Open sav­aged over doper’s ‘star billing’


Ten­nis Aus­tralia has faced down in­ter­na­tional crit­i­cism for giv­ing dop­ing vi­o­la­tor Maria Shara­pova star billing to pro­mote next week’s Aus­tralian Open. The row em­broiled host broad­caster the Seven Net­work af­ter it was sav­aged on so­cial me­dia and in me­dia com­men­tary over an in­ter­view with the former world No 1 that glossed over her drug ban.

Shara­pova was wheeled in to pa­rade the women’s tro­phy on Mar­garet Court Arena at Thurs­day’s tele­vised draw for the tour­na­ment, re­plac­ing de­fend­ing cham­pion Ser­ena Wil­liams, who had pulled out.

The plau­dits that Ten­nis Aus­tralia re­ceives for run­ning what is re­garded as the world’s be­stor­gan­ised grand slam gave way to snip­ing at an “as­ton­ish­ing lack of judg­ment” to el­e­vate Shara­pova so soon af­ter her 2016 dop­ing in­frac­tion at the Open.

“It re­in­forced the be­lief that this is a sport that, time and time again, is weak when it comes to deal­ing with those who fall foul of anti-dop­ing laws,” wrote Stu­art Fraser of The Times, echoed by a cho­rus of Fleet Street crit­i­cism.

The Daily Mail said Shara­pova’s el­e­va­tion by Ten­nis Aus­tralia was a “strangely tin-eared call for such an ex­pertly-run tour­na­ment” while The Guardian heaped scorn on Seven’s Hamish McLach­lan af­ter he re­ferred to her drug sus­pen­sion as “time out” from the game.

Fraser wrote: “It made one pon­der how Wil­liams felt, if she was watch­ing from home, to be watch­ing Shara­pova walk out with a smile on her face, car­ry­ing the tro­phy that the Amer­i­can, while eight weeks preg­nant, bat­tled so hard to win last year.”

Aus­tralian Olympic swim­mer Mack Hor­ton, who has been out­spo­ken against dop­ing in swim­ming, was crit­i­cal. “I don’t think how she has been rep­re­sented here re­flects how the ma­jor­ity of Aus­tralians feel about her ‘time out’,” he said.

How­ever, the ten­nis great af­ter whom Mel­bourne’s ten­nis arena is named, Mar­garet Court, said the dop­ing find­ing against Shara­pova was un­fair and she was glad to see the Rus­sian back.

Amer­i­can great Bil­lie-Jean King also backed Ten­nis Aus­tralia over Shara­pova: “She served her time. I don’t un­der­stand why peo­ple can’t get over it.”

De­fend­ing the de­ci­sion, tour­na­ment di­rec­tor Craig Ti­ley said Shara­pova’s ap­pear­ance along­side five-time men’s cham­pion Roger Fed­erer was jus­ti­fied as it was the 10th an­niver­sary of her 2008 vic­tory. “We needed a former cham­pion to come. She ac­cepted the in­vite,” he said.

The only other former Aus­tralian Open women’s win­ner in the draw, 2016 ti­tle­holder An­gelique Ker­ber of Ger­many, was non­com­mit­tal when asked yes­ter­day about the Rus­sian’s re­turn. “Yeah, she’s back and she played not bad in the last few weeks,” she said.

Fed­eral Sport Min­is­ter Brid­get McKen­zie said it was up to Ten­nis Aus­tralia to de­cide who par­tic­i­pated in me­dia events, but “the Aus­tralian pub­lic takes a hard stand when it comes to an­ti­dop­ing”.

The former world No 1 in­sists test­ing pos­i­tive to mel­do­nium at the Open two years ago was an hon­est mis­take, as she had been tak­ing it as med­i­ca­tion for 10 years be­fore it was re­clas­si­fied as a banned sub­stance.


Maria Shara­pova’s con­tro­ver­sial ap­pear­ance at the draw

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.