NEW YORK: Rivals remain divided over Maria Sharapova as the former world number one from Russia prepares to return to Grand Slam tennis on Monday (Tuesday in Manila) at the US Open after a 15-month doping ban.
The 30-year-old Russian received a wildcard into the field for the year’s final Grand Slam event that starts Monday on the New York hardcourts with the night feature match pitting Sharapova against Romania’s second-ranked Simona Halep.
“I don’t think any tennis fan in the world is not going to have that match on. Let’s be honest,” said US 15th seed Madison Keys.
“We all knew it was inevitable she would be back in majors and playing. I’m sure this first round is going to be interesting. Everyone knew it was a possibility something like this would happen.”
Five-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova was banned after testing positive for the blood boosting drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.
She was not offered a wildcard into the French Open and many players were unhappy she had wildcards into other events starting in April.
While Sharapova is 6-0 against Halep, she has played only one tuneup match due to a forearm injury, which followed a thigh injury that kept her out of Wimbledon.
But the US Open offered a wildcard, saying she had served her ban and was treated like any other past champion needing a wildcard.
“It’s once again something really tricky to answer, because I guess when someone has been banned or out of competition, I think you have to work for it a little bit to go and play your tournaments and not help that much sometimes,” Wimbledon champion and Spanish third seed Garbine Muguruza said.
“You’ve got to work hard and deserve it again. I think that’s the way.”
That said, Muguruza praised Sharapova as a player, saying, “I think she’s a fighter, great attitude, big fight, spirit on the court. I guess the fans want her back. I guess she will improve the tournament.”