Would the WTA be smart to get Maria Sharapova back faster?
In the wake of the attack on Petra Kvitova, Shane Lambert looks at the upcoming WTA season and sees one that lacks some star power.
I’ve always felt that the suspension of Maria Sharapova was unduly lengthy. Part of the reason definitely had to do with the fact that she broke a recently-changed rule. I’m not saying that she should have got off Scot-free, but I think the original two years and even the one-year-plus-three-months reduced suspension that she received was excessive. I felt that three months would have been enough, given how recent the changes were regarding the banned substance that she used.
Obviously other bodies saw things differently and perhaps Sharapova is a victim of her national identity. The Russians have been in the media a lot lately for banned substances with their entire Olympic team under scrutiny in 2016. A fair question is if Sharapova’s lengthy suspension is political in nature.
However, that’s not the question I’m looking at right now. Rather I think the WTA needs to work to get Sharapova back as soon as possible in light of the depleting stars on the 2017 WTA Tour.
Two things happened in the world of women’s tennis on December 20th. Firstly, Petra Kvitova suffered a tragic attack in her home, one that left her with debilitating wounds in her left hand. She’ll be out for months now. Secondly, Victoria Azarenka gave birth to her child, but it’s still not clear when she returns to tennis competitively.
When you factor in Sharapova’s suspension, Serena Williams’ age, and Venus Williams’ age the WTA might be without the big headliners we are used to on tour for a big chunk of 2017. In the case of Kvitova, Azarenka, Serena, and Venus there’s nothing that can be really be done: injuries, getting back to fitness after pregnancy, and aging are hands that play themselves. However, if there is a way to get Sharapova back into the mix early then I think the WTA should now want that based on their sports’ depleted star power.
I don’t see returning Sharapova to tennis early as unfair. I think that when a new rule gets implemented there should be a grace period before full-punishment for breaking the rule goes into effect. That doesn’t mean that a partial-punishment shouldn’t apply during the grace period, but I really think Sharapova having only broken a recent rule change (ie. the substance she used was only recently banned) should be considered inherently mitigating. If she saw her suspension reduced to time already served, then it would not bother me. However, if she is being punished in the broader context of all the news of Russian cheating in international sports then that would bother me a lot.
The upcoming Australian Open won’t be without major WTA stars even if the absence of Kvitova, Azarenka, and Sharapova. However, a final lacking a major star is only a few upsets away from happening. I wouldn’t be totally surprised if we ended up with something like Carla Suarez Navarro against Kiki Bertens in a semifinal. I’m not saying that it’d be a bad match, but it wouldn’t be a ratings magnet and that would be bad for women’s tennis. Getting Sharapova back in the mix after what is already a more than fair amount of time served might make Melbourne Park more interesting. As for any political difficulties involved with that: where there’s a will, there’s a way.