Maria Sharapova, the 2006 U.S. Open champion, has been given a wild card into the main draw of this year’s event, the USTA announced on Tuesday.
Sharapova, who served a 15-month ban starting in January of 2016 for testing positive for the newly prohibited drug meldonium at the Australian Open, returned to competitive tennis in April and her singles ranking had fallen precipitously. She is currently ranked 148, outside the 104 number required to get directly into the Open draw. She would have had to enter the qualifying tournament without the wild card entry.
“Her suspension under the terms of the tennis anti-doping program was completed and therefore was not one of the factors weighed in our wild card selection process,” the USTA said in a statement. “Consistent with past practice, a wild card was provided to a past U.S. Champion who needed the wild card for entry into the main draw.”
When Sharapova returned to tennis, she was given wild cards into events in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome, which raised the ire of some of her fellow competitors. The French Open, where she was a past champion, denied her a wild card, asserting that she needed to earn her way back into the big events.
“She has handled her suspension with dignity and respect,” Bernard Giudicelli, president of the French Tennis Federation, said at the time. “But nonetheless, though there can be a wild card after an injury, there cannot be one for a return from doping. So it is up to Maria day after day, tournament after tournament, to find alone the strength she needs to win the big titles without owing anything to anyone.”
The Open had never denied a wild card to a past champion that required it. Martina Hingis, Juan Martin del Potro and Lleyton Hewitt were granted wild cards coming off injury impacted seasons. Kim Clijsters, returning to tennis after retiring and giving birth, got a wild card to the 2009 Open and won it.
Sharapova’s physical condition is a question mark. She suffered a thigh injury at the Italian Open and was forced to retire from a match and because of its nagging consequences she did not request a wild card for Wimbledon.
Starting the American hardcourt season at the Bank of West Classic she was forced to withdraw before her second match with a left arm injury, and that injury also forced her to withdraw from this week’s tournament in Cincinnati. The U.S. Open starts Aug. 28.
The USTA also said that Sharapova will speak to young players about the anti-doping program.
“Sharapova has volunteered to speak to young tennis players at the USTA National Campus about the importance of the tennis anti-doping program and the personal responsibility each player has to comply with the program’s requirements,” the statement said.