How will women’s tennis welcome back Maria Sharapova—formerly its richest star, if not its most successful—after her 15-month ban for breaking its doping rules, however absurd those might be? Her return was bound to be messy. Because all of Sharapova’s ranking points dissolved during her absence from the tour, she’s starting from scratch, and many of her peers felt strongly that the former world No. 1 should not be given any preferential treatment via wild cards, typically granted to promising local upstarts or established stars returning from injury. But for tournament organizers, the clashing incentives are stark: You can either take the moral high ground and say Sharapova needs to play her way into the main draw, or you can hand a wild card to a splashy name and guarantee eyeballs.
Because the Stuttgart Open, a small Premier-level clay court tournament, chose the latter, Sharapova will play her first post-suspension match tomorrow. The far more pressing question has been whether the Grand Slams would follow suit. Next on the calendar is the French Open, which Sharapova has won twice, and per a Telegraph report, its organizers plan to withhold the wild card that would grant her automatic entry into the main draw, but still invite her to qualify for the tournament. That would entail winning three rounds, against low-ranked competition, on low-profile courts—a humbling test for someone who won the whole tournament as recently as 2014, but a fair one, and one she’s likely to pass. If true, this choice sets a firm precedent for how future Slams treat Sharapova, as she eases her way back on tour and her ranking points lag well behind her hypothetical skill level.