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By Richard Pagliaro | Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Maria Sharapova, Chris Evert

"Maria has served her term and this decision of playing is really within the rule as far as the wild card entry,” Chrissie Evert said.

Photo credit: Getty

Maria Sharapova launches her comeback from a 15-month doping ban with a wild card into Stuttgart next month returning on the red clay amid a cloud of controversy.

Hall of Famer Chrissie Evert suggests there's no cause for contention.

Watch: BNP Paribas Open Live Blog

The former world No. 1 supports Sharapova’s right to unlimited wild cards because it’s within WTA rules.

In a conference call with the media today to promote ESPN2’s coverage of the BNP Paribas Open, which begins tomorrow afternoon at 2 p.m. Eastern time, Evert said Sharapova and the three tournaments awarding her wild cards—Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome—both benefit.

“Maria has served her term and this decision of playing is really within the rule as far as the wild card entry,” Evert told the media. “I remember many, many weeks I started out on a Wednesday playing a match so it’s not like first rounds aren’t on Wednesday.

“You can’t blame the tournament really for wanting to be successful and wanting to enhance their tournament by having a big draw like Maria Sharapova. I think we’re making a big deal about it, but the fact of the matter is she is doing everything within the rule and she has fulfilled her obligations (serving) 15 months.

"I’m not critical of that decision the tournaments have made whatsoever.”

WTA rules permit unlimited wild cards for former Grand Slam champions and WTA finals champions.  

World No. 1 Andy Murray and former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki are among the player who have opposed tournaments awarding wild cards to Sharapova—and any player returning from a doping ban—saying players suspended for PED use should be required to work their way back up the competitive ladder.

Echoing comments Murray made to The Times, Wozniacki called it “disrespectful" to the WTA and its players to award wild cards to Sharapova and other players coming off doping bans.

“First of all, I think obviously she's a good draw to tennis, women's tennis in general. That's one,” Wozniacki said of Sharapova. "But, two, I think it's very questionable, allowing—no matter who it is—a player that is still banned to play a tournament that week. "I think that's—from the tournament side, I think it's disrespectful to the other players and the WTA.

"But, you know, it is what it is. Obviously rules are twisted and turned in favor of who wants to do what."

ESPN analyst Brad Gilbert said wild cards are issued at tournament director’s discretion therefore it’s “completely within the rules” for tournaments to award the former No. 1—or any other player—wild cards.

“Wild cards are for the tournament director to give to whoever they want,” Gilbert told the media. “I get asked this all the time. It’s not really what my opinion is… I like to see what the players—positively and negatively—are saying about Maria. I think that’s for them to voice their opinions about what they think is fair.

“But it’s completely within the rules for the tournament to reward whoever they want.”

Roland Garros and Wimbledon have not yet announced wild cards.

Gilbert says there is a bigger question in the Sharapova wild-card debate: Will the USTA and other Federations, which do business with the ITF, award Sharapova wild cards?

The International Tennis Federation is the governing body of the Grand Slams.

“It will be interesting to see what the Slams do because they do a little more business with the ITF and so will the Federations give her a wild card?” Gilbert said. “Wimbledon is a (private) club so that’s different. The question is will the Federations—the French Federation, the USTA, the Aussie Federation—give her a wild card?

"I like to see the players voice their opinions. I think it’s completely up to the tournament (director) to do what’s best for his tournament.”

FFT president Bernard Giudicelli said it’s hypocritical for tennis to tout investing millions in anti-doping measures then serve up wild cards to players who have been banned for doping.

“We can't invest a million and a half Euros in the fight against anti-doping and then invite a player sanctioned for the consumption of a prohibited product,” Giudicelli told L’Equipe. “It's complicated. We prefer that she returns completely rehabilitated. “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.”

Sharapova appealed the initial two-year band she received to the Court of Arbitration for Sport, winning a shortened sentence of 15 months. After that partial victory, Sharapova told Charlie Rose the CAS decision was a “repudiation” of the ITF and charged “the ITF wanted to ban me for four years.”

“I went through the ITF hearing in front of an arbitration that was chosen by the ITF,” Sharapova told Charlie Rose. “So I’m in a hearing knowing the people I’m speaking to…are chosen by the people I’m actually in a fight with. They call that neutral? That’s not neutral.”

The ITF issued a stern rebuke of Sharapova’s statements rejecting nearly every claim she made in the interview.


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