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The controversial decision by Germany to offer Russian tennis champion Maria Sharapova a coveted wildcard spot at WTA Stuttgart Grand Prix has many in pro-tennis circles weighing in on the upcoming May 15 decision by officials at Roland Garros.

Testing positive for the drug meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open, right on the heels of the Rio Russian doping scandal, Sharapova has claimed her use of the now banned substance necessary due to a family history of diabetes and magnesium deficiency. Earning a spot on the WADA list of banned substances after she had been taking it for ten years, meldonium is best known for increasing oxygen levels in muscle by slowing the breakdown of fatty acids in the tissues. According to an official at the Latvian Pharmaceutical Company where the drug is produced, "It would be reasonable to recommend them to use meldonium as a cell protector to avoid heart failure or muscle damage in case of unwanted overload".

With clay court offers to play in Germany, Madrid, and the Italian Open in Rome, many on the WTA tour are claiming preferential treatment for the 5-time Grand Slam Champion. German born Angelique Kerber has voiced concern that although she cannot start the tournament until the third day, her participation means one less spot for a German player. Keeping her comments relatively civil, she has publicly stated the decision as “strange” on the part of organizers at Porsche Arena. Sharapova reps are claiming a jealousy factor in the negative press surrounding her return to the circuit, yet men’s No.1 Andy Murray has nothing to gain by his statement "I think you should really have to work your way back. However, the majority of tournaments are going to do what they think is best for their event".

As Sharapova prepares for Stuttgart, the FTF will be watching closely, citing a “moral dilemma” as grounds for a holdout on their wildcard decision until May 15. Just one week prior to qualifiers, many speculate her performance and reception in Germany could sway Roland Garros one way or the other. No Williams sisters on the tour this year leaves us to wonder if Roland Garros will risk the absence of another powerhouse tennis star, and consistent crowd favorite.

The wildcard offer is not the only way to the French Open for Maria, there are a few scenarios by which she would be eligible to participate. With no world ranking at Stuttgart, she may gain enough points with a win, or possibly in the final if she plays as well as she has in years past. A French Open win brings Wimbledon sharply into focus for Sharapova, placing her back among the elite of the WTA.

England has most likely dodged the bullet on a controversial wildcard decision, as it is highly unlikely Sharapova will not have the point ranking for automatic entry to qualifiers at Bank of England Sports Centre in Roehampton. When asked earlier in the year by the press her initial reaction to the suspension, on-court nemesis Serena Williams stated, "As Maria said, she's ready to take full responsibility and I think that showed a lot of courage and a lot of heart". In stark contrast to the support of Serena, WTA champion Caroline Wosniacki has not been shy about her disapproval of Sharapova’s shortened ban and possible showing at Roland Garros. "Any time we take medication we double and triple check, because sometimes even things like nasal spray can be on the banned list," Wosniacki stated at a New York press conference. 

Like her or not, early predictions heavily favor a Sharapova win in Paris, even with Roland Garros on the fence. Though concerns regarding a Sharapova return have been rampant throughout the tennis world, the bizarre behavior and abusive outbursts of former Romanian pro and coach Ilie Nastase seem to be overshadowing the Russian’s return to the sport. Concerns now seem to be more focused on avoidance of a circus-like atmosphere surrounding the tour.

Photo source: Wikipedia

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