Maria Sharapova Photo: Bernd Weissbrod/dpa via AP
LONDON - Former champion Maria Sharapova’s hopes of playing at this year’s Wimbledon championships will hinge on a June 20 meeting of tournament organisers unless the Russian hits form in forthcoming events in Rome and Madrid.

Sharapova, who returned last week after a 15-month ban for an anti-doping violation, could still climb high enough in the WTA rankings to earn a spot in the Wimbledon qualifying tournament at Roehampton.

Failing that the 2004 champion would need a wildcard, either into the main draw or the qualifying event a week before the championship begins.

“We have a long-standing tried and tested process (for awarding wildcards) in the week before qualifying and this year is no different,” All England Club chairman Philip Brook said at a news conference on Wednesday.

“First we will see if Maria applies for a wildcard and if so we will consider her case alongside everyone else’s.

“It will be a decision for the group on the day.”

Sharapova reached the semi-finals in Stuttgart last week as a wildcard entrant, playing her first tournament since her ban for taking the prohibited substance Meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open. Her world ranking rose to 262.

The cut-off date to enter Wimbledon’s main draw is May 22, the day after the conclusion of the Rome tournament in which Sharapova has been handed another wildcard.

Even winning the Rome title would not elevate the former world No1 high enough in the rankings to make the Wimbledon main draw, although a string of wins there and in Madrid the following week, where she also has a wildcard, could squeeze her into Wimbledon qualifying on merit. That would potentially spare the All England Club a tough decision, which already face the absence of defending champion Serena Williams who is pregnant.

Several players, including former world No1 Caroline Wozniacki and former Wimbledon runner-up Eugenie Bouchard, have been highly critical of tournament organisers handing five-time Grand Slam champion Sharapova wildcards.

But Sharapova remains one of the biggest names in the sport and has the pedigree to challenge for the title.

While at pains to say any application by Sharapova for a wildcard would be treated like any other, Brook hinted that reputation could influence the committee which includes himself, Wimbledon tournament referee Andrew Jarrett and former British No1 Tim Henman.

“We look at who has done well in the lead-up tournaments,” he said.

The 30-year-old is also sweating on being handed a wildcard for the French Open. A decision on that is expected on May 16. 

Reuters