LONDON: Fans around the world will be able to watch Maria Sharapova’s bid to reach Wimbledon with qualifying for the Grand Slam to be broadcast for the first time, it was announced Friday.
However, a spokeswoman for the All England Lawn Tennis Club, the tournament organisers, told AFP in London that this was one of several “long-planned” changes and not a decision made in response to 2004 Wimbledon singles champion Sharapova’s move to take part in qualifying rather than accept a wildcard as she returns from a doping ban.
An AELTC statement said it wanted to “continually improve the facilities for both competitors and spectators” at the Bank of England sports centre in Roehampton, near Wimbledon in southwest London, which has hosted qualifying uninterrupted since 1947.
“For the first time, television coverage from the event’s main Show Court will be available to spectators inside the Grounds via a giant video screen, and to Wimbledon fans around the world on wimbledon.com and via the AELTC’s broadcast partners,” the statement said.
The AELTC added that this year’s “enhancements” also included the introduction of ticketing, “to allow for adequate and appropriate security and safety measures at the venue”.
Russian former world number one Sharapova was refused a wildcard for the French Open, another of tennis’s four Grand Slams that starts this weekend following her 15-month ban for taking meldonium.
However, the 30-year-old was controversially handed a wildcard for next month’s WTA grasscourt event in Birmingham, a key warm-up for Wimbledon.
Sharapova returned from her doping ban on April 26 but relied on wildcards to get into tournaments because her world ranking points expired while she was banned. The five-time Grand Slam winner had plummeted to 211.
She was initially banned for two years for using meldonium, with the penalty later reduced by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS), which ruled she was not an intentional doper.
Last week, Sharapova announced she would be playing Wimbledon qualifying, telling her website: “Because of my improved ranking after the first three tournaments of my return, I will also be playing the qualifying of Wimbledon in Roehampton, and will not be requesting a wildcard into the main draw.”
After her ban expired, Sharapova returned to competition last month at the Stuttgart Open, reaching the semi-finals, and progressed to the last 32 of the Madrid Open, failing to earn a qualifying spot for the French Open, the second Grand Slam of the season.
Following her French Open wildcard snub, a defiant Sharapova tweeted: “If this is what it takes to rise up again, then I am in it all the way, everyday.”