Sharapova gets main-draw wildcard at US Open

Former world No. 1 Maria Sharapova will make her first grand slam appearance in over 18 months after she was awarded a main-draw wildcard for the upcoming US Open.
Sharapova gets main-draw wildcard at US Open

Maria Sharapova hits a backhand against American Jennifer Brady during the their Bank of the West Classic first-round match at Stanford, California, in this July 31, 2017, photo. The Russian has been granted a main-draw wildcard at the US Open, which starts on August 28.

Maria Sharapova was granted a wildcard invitation for the US Open's main draw on Tuesday and will take part in a Grand Slam event for the first time in more than 1-1/2 years.

Sharapova is among eight women given entry into the 128-player field by the US Tennis Association — and by far the most noteworthy.

The former No. 1-ranked player and owner of five major titles, including the 2006 US Open, has not entered a major tournament since the Australian Open in January 2016, when she tested positive for the newly banned drug meldonium.

That led to a 15-month doping ban, which expired in April. She returned to the tour, but her ranking — currently 148th — was too low to allow entry into major tournaments, and the French Open denied her a wildcard. Sharapova planned to try to qualify for Wimbledon, but the 30-year-old Russian wound up skipping the grasscourt portion of the season because of an injured left thigh.

Sharapova tweeted on Tuesday: "Thank you, @usopen. This is so so special. #goosebumps".

The USTA didn't consider her suspension in awarding the wildcard, saying it was following past practice of granting them to former US Open champions who needed them, such as Martina Hingis, Lleyton Hewitt, Kim Cljisters and Juan Martin del Potro.

"Her suspension under the terms of the tennis anti-doping program was completed and therefore was not one of the factors weighed in our wildcard selection process," the USTA said in a statement.

The organization added that Sharapova had volunteered to speak to young players at the USTA national campus about the importance of the tennis anti-doping program and the responsibility each player has to comply with it.

Sharapova has been participating in tournaments via wildcard invitations, beginning in April on red clay at Stuttgart, Germany. She's only played nine matches this season.

The Russian's US Open preparations have been disrupted by an arm injury suffered during her first-round 6-1, 4-6, 6-0 win over Jennifer Brady at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, California, earlier this month.

Precautionary measure

The world No. 148 was forced to withdraw from the Rogers Cup in Canada and this week's Western & Southern Open in Cincinnati as a precautionary measure before the final grand slam of the year.

She has shaken off criticism from rival players about wildcards and the French Open snub, tweeting after being denied a spot at Roland Garros, "If this is what it takes to rise up again, then I am in it all the way, everyday. No words, games or actions will ever stop me from reaching my own dreams. And I have many."

Players in Cincinnati for this week's WTA event welcomed Sharapova back into the Grand Slam tennis fold.

"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," ninth-ranked Venus Williams said.

The world No. 6 dismissed any notion it would be wrong to give Sharapova a wildcard, saying, "Either way it's not a controversy. I don't have a problem with that."

Sharapova was 19 when she won her US Open trophy. Two years before, at 17, Sharapova won her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon. She has since completed a career Grand Slam and become one of the most recognizable — and marketable — athletes in the world.

Also receiving wildcards were: Taylor Townsend, reigning US Open girls' champion Kayla Day, 2017 NCAA singles champion Brienne Minor, US Open wildcard challenge winner Sofia Kenin, USTA Girls' 18s national champion Ashley Kratzer and Amandine Hesse of France. The final women's wildcard for singles will be an Australian player named later.

The US Open runs from August 28 to September 10 at the Billie Jean King National Tennis Center at Flushing Meadows, New York.

Both the men's and women's singles champions this year will earn US$3.7 million.

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