Commentary

Penalised twice, it's the hard way back

Maria Sharapova has had to fight for virtually every point in her tennis career, every break in her curiously combative life, whatever the misguided perception of the Russian as a bird in a gilded cage.

Nothing changed for her on Tuesday. With the unexpected weight of moral probity falling heavily on her neck, the former world No. 1 was denied a wild card of any kind - qualifying tournament or main draw - into the French Open at the end of the month.

This was, in effect, her second punishment for failing a drug test at last year's Australian Open. She received 15 months for that. Now she is publicly embarrassed again.

There will be thousands who cry, "Enough!" There will be an equal number, probably, who could not care less.

Sharapova's icy demeanour arouses as much antipathy as her fighting on-court spirit generates admiration, even among her rivals - none fiercer than the absent Serena Williams.

But, as men's world No. 1 Andy Murray has correctly pointed out whenever asked, she should earn her way back to the mainstream of her sport on merit alone.

It is, after all, what she has done most of her life, arriving in America as a gobsmacked child with an ambitious father and little more than an untapped talent for hitting a ball with a racket.

The announcement - overblown, overwrought and overlong - by the eccentric French Tennis Federation president, Bernard Giudicelli, rippled through the game with differing effects.

The locker room remains disdainfully indifferent to her situation, and the feeling has long been mutual.

Sharapova's icy demeanour arouses as much antipathy as her fighting on-court spirit generates admiration, even among her rivals - none fiercer than the absent Serena Williams.

Representative of the hostility was the response to the news by the French player Kristina Mladenovic shortly after she was beaten by German Julia Gorges in the Italian Open second round on Tuesday.

"I don't care," she said. "Doesn't change anything. What would you want me to say? I don't care. You're going to have the news in a couple minutes, I guess. I know what's gonna happen."

Did she now? Certainly she was angry to be asked.

Eugenie Bouchard felt deeply that failing a test at the Australian Open for the heart disease drug meldonium made her ineligible for any favours.

That is what so many think: The player who has made more from the women's game than anyone is too rich and glamorous to defy.

She bends people to her will, it is said; on court, her annoying tics when receiving delay the action until she is ready; away from it, she even persuaded one gullible journalist she was going to change her surname to that of the brand of sugar sweets she peddles.

As for Sharapova's millions of fans, often blind to their idol's faults, they will be crushed, as Giudicelli acknowledged.

But, he pleaded, he had no choice. He was the just executioner, protecting the game.

But was he? Is he?

Described as a "very clever egoist" by those who know him, Giudicelli had emerged from nowhere in February to squeeze into office, by 897 votes to the 831 cast for Jean-Pierre Dartevelle, to replace Jean Gachassin.

Was he French tennis' answer to Emmanuel Macron? Was this the man to drain a swamp?

Perhaps he will turn out to be just that. It is too early to say. But he has at least put expediency to one side, declining to fill the commercial gap left by Monday's withdrawal of Roger Federer with the equally stellar Sharapova, whose twinkle dimmed a little on Tuesday.

THE GUARDIAN

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on May 18, 2017, with the headline 'Penalised twice, it's the hard way back'. Print Edition | Subscribe