NEW YORK (AFP) – Five-time major champion Maria Sharapova will play her first Grand Slam event since serving a 15-month doping suspension after receiving a wildcard into the US Open.
The move by the US Tennis Association (USTA) comes after Sharapova, ranked 148th this week, was rejected for a wildcard spot into the French Open and missed Wimbledon with a thigh injury.
Sharapova tested positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open and was suspended by the International Tennis Federation, a ban that ended in April.
Since then, Sharapova has needed wildcards to get into tournaments, drawing criticism from some fellow professionals.
“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.
“Consistent with past practice, a wildcard was provided to a past US champion who needed the wildcard for entry into the main draw. Previous US Open champions who have received US Open main draw wildcards include Martina Hingis, Lleyton Hewitt, Kim Clijsters and Juan Martin del Potro.”
Former world number one Sharapova won the 2006 US Open as well as Wimbledon in 2014, the 2008 Australian Open and the 2012 and 2014 French Opens.
Sharapova will also speak to youth about the benefits of the anti-doping program and the need for players to be vigilant about the banned substance list, something she admitted not doing when she did not catch meldonium being added to the ban list in 2016.
“Additionally, 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 USTA said.
Sharapova 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, every day. 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 Grand Slam tennis.
“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.
World number six 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 has withdrawn from US Open warm-up tournaments in Toronto and Cincinnati the past two weeks after suffering a left forearm injury at Stanford.
In her first US match since March 2015, Sharapova defeated American Jennifer Brady 6-1, 4-6, 6-0 at Stanford.
But in the triumph, Sharapova suffered the forearm injury that has sidelined her since, even after arriving in Cincinnati hopeful of playing as a wildcard in the final major tuneup before the US Open.
“Following the doctor’s advice on-site, as a precaution for the US Open, I am unfortunately withdrawing from the tournament with the left forearm injury I sustained in Stanford,” Sharapova said.