Maria Sharapova was denied a wild card in the French Open on Tuesday, ending her hopes of returning to the venue where she has won two of her five Grand Slam titles.
Sharapova, who was suspended for 15 months for a doping ban, was playing her third event since her comeback in the Italian Open this week, but she'll now have to wait until the grass-court season to take the court again.
ESPN analyst Pam Shriver answered a few questions about Tuesday's decision:
Matt Wilansky: Was it the right decision?
Pam Shriver: Perhaps some politics went into the decision, but the bottom line is that Sharapova failed a drug test and had not earned enough points since coming back to earn her way into the French Open. And that's the [French Tennis Federation's] right to deny her. If you think about the Tour de France, the number of drug suspensions changed the way its country thinks about not just cheating, but the fallout. The Tour was basically crushed after everything happened with Lance [Armstrong] and others and never fully recovered. The French Open is putting the hammer down now before anything more happens. I can't speak to what actually went on behind the scenes, but the French Federation had to be worried out what people thought, the optics. So politics had to have come into play. I can't say it was the right decision, but it certainly wasn't the wrong one.
MW: Still, the strong sentiment was that she would at least get a wild card into qualifying
PS: Yes, but Maria's personal relationship with other players couldn't have helped. All the off-court opinions from other players had to weigh on the FFT's mind. And there are some other questions, like, "Was Sharapova an exemplary champion? Did she do all the things that champions are supposed to do?" Good will goes a long way in this sport.
You also have to take into consideration the way Sharapova reacted to WADA and the ITF when the initial decisions were made. Instead of just being grateful, she went on the offensive, which turned off the various establishments. She just hasn't showed a lot of goodwill or humility. That's not to say she has been unprofessional, but when you take into account the politics, these things play a role.
Also, don't forget her agent, Max Eisenbud, made some really horrendous comments about some really great players on the WTA Tour. Now to be fair to Max, we don't know whether these were mean-spirited or what the full context was, but as an ESPN commentator, they bothered me. And they had to resonate to some extent with the federation.
MW: What does this decision say to other players?
PS: It has to be a really popular decision in the women's locker room. So many players who are looked up to and admired have spoken out against Sharapova, as of a number of rank-and-file players. As for the French in particular, they have a strong crop of up-and-comers, and this decision speaks to them as well that the FFT is going to give them a shot that might not have been there had Sharapova been granted a wild card. But the overall feeling has to be one that we're not going to grant special privileges to anyone, no matter how successful they have been.
MW: How much of a setback is this for Sharapova, who was trying to round into form for the French?
PS: She's smart and savvy. But she is now going to have to answer questions about the FFT's decision as early as today. She needs to take a step back and reconcile that her return to major tennis is going to have to wait and not be bitter about it. It's a chance to be above it all and complimentary. She can get to the grass courts early like Roger Federer and start prepping. She hasn't had the same kind of success on grass as clay, but she will have a head-start on the others. Sharapova is a professional, and she's endured setbacks.
Still, when you think about the psyche of Sharapova, where there was probably a psychological as well as a physical effect, how is she going to be under stress during big matches? Over the years, she's been unbelievable in three setters. It's early, but we already saw her lose a tight three-set match against [Eugenie] Bouchard last week, in Madrid. It's easy to say, "Oh, that's because she's rusty," which is partially true. But perhaps not the entire story. The mental part of it has to be a factor.
MW: What's your overall feeling regarding the French Open with so many top-tier players not in the draw?
PS: Remember, we're coming off an Australian Open that had its most sensational finals on the women's and men's side, so I still feel like there's plenty of depth. But you can't take these players [Sharapova, Federer, Serena Williams] out of the equation and have it feel the same -- especially Serena who is chasing Margaret Smith [Court] as the all-time Grand Slam winner.
Like Kerber last year, let's see who steps up. Will it be Karolina Pliskova or Garbine Muguruza, or will Kerber herself get her act together? Maybe even Venus, who plays really well on clay. How will she react in her first major since making the Aussie final? Not having Serena or Sharapova will help everyone. It's just hard to say, as we've seen on the WTA Tour, who take advantage and become this year's Shelby Rogers. Like Sergio [Garcia] winning the Masters, there's a good chance for a feel-good story.
MW: How much does this decision affect the overall state of the WTA?
PS: This is a rough time. I thought a year, year-and-a-half ago that the recession was over. Serena was winning, and the up-and-comers looked like they were going to be here for quite some time. Throw in Maria, and there was a lot of depth. But between injury, struggles and now Sharapova, the WTA finds itself in a bit of a rut again.
Of course, Sharapova can come back and give some more star power to the WTA; it's just going to have to wait. Look at the way Kim Clijsters came back. Monica Seles, Justine Henin, too. Serena has come back from long layoffs. All these women came back right away. Sharapova has plenty of tennis left, but this latest setback won't give her the chance to build on whatever momentum she had these past couple of weeks.