Andy Murray sounds like he has had enough. He is trying to put his game back into top gear in time for the French Open later this month and Wimbledon in July and yet all he seems to do is talk about Maria Sharapova.
The LTA is the latest body to offer the Russian superstar (for which read ticket seller) a wild card as she makes her way back from a 15-month drugs ban. She tested positive for the heart drug meldonium at the Australian Open last year and after doing her time and serving out her ban, she returned to the tour with no ranking points to her name. No matter – the tournaments in Stuttgart last week, Madrid this week and Rome next week gave her free entry to their main draws.
The French Open will announce its decision on a possible wild card next week. And now the LTA have given Sharapova a free ticket to the Aegon Classic in Birmingham in the lead-up to Wimbledon.
The rights and wrongs of the wild-card issue have been debated at great length ever since the news broke about Sharapova’s positive test and opinion is not so much divided as polarised. Eugene Bouchard, who beat the Russian in Madrid on Monday night, went as far as to say that she felt Sharapova should be banned for life. She also made it clear after her win that she had a good deal of support in the locker room for her views.
But now Murray wants clarity and common sense to prevail.
“This isn’t just about Maria; this is about the sport of tennis in general,” Murray said. “This is not the first time a player coming back from a ban has been given a wild card into tournaments. It’s because of her name, obviously, that there is so much interest in it. But there’s no rule stopping it so what can you do?
“Should the governing bodies come together after the amount of controversy there’s been, come together and discuss this and see whether going forward there should be a different way of tackling it?
“It’s definitely something that should be talked about and should be discussed because we are standing here talking about it now and we’ve been talking about it for well over a year.”
Murray is well aware of the financial reason for getting Sharapova back in the spotlight – she sells women’s tennis. A second-round match in Madrid between the world No 258 and the world No 60 would normally merit no more than a sentence in the sports pages but when Bouchard (the No 60) faced Sharapova, it was the focus of the world’s media and the talk of the town. But that the LTA, a national federation, should be offering a drugs cheat – as Bouchard described her opponent – an easy path back to the top, that put a different complexion on the issue, particularly as the LTA’s decision was made with – apparently – the full backing of Michael Downey, the out-going chief executive.
“I haven’t spoken to Downey or anyone at the LTA about those decisions and they are the ones who make them,” Murray said. “I don’t agree with every decision they make performance-wise or grass roots-wise. What they do with the game, it’s up to them to do it, right or wrong.
“It has been a very divisive subject. Some people think it’s absolutely fine, some people think that it isn’t, that she shouldn’t be getting any wildcards at all, or getting them into qualies, it has divided a lot of opinion. I made myself pretty clear earlier in the year but these are not my decisions to make and they are going to do what they think is best for the tournament.”
What is best for Murray at the moment, though, is to concentrate on himself and his game at the Mutua Madrid Open. Yesterday he came through his opening match unscathed, beating Marius Copil, the world No 104 from Romania, 6-4, 6-3. The big-serving man from Arad was no pushover but Murray sized him up, applied the pressure at the appropriate moments and kept his own serve safe and secure. It was not brilliant but it was certainly not bad for a first match.
“I still think there’s a ways to go,” Murray said. “I don’t think I’m playing perfectly just now. But the most positive thing about tonight was that I feel like I can serve a little bit better than I did today. I had no breakpoints against me. When I serve well, the rest of my game tends to follow.”