Tennis: French Open reluctant to hand Sharapova a wild card

Maria Sharapova in a 2015 file photo.
Maria Sharapova in a 2015 file photo. ST FILE PHOTO

PARIS (AFP) - French Open chiefs said on Thursday (March 2) they are reluctant to grant Maria Sharapova a wild card into this year's Grand Slam event despite the two-time champion returning from a doping ban.

The Russian superstar will return to the tour on April 26 in Stuttgart, the day that her 15-month ban for testing positive for the banned substance meldonium ends.

But French Tennis Federation (FFT) president Bernard Giudicelli said organisers would face a moral dilemma if they handed Sharapova a wild card which she would need as her world ranking has disappeared during her absence.

"It's complicated. We prefer that she returns completely rehabilitated," said Giudicelli, who was only elected to the FFT hotseat on Feb 18.

"Integrity is one of our strong points. We cannot decide, on the one hand, to increase the amount of funds we dedicate to the anti-doping battle and, on the other, invite her," added Giudicelli, who was keen to stress that a decision on whether or not to hand Sharapova a spot in the main draw has not yet been taken.

Five-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova, the winner at Roland Garros in 2012 and 2014, has already been handed wild cards into the Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome tournaments with organisers fully aware of the former world number one's immense pulling power.

Should the 29-year-old fail to win over Roland Garros organisers, she would have to take her chances in the qualifying tournament held at the Paris venue in the week preceding the main draw.

However, to even make the qualifying event, Sharapova would still need to build up her ranking points - and that can only be done by winning the Stuttgart title.

The cut-off for French Open qualifying falls just after the Stuttgart tournament but before Madrid (May 7-13) and Rome (May 15-21).

This year's French Open runs from May 28 until June 11.