A day before Maria Sharapova was to play her first tennis match since being banned for doping, the debate about the Russian's wild-card entry for the Porsche Grand Prix continued on Tuesday.
Simona Halep and Alize Cornet joined the growing legion of players criticizing tournament organizers for offering Sharapova a direct spot in their main draws.
"For the kids, for the young players, it is not OK to help with a wild card the player that was banned for doping," said the fifth-ranked Halep, adding that "it is not about Maria Sharapova here, but it is about all the players that are found doped."
"I cannot support what the tournament director did, but also I cannot judge," said Halep, who is seeded fourth and plays Barbora Strycova in the second round.
Cornet went a step further in comments published by French sports daily L'Equipe.
Alize CornetGenerally speaking, I find it shameful that the WTA is promoting a player who tested positive after all. It’s normal that people talk about her, she’s an immense champion, but from there to promoting her return to such an extent. I find that unjust.
Sharapova's 15-month suspension for the use of meldonium after the heart drug became a banned substance at the beginning of 2016, ends Wednesday. The five-time Grand Slam champion and former World Number 1 is scheduled to play Roberta Vinci in a first-round evening match at the tournament she won three times from 2012-2014.
On Monday, Vinci joined the likes of Caroline Wozniacki, Dominika Cibulkova, Agnieszka Radwanska and Angelique Kerber in publicly opposing wild cards for players returning from a doping ban.
Kerber, the two-time defending champion, is the top-seeded player in Stuttgart. The seventh-seeded Radwanska fell to Ekaterina Makarova 6-2, 6-4 on Tuesday, leaving the Russian a second-round match against Sharapova or Vinci. Cibulkova pulled out of the event with a right wrist injury.
In other first-round play, the eighth-seeded Svetlana Kuznetsova edged Kiki Bertens 6-3, 5-7, 6-3. The Russian will next play last year's finalist Laura Siegemund, who defeated Shuai Zhang 6-2, 7-6 (4).
Besides Stuttgart, Sharapova has also been handed a free passage into the main draws at Madrid and Rome in May, but organisers of the French Open are yet to decide about an invitation for the Russian.
Alize CornetI hope that (French Tennis Federation) president Bernard Guidicelli holds firm on what he initially said and doesn’t offer her a wildcard for Roland Garros. A player who has tested positive should start from scratch like everyone else and win her place back. You shouldn’t roll out the red carpet for her. Unfortunately tennis remains a business, but, morally, it’s not good.
(With inputs from AP)