Tournament director Markus Guenthardt knows Sharapova's presence will boost ticket sales for the indoor tournament.

"Her return in the Porsche Arena is a fabulous present for our spectators, and is certain to be one of the sporting and emotional highlights of our anniversary tournament," he said.

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on April 24, 2017, with the headline 'Sharapova draws Vinci as agent fires broadside'. Print Edition | Subscribe