MONTREAL (AFP) - Former world number one Maria Sharapova, making a comeback after a 15-month doping ban, has been awarded a wildcard entry into the Toronto WTA tournament, Tennis Canada announced on Tuesday (May 23).
The 30-year-old Russian star, a five-time Grand Slam champion, was refused a wildcard spot by French Open organisers but Sharapova has said she will play in Wimbledon qualifying, needing three wins to reach the main draw.
Sharapova will make her first appearance in Canada since 2014 at the Rogers Cup, to be played August 7-13, as a hardcourt tuneup for the year's final Grand Slam event, the US Open, which begins on Aug 28.
"I'm really looking forward to coming back to Canada," Sharapova said. "I have some great memories of playing Toronto in the past and the tournament and the fans have always been so supportive. This is one of the biggest events of the year and I hope to play my best tennis that week."
Sharapova was issued a two-year suspension after testing positive for the banned heart drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced the ban on appeal.
Sharapova, ranked 173rd in the world, made her tour return last month at Stuttgart, reaching the semifinals.
Her best showing in Canada came in 2009 when she reached the Toronto final.
"Maria is a Grand Slam champion and a fan favourite," said tournament director Karl Hale. "She has served her suspension and we know our guests will be excited to see her play."
Should her ranking rise high enough to reach the main draw in time for the event, the wildcard would be available for another player.
Among Sharapova's most vocal critics was Canada's Eugenie Bouchard, who decried Sharapova as a cheater who should have been banned for life.