Maria Sharapova's comeback about to hit a snagMarch 10, 2017

There was growing anticipation on Maria Sharapova's return to the women's tour until Bernard Giudicelli, president of the French Tennis Federation, made an admission regarding the French Open organisers granting the Russian a wild card on the second Grand Slam event of the year.

"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," he said.

The French Tennis Federation haven't made a final decision, even though tennis had been an indulgent sport. Sharapova's ban would end on April 26, which should be the middle of Porsche Tennis Grand Prix tournament. Nonetheless, organisers were willing to let her play her opening match during that date, which was a bit later than the other participants. Porsche was one of Sharapova's main sponsors while she won the tournament from 2012 to 2014. She also got a wild card to the Madrid Open and Italian Open, both prestigious red clay court tournaments (leading to the French Open). Sharapova had her greatest success on dirt prior to her suspension, yet there seemed to be a reluctance to welcome her back with open arms.

Giudicelli pointed out that integrity was one of the best traits of the French Tennis Federation, even if there were other factors to consider in this case. Sharapova, five-time major champion, wasn't a popular figure among her peers. (French player Kristina Mladenovic was among the few who were vocal about their dislike towards Sharapova.) The Russian was losing to players whom she wouldn't have any problem during her younger years. France would try to uphold a drug-free image after the reputation of Tour de France was severely tarnished due to the likes of Lance Armstrong. Then again, it would remain to be seen if the French Open organisers give in to the pressure.

Sharapova will also seek a wild-card entry in Wimbledon. There's no word yet on the All England Club, but there's a good chance that the Russian will set foot on SW19 this summer. She can still draw the crowd, and the sport needs all the publicity it can get in this competitive era. She might find an unlikely inspiration in the Williams sisters, who would play until 2020. Svetlana Kuznetsova will remain Russia's top-ranked player in the coming years, though. If Sharapova won't regain the form that brought her to the summit of the WTA rankings, then don't be surprised about her possible retirement sooner or later. After all, she seemed to be in the same position as Andy Roddick during his final years on the ATP Tour. The lack of winning form prompted him to hang up his racket. Sharapova's resilience and fighting spirit will be put to the test in this seemingly less-than-friendly atmosphere.

Happy Barty is back

Ashleigh Barty took a year off to play cricket in the Women's Big Bash League for Brisbane Heat. She won't have any second thoughts after winning her first WTA singles title in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia last Sunday.

"It hasn't quite been 12 months since I started playing singles again. I'm certainly happy to be back," she said.

The native of Ipswich, Queensland had every reason to celebrate last weekend, as she teamed up with Casey Dellacqua to win the women's doubles title. The duo reached the finals of three of the four Grand Slam tournaments four years ago, so winning their first major trophy together would be a goal this season. As for the singles, Barty's maiden title enabled her to break the Top 100 this week. It would be her highest, and she could go far. Sam Stosur, currently ranked at 18, is the top-ranked Aussie player for years. She will turn 33 this month. She would have inconsistent results since winning the 2011 US Open. Could Barty do better? If the 20-year-old won't play cricket again, then there won't be any reason why she couldn't be WTA Most Improved Player of 2017.

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