NEW YORK • Maria Sharapova will make her first appearance at a Grand Slam tennis tournament since her drug ban after being handed a wild card for the US Open.
The 30-year-old, a five-time Grand Slam champion, was guaranteed a place in the qualifying event by virtue of her ranking of No. 148.
The United States Tennis Association (USTA) has decided, however, to give the 2006 champion a spot in the main draw, which begins on Aug 28.
She tweeted: "Thank you, @usopen. This is so so special. #goosebumps."
It is a controversial decision to give a Grand Slam wild card to a doping offender, who is yet to improve her ranking to the required level for direct entry - generally around the top 100 - after serving a 15-month suspension for taking the banned drug meldonium.
Last month, Chris Evert, the 18-time Grand Slam singles champion, said that Sharapova should not be handed a wild card, citing the "different status" of a top-four tournament compared with regular Tour events.
But the USTA insisted on Wednesday that it did not consider the Russian's doping violation during its officials' discussions and that its decision to include her was consistent with its policy of awarding entry to past winners.
"Her suspension under the terms of the anti-doping programme was completed and therefore was not weighed in our wild-card selection process," a USTA spokesman said.
"Consistent with past practice, a wild card was provided to a past US champion who needed the wild card for entry into the main draw. Previous US Open champions who have received US Open main draw wild cards include Martina Hingis, Lleyton Hewitt, Kim Clijsters and Juan Martin del Potro."
In return, Sharapova has volunteered to speak to young American tennis players about the anti-doping programme in tennis and the responsibilities that fall on players to comply.
The French Open decided against giving Sharapova a wild card to "protect the high standards" of the sport, while Wimbledon avoided having to make any decision after she announced her intention to play in qualifying before withdrawing due to injury.
Sharapova's inclusion at Flushing Meadows was welcomed by the four-time US Open singles winner Billie Jean King.
"Glad to see USTA give Maria Sharapova a wild card, suspension over, great for the sport to have her back," King wrote on Twitter.
World No. 9 Venus Williams also supported the decision, saying: "I'm sure this is a great moment for her to have an opportunity to be back to a place where she has done so well. Either way it's not a controversy. I don't have a problem with that."
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