'No grounds' for Sharapova wildcard decision – WTA

Maria Sharapova

French Open organisers had “no grounds to penalise” Maria Sharapova by denying her a wildcard entry to the tournament, says the Women’s Tennis Association.

The Russian, 30, was ranked too low to gain direct entry as she continues her return from a 15-month drugs ban.

The French Tennis Federation (FFT) chose not to hand Sharapova a wildcard to “protect” the sport’s standards.

“I don’t agree with the basis for their decision. She has complied with the sanction,” said WTA chief Steve Simon.

“There are no grounds to penalise any player beyond the sanctions set forth in the final decisions resolving these matters.”

Two-time French Open winner Sharapova needed a wildcard, which are awarded at the discretion of tournament organisers, to play in either the main draw or the qualifying tournament.

But on Monday, FFT chief Bernard Giudicelli Ferrandini said: “There can be a wildcard for the return from injuries – there cannot be a wildcard for the return from doping.

“I’m very sorry for Maria, very sorry for her fans. They might be very disappointed, she might be very disappointed, but it’s my responsibility, my mission, to protect the high standards of the game played without any doubt on the result.”

Shortly after learning of her Roland Garros snub, Sharapova withdrew injured from her second-round Italian Open match against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni.

The French Open begins on 28 May.

Early Rome exit ends Wimbledon main-draw hopes

Sharapova returned to action without a ranking last month and has since risen to 211 in the world after receiving wildcards in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome.

That will be enough to at least earn a qualifying spot at Wimbledon next month.

Sharapova needed to reach the semi-finals of the Italian Open to qualify for Wimbledon’s main draw but retired in the second round on Tuesday when leading Lucic-Baroni 4-6 6-3 2-1.

“I apologise for having to withdraw from my match with a left thigh injury,” she said. “I will be getting all the necessary examinations to make sure it is not serious.”

Sharapova will now have to wait until 20 June to discover whether she is among the wildcards at the All England Club.

The former world number one has not played a Grand Slam since she tested positive for heart disease drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.

That brought an initial two-year ban, later reduced to 15 months after the Court of Arbitration for Sport found she was not an “intentional doper”.

Analysis

BBC tennis correspondent Russell Fuller

The ongoing fight against doping is more important than the line-up for the French Open – that was the message from the French Federation’s president.

It is a brave and principled decision, which will upset some fans and broadcasters. Ratings may suffer, but Roland Garros will ultimately be stronger for it.

How could the public take the sport’s anti-doping message seriously if one of the Grand Slams had invited a player who was not ranked high enough because of time served for a doping offence?

It is worth noting, though, that the FFT have awarded a qualifying wildcard to Constant Lestienne, a French player who was banned for seven months last autumn for betting on matches.

Guidicelli’s argument is that he has “paid his debt” – as his wildcard for Roland Garros was rescinded at the last moment last year when he first came under investigation.

Sharapova has, in contrast, earned her place in qualifying for Wimbledon, even though injury has now deprived her of the chance to play herself into the main draw.

And assuming she is fit, she is likely to want to play at least two warm-up events. The Lawn Tennis Association has already offered her a wildcard into the WTA event in Birmingham. If Sharapova also wants to play the week before, she has Nottingham and the Dutch town of Rosmalen to choose between.

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Andy Murray beaten by Fabio Fognini in Rome Masters second round

Andy Murray

Defending champion Andy Murray has been knocked out of the Italian Open in the second round by Italian Fabio Fognini.

The 30-year-old British world number one, whose victory in Rome last year was one of nine titles he won in 2016, lost 6-2 6-4 to the world number 29.

The loss continues Murray’s poor form ahead of the French Open, which gets under way on 28 May.

Murray’s fellow Brit Aljaz Bedene was also knocked out in the second round by world number two Novak Djokovic.

The Serb, who has never failed to reach the last eight in Rome, dominated the tie-break to win a tight first set but eased through the second to win 7-6 (7-2) 6-2.

“A little bit of a slow start, but Bedene is the kind of player that gives you good rhythm,” said Djokovic, who was beaten in the Madrid Open semis by Rafael Nadal last week.

“I had some good exchanges, some good games with rallies and it felt right, especially in the second set.”

Djokovic, who received a bye in the first round, faces either Pablo Carreno Busta or Roberto Bautista Agut in round three.

More to follow.

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Maria Sharapova: French Open decides against giving former champion a wildcard

Breaking news

Maria Sharapova will not play at the French Open after tournament officials decided not to give the two-time champion a wildcard.

The Russian, 30, was ranked too low to gain direct entry as she continues her return from a 15-month drugs ban.

“If there can be a wildcard for the return from injuries, there cannot be a wildcard for the return from doping,” said French tennis chief Bernard Giudicelli Ferrandini.

The French Open begins on 28 May.

Sharapova had been hoping to receive a wildcard either into the main draw or the qualifying tournament.

The former world number one has not played a Grand slam tournament since she tested positive for heart disease drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.

That brought an initial two-year ban, later reduced to 15 months as the Court of Arbitration for Sport found she was not an “intentional doper”.

Sharapova returned to action without a ranking last month and has since risen to 211 in the world after receiving wildcards in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome.

That will be enough to at least earn a qualifying spot at Wimbledon next month, but her presence at Roland Garros was in the hands of the French Tennis Federation (FFT).

“I’m very sorry for Maria, very sorry for her fans,” added Giudicelli Ferrandini, president of the French Tennis Federation.

“They might be very disappointed, she might be very disappointed, but it’s my responsibility, my mission, to protect the high standards of the game played without any doubt on the result.”

More to follow.

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Italian Open: Johanna Konta beats Yulina Putintseva in Rome first round

Johanna Konta

Johanna Konta made a strong start at the Italian Open with a straight-set win over Kazakhstan’s Yulina Putintseva in Rome.

The British number one, who turns 26 on Wednesday, won 6-4 6-0 to claim her second clay-court victory of the year.

Konta had a bye in the first round as the fifth seed and will face American Venus Williams or Ukraine’s Lesia Tsurenko in round three.

Fellow Britons Andy Murray and Aljaz Bedene are in action later on Tuesday.

Top seed Murray takes on Italian Fabio Fognini in the evening session at 20:00 BST, after Bedene faces second seed Novak Djokovic at around 15:00.

Konta impressed against Putintseva, breaking the world number 29’s serve four times while remaining steadfast on her own.

The first set was hard work for the Briton but her attacking instincts prevailed with the only break in game five.

A fainting ball boy, who was escorted from the court, was the only significant interruption to the world number six’s progress in the second set as she raced through six straight games.

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Maria Sharapova: French Open tournament director Guy Forget expects wildcard controversy

Maria Sharapova

The decision on whether to give Maria Sharapova a French Open wildcard will cause controversy when announced, tournament director Guy Forget says.

Sharapova, 30, has played in three events since her 15-month ban for using meldonium ended in April.

A decision on her participation the tournament, which starts on 28 May, will be released on Facebook at 18:00 BST on Tuesday.

“Some say she shouldn’t get it, others say she served her time,” said Forget.

“As you talk with players, it’s very controversial,” Forget told BBC Sport. “So no matter what happens, there will be a lot of questions around that wildcard.”

Read: Federer misses French Open again

French Tennis Federation president Bernard Giudicelli – who has previously said the French Open is “bigger than the players” – will inform Sharapova shortly before the decision is made public.

Forget has discussed the matter with him but says he does not yet know the Federation’s final decision.

“We have had a few exchanges in the last few weeks about it,” added Forget. “We have made a decision on all the other wildcards, for Maria it’s a question mark. None of us know in the organisation so we are waiting.”

Sharapova’s two-year ban from the sport was reduced to 15 months when the Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled she was “not an intentional doper” in October.

But her return to action has been questioned by players such as Roberta Vinci and Eugenie Bouchard, who has said that “I don’t think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play again”.

Sharapova – a two-time French Open champion – reached the semi-final of the Stuttgart Open and last 32 of the Madrid Open, performances which were not good enough to secure a spot in qualifying for Roland Garros.

But in winning in the first round of the Italian Open on Monday, she guaranteed at least a place in Wimbledon qualifying, and she could yet earn a place in the main draw.

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Italian Open: Maria Sharapova win secures Wimbledon qualifying place

Maria Sharapova

Maria Sharapova secured a place in Wimbledon qualifying – at the very least – with a first-round win over Christina McHale at the Italian Open.

The 30-year-old Russian is ranked 211 in the world and was given a wildcard in Rome as she continues her return from a 15-month drugs ban.

Monday’s 6-4 6-2 win ensures Sharapova will move inside the top 200 and earn a Wimbledon qualifying place next month.

She will qualify for Wimbledon’s main draw if she reaches the Rome semis.

Sharapova will learn on Tuesday whether she has been given a wildcard into either qualifying or the main draw at the French Open, which gets under way on 28 May.

The five-time Grand Slam champion reached the semi-finals on her return to action in Stuttgart last month, but lost to Eugenie Bouchard in the second round in Madrid last week.

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Madrid Open: Rafael Nadal beats Dominic Thiem to win fifth title

Rafael Nadal

Rafael Nadal beat Dominic Thiem 7-6 (10-8) 6-4 to win his fifth Madrid Open title and move into the world’s top four.

The Spaniard has now won three straight titles, after his Barcelona Open and Monte Carlo Masters victories, while his record on clay this year is 15-0.

Nadal edged the Austrian in the tie-break of a tense first set that lasted one hour and 18 minutes.

He broke world number seven Thiem early in the second set to set up the win.

Nadal will be confirmed as the new world number four, replacing 18-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer, when the new rankings come out on Monday.

That will improve his seeding for the French Open, which starts on 22 May and where Nadal is a nine-time champion.

Nadal, who beat defending champion Novak Djokovic in the semi-final, has now won his 30th ATP World Tour Masters 1000 title, tying the all-time record with Serbia’s Djokovic.

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Italian Open: Dan Evans loses in first round but Aljaz Bedene reaches main draw

Dan Evans

Dan Evans lost in straight sets in the first round of the Italian Open, but Aljaz Bedene came through qualifying to secure his place in the main draw.

World number 58 Evans, the British number four, lost 6-3 6-1 to Czech Republic’s Jiri Vesely in Rome.

But British number three Bedene beat Argentina’s Renzo Olivo 6-3 6-4 in the final qualifying round.

World number one Andy Murray, who received a bye in the first round, will play Italy’s Fabio Fognini on Monday.

Britain’s number two Kyle Edmund is also in action on Monday, against Portugal’s Joao Sousa in the first round.

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