Thursday, March 2, 2017

Sharapova handed Rome wildcard as Murray hits out

ROME, Italy -- Five-time Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova has been given a wildcard to play in the Italian Open in May, organizers said Wednesday.

The former world number one makes her return to the circuit in Stuttgart in April after completing a 15-month ban for doping.

"We officially announce the wild card for the 3-time Rome champion @MariaSharapova into the main draw ... " organizers announced on Twitter.

Sharapova hasn't played on tour since testing positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open. An initial two-year ban by the International Tennis Federation was reduced to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

The Rome tournament runs from May 15 to May 21. She has also been handed a wildcard for the May 6-13 Madrid Open.

However, the decision to hand the Russian wildcards into three of Europe's prestigious clay court events was criticized by men's world number one Andy Murray.

"I think you should really have to work your way back," Murray told The Times.

"But most tournaments will do what they think is best for their event. If they think big names will sell more seats, they're going to do that."

Murray refused to elaborate on his standpoint on Wednesday after reaching the quarter-finals of the Dubai ATP event.

"I spoke about it yesterday and made my opinion pretty clear," said Murray.

"I have been answering questions on this honestly for over a year now, and I don't know what else I'm supposed to say."

Former world number one and 18-time Grand Slam champion Roger Federer was also reluctant to get involved in the Sharapova controversy after suffering a shock second round exit to Russia's Evgeny Donskoy in Dubai.

"Could see it either way, depending on who you are, and I don't know if it matters what the cause was for being banned, because at the end, it's all sort of the same. Banned is banned, you know," said the 35-year-old Swiss.