'Wimbledon qualifying facilities could cope with Maria Sharapova'

Maria Sharapova
Sharapova has not yet requested a wildcard for Wimbledon

Wimbledon qualifying could cope with the levels of interest should Maria Sharapova take part in the Roehampton tournament, the All England Club says.

The Russian returned from a 15-month doping ban last month and could yet qualify directly or receive a wildcard when they are confirmed on 20 June.

Wimbledon's qualifying event will be ticketed for the first time this year.

All England Club chief Richard Lewis is "absolutely confident" Roehampton could cope with Sharapova's presence.

"We're used to organising events where there's a lot of pressure on our facilities, so it would be nothing unusual for us," he told BBC Sport.

Lewis said Sharapova, the 2004 Wimbledon champion, has not yet requested a wildcard and there have been no discussions, either formal or informal, with her or her team.

Former world number one Sharapova, 30, reached the semi-finals in Stuttgart on her return to action last month.

As a result she is currently ranked 262nd - but she needs to be closer to the top 100 to qualify directly for the main draw at Wimbledon, or the top 200 for the qualifying tournament.

She has wildcards at this month's events in Madrid and Rome, where she can pick up more points before the Wimbledon main draw entry deadline of 22 May and the qualifying deadline of 5 June.

Wimbledon's qualifying tournament takes place from 26 to 29 June at the Bank of England Sports Grounds, and until this year has been an unticketed event with limited media facilities.

Maria Sharapova
Sharapova returned to action in Stuttgart last month

This year there will be 1,000 tickets for sale at £5 each, with proceeds going to the Wimbledon Foundation, along with video coverage of one court, inflatable covers on two courts and an improved player lounge.

Asked whether the changes were made with Sharapova's possible presence in mind, Lewis said: "I know it does seem very convenient timing but it is actually unrelated, genuinely unrelated, and we know that qualifying needs to continue to be improved, just like we improve facilities here at the Championships. It's part of an ongoing process."

Sharapova was initially banned by the International Tennis Federation for two years after testing positive for heart disease drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.

It was later reduced to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, who found that she was not an "intentional doper".

The issue of whether the French Open and Wimbledon, as Grand Slam events, should offer wildcards to a player returning from a doping ban has divided opinion.

Andy Murray and Caroline Wozniacki have been among those opposed to her receiving wildcards, while Venus Williams and Svetlana Kuznetsova were among the more supportive players.

The French federation will make its decision known on 16 May, while Wimbledon's Tennis Committee meets to discuss who will receive wildcards on 20 June.

The committee will be made up of former British number one Tim Henman, three club members including club chairman Philip Brook, Debbie Jevans and Richard Stoakes, tournament referee Andrew Jarrett and two LTA members, Martin Corrie and Cathy Sabin.

"Wildcards are what they say that they are," Lewis added.

"There's a wide range of criteria that any tournament would consider and from our point of view it could be playing record, it could be whether they are British or not.

"And to pre-empt the next question, who knows what they will consider on the 20 June? That's a matter for the committee and not something we can speculate on at this stage."


Russell Fuller, BBC tennis correspondent

Improvements to the Roehampton site have been on the All England Club's agenda for a while, but I think it would be fair to say progress was given an extra sense of urgency by the possible appearance of Sharapova and all those her presence would attract.

The 2004 champion could well play herself into the main draw by reaching the semi-finals in either Madrid or Rome, which allowed Richard Lewis to answer questions about wildcards as purely hypothetical for now.

Past Wimbledon form and success in tournaments leading up to the championships, especially those on grass, are factors the committee will consider. Sharapova will score highly in at least one of those categories, and Lewis also told me that views expressed by some other players are not likely to prove relevant.

But he would not be drawn on how much weight Sharapova's anti-doping violation would carry. That is the crux of the matter, and very much down to the seven people who will file into the All England Club on Tuesday, 20 June.

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