Maria Sharapova receives wildcard entry for US Open

Maria Sharapova has been granted a wildcard invitation for the US Open's main draw and will take part in a grand slam event for the first time since her 15-month drugs ban.

Maria Sharapova, of Russia, in action at the US Open at Flushing Meadows in 2014. Picture: AP.
Maria Sharapova, of Russia, in action at the US Open at Flushing Meadows in 2014. Picture: AP.

Sharapova is among eight women given entry into the 128-player field by the US 
Tennis Association – and by far the most noteworthy.

The former No 1-ranked player and owner of five major titles, including the 2006 US Open, has not entered a major tournament since the 
Australian Open in January 2016, when she tested positive for the newly banned drug meldonium.

That led to her 15-month doping ban, which expired in April. She returned to the tour, but her ranking – currently 148th – was too low to allow entry into major tournaments, and the French Open denied her a wildcard. Sharapova planned to try to qualify for Wimbledon, but the 30-year-old Russian was forced to skip the grass-court portion of the season because of an injured left thigh.

Sharapova has been 
participating in tournaments via wildcard invitations, beginning in April on clay at Stuttgart, Germany. She has only played nine matches this season.

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Sharapova sat out the Rogers Cup in Toronto and will also be absent in Cincinnati this week as she focuses on being fully fit for the final grand slam of 2017, with the US Open set to start on 28 August.

Sharapova was 19 when she won her US Open trophy. Two years before, at 17, she won her first grand slam title at Wimbledon. She has since completed a career grand slam and become one of the most recognisable – and marketable – athletes in the world.

Meanwhile, the All England Club has secured a £175 million loan facility to finance the construction of a retractable roof at Wimbledon’s No 1 Court and other ‘Master Plan’ projects. The roof will cost £71m and should be completed in time for the 2019 event.

The extra spending is revealed in the All England Club’s accounts at Companies House and also outlines other improvements planned on the site. These include new clay and covered hard courts, which will not be used for the championships.

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Wimbledon makes £125m over five years from debenture seat sales and this profit will be used to pay off the loan, with extra income from TV rights, general ticket sales and sponsorship. The All England Club, which made a £33.2m profit last year, paid off a £75m loan in 2015 that funded the first part of Wimbledon’s ‘Master Plan’, including the Centre Court roof.

Capacity on Court One is expected to rise from around 11,500 to 12,400 under the proposals and will create a more comfortable environment for spectators, although the report says there are no plans to increase ticket prices.

The new roof will see Wimbledon become the second of the sport’s four grand slams to have the capability for indoor tennis on two courts, guaranteeing play in bad weather.

The Australian Open currently leads the way with three roofed courts guaranteeing play. The introduction of a roof on No 1 Court could also allow four matches to be played each day both there and on Centre Court whatever the weather. That would open up the possibility of having an even-gender split with two men’s and two women’s singles matches on the biggest stages.