WTA chief Steve Simon defends Maria Sharapova wildcards

Maria Sharapova
Sharapova is a three-time winner of the Stuttgart title
Maria Sharapova v Roberta Vinci
Date: Wednesday 26 April Venue: Stuttgart Open
Coverage: Live commentary from 17:30 BST on BBC Radio 5 live sports extra, BBC Sport website and mobile app.

Maria Sharapova's wildcard entry into the Stuttgart Open has been defended by WTA chief Steve Simon, who said it is in keeping with how former dopers are treated in other sports.

The 30-year-old Russian's 15-month ban for using meldonium ends on Wednesday when she plays in the first round.

"You have to look at how other leagues and tours have handled players who have come back," Simon told BBC Sport.

"They come right back to the team and start playing."

Italy's Roberta Vinci - Sharapova's opponent in her comeback match on Wednesday - disagrees with the decision to invite the five-time Grand Slam champion into the main draw.

World number eight Agnieszka Radwanska, who Sharapova might have met in the second round had she not lost to Ekaterina Makarova, and former world number one Caroline Wozniacki have also questioned her presence at the tournament.

In addition to Stuttgart, Sharapova has been granted wildcards by the organisers of the events in Madrid and Rome.

She does not have a world ranking after her points expired during her suspension and would need to reach the final in Stuttgart to be eligible for French Open qualifying.

Maria Sharapova
Sharapova posted a picture of herself practising on clay on Monday after her arrival in Germany

The Daily Telegraph report that Sharapova is likely to be given a wildcard into qualifying at Roland Garros rather than the tournament's main draw.

"She is starting at ground zero," Simon added.

"It is going to affect her seedings in big tournaments so she's still going to pay a penalty for a while.

"If you think about it from other leagues, most of them [bans] are half of a season or a full season. She's had a year and a half."

Former world number one Kim Clijsters echoed that view, saying that Sharapova "has done her time and her punishment".

"I was disappointed and surprised when the news came out but, having been on both sides of the spectrum as a tournament director and as a player, I don't think she needs to be punished more," the Belgian told BBC Sport.

World number five Simona Halep said: "I cannot support what the tournament director did, but also I cannot judge: it is his decision.

"In my opinion, for kids and young players, it's not OK to help with wildcards the players who were banned for doping."

Analysis

BBC Sport tennis correspondent Russell Fuller

Sharapova will need to set the alarm for her first day back at work. She has scheduled a 9.15 practice session on Centre Court: it will be the first time she has been allowed inside a tournament venue since her ban took effect.

Nine hours later, she will take on Roberta Vinci. The 34-year-old has lost six of her past seven matches, and taken just four games from Sharapova in the four sets they have played. This appears to be one of the best draws the five-time Grand Slam champion could have received.

It normally takes several months for players to return to their best after such a long break: concentration and decision-making often suffer. Sharapova will, though, be brimming with motivation as she has always maintained her error was purely an administrative one.

Top Stories