Columnists 5.5.2017 02:16 pm

Sour twist to what was once a sugary tale

Tamlyn Patterson

Tamlyn Patterson

I suppose before getting stuck in, it’s important to declare my loyalties – or rather lack thereof – when it comes to Maria Sugarpova, I mean Sharapova.

Her recent, yet typical behaviour in sneering her way through a press conference and making us believe that it was the ITF’s fault, and not her own carelessness at checking whether Meldonium was in fact on the banned substance list way back in 2016, hasn’t helped.

So, the recent whirlwind surrounding her comeback in Stuttgart last week has been rather intriguing with swipes from fellow competitors coming from everywhere … inside out, crosscourt and straight down the middle. The tennis world is literally torn in half. And we’re not even talking about old nasty pants Ilie Nastase. And now that the ice is broken, there is no sign of the storm subsiding.

It’s about to pick up as the former world No 1 tries to return to Roland Garros where she has won twice, milking the wildcard all the way. The French Open authorities have however been reluctant to give her the royal authority associated with a main draw wildcard. This way of entry is usually reserved for up-and-coming home talents or well-known players returning from injury.

So thinking that a drug cheat deserves similar red carpet kind of treatment is out of the question. Well so say the likes of Eugenie Bouchard, Andy Murray, Agnieszka Radwanksa and Stuttgart slayer Kristina Mladenovic anyway.

What was once a sugar-coated world of Grand Slam finals, photo shoots and gummy sweet launches, is now filled with bitter pills and reality checks around every corner. Winning matches will be the easier part of the equation, as fellow players let rip at every given opportunity. But in typical Sharapova style, there is no backing down as the “I’m actually an angel’’ act continues.

So what’s next for the hard done by little princess who forgot to check her inbox? After losing to Mladenovic in the semifinals in Germany last weekend, Sharapova let more than 120 ranking points slip. Walking away from her first tournament back after serving out a reduced 15-month ban, the five-time Grand Slam champion will now have to wait until May 16 to hear her French Open fate amid plenty of umming and ahhing. But until then, she’ll try her luck at the Madrid Open which starts on Saturday.

Heading in, she’s ranked No 262 in the world and will need to climb into the world’s top-200 to have any chance of guaranteeing a spot in French Open qualifying. It may be true that the sport is in dire need of star power following Serena Williams’ announcement that she’s pregnant, so this whole debate certainly injects a whole lot of juice as Angelique Kerber, Simona Halep and Karolina Pliskova soldier on, but are hardly likely to send TV ratings through the roof.

At the core of her peers’ unhappiness is the message her preferential treatment is sending to young players trying to break through, week in and week out earning the minimum but relying on nothing other than blood, sweat and tears.

There is no sign of the dust settling and we’re not even talking about Wimbledon just yet. We’ll pick that strawberry when it comes.

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