It’s certainly not the kind of comeback Maria Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam winner, who returned to competitive tennis from a 15-month doping ban last month, was hoping for. The first jolt came when she was denied a wildcard for the upcoming French Open, followed by her injury-triggered retirement from the Italian Open that dealt a blow to her Wimbledon main draw qualification hopes.
While she is likely to get ample opportunity to try and climb her way back up the rankings in the months to follow, the road ahead for the 30-year-old Russian tennis ace looks bumpy for now as the challenges start emerging on her path. To begin with, she has to come to terms with the French Open snub and find a way – psychologically and otherwise – to prepare for what seems to be a long battle ahead.
She tried to put up a brave face by tweeting a somewhat philosophical comment, insisting that “no words, games or actions will ever stop me from reaching my own dreams.” But Sharapova, a two-time winner at Roland Garros, probably knows it better than anyone else that her dreams of making a strong comeback will take a lot to realise. Not impossible, but quite likely one of the biggest hurdles she has ever faced.
Sharapova had stunned the tennis world when she announced last year that she had tested positive for heart drug meldonium at the Australian Open after failing to realise it had been added to WADA’s list of banned substances. She had taken it for medical reasons for most of her career.
Sharapova returned to the game last month, but the journey so far has not been a smooth one despite the occasional positive signs. She has competed in three events since returning and even had a semi-final run in Stuttgart in her first tournament back, but has not able to acquire enough points to secure an automatic place in qualifying ranks for the tournament in Paris.
Then came the big snub – French Tennis president Bernard Giudicelli announcing that the 2012 and 2014 champion would play no part in this year’s tournament which starts later this month. “You can get a wild card when you return from injury but you cannot get a wild card when returning from a doping suspension,” Giudicelli said. The misery continued as Sharapova made a premature departure from the Italian Open due to injury, compounding matters for her in terms of Wimbledon qualification as well.
While this ended her hopes of qualifying on merit for Wimbledon’s main draw, a decision on whether she is granted a main draw spot will be taken on June 20, according to reports.
While her ardent fans want to see her back in action, some leading players have already aired their disapproval at the decision of tournament organisers in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome to grant her a wildcard for those events.
The question now for Sharapova, one of modern tennis’ biggest crowd-pullers, is – can she somehow serve up an ace and claim game, set and match?
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