Maria Sharapova Urged To Be ‘Friendlier’ As French Open Decision Looms
Maria Sharapova’s return to the tour provides her an opportunity to reinvent herself according to former world No.1 Boris Becker.
Sharapova will end her 15-month suspension from the tour next week after testing positive for the banned substance meldonium. The Russian has argued throughout the controversy that she was unaware she was consuming a banned substance and has criticised the International Tennis Federation for the handling of her case. In October she successfully won an appeal to reduce her 24-month ban to 15.
Known by many as a divisive figure in the sport, Sharapova returns to action at the Stuttgart Open next week. Some have criticised tournament officials for rewarding her a wildcard into the tournament. Sharapova is banned from competition until Wednesday, the day she will play her first match.
Weighing in on the debate, former Djokovic mentor Becker believes the comeback could be the start of a new beginning for Sharapova. The seven-time grand slam champion has been branded as unfriendly by some of her rivals. Dominika Cibulkova once called her ‘arrogant, conceited and cold.’ Meanwhile, Barbora Strycova said Sharapova ‘doesn’t speak to anybody on the tour.’
“There’s no secret that she was one of the most unpopular players in the locker room so a lot of players have their opinions about her,” Becker told The Daily Telegraph.
“The question is on her and how does she treat the comeback? Will she behave the way she behaved before? That would not be so good.
“Will she be a bit more charming and a bit more friendly to everybody? I hope so. “
Earlier this year Becker said that 30-year-old ‘deserved a second chance’ following her ban. Repeating his words again this week, the six-time grand slam champion hopes Sharapova will raise her own ‘personal level’ on the tour.
“She’s still a young woman, there’s still room for improvement on a personal level. On a professional level she was a grand slam champion, she is a superstar in her sport. So I hope she can add to it a little bit on a personal level.” he explained.
French Open tension
Becker’s calls come as French Open officials mull whether or not to reward Sharapova a wild card into next month’s French Open. Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome have all granted her passes into their tournaments, but Roland Garros has expressed reservations.
“Integrity is one of our strong points. We cannot decide, on the one hand, to increase the amount of funds we dedicate to the anti-doping battle and, on the other, invite her.” French tennis chief Bernard Giudicelli previously told the AFP.
It has been confirmed that a final decision over her entry into the upcoming grand slam tournament will be made on May 15th. A two-time champion in Paris, the tournament risks losing two of the biggest names on the women’s tour. Serena Williams has already withdrawn after announcing her pregnancy. Nevertheless, Giudicelli remains undeterred by the prospect.
“Serena Williams and Maria Sharapova are two unconnected cases,” said Giudicelli.
“We’re staging a Grand Slam, not a casting.”
Without a wild card, Sharapova will not get entry into the main draw at Roland Garros. She could still make the qualifying draw if she reaches the final in next week’s Stuttgart Open, which is a premier tournament.