NEW YORK (AP) — Maria Sharapova was granted a wild-card invitation for the U.S. Open’s main draw on Tuesday and will take part in a Grand Slam event for the first time in more than 1½ years.
Sharapova is among eight women given entry into the 128-player field by the U.S. Tennis Association — and by far the most noteworthy.
The former No. 1-ranked player and owner of five major titles, including the 2006 U.S. Open, has not entered a major tournament since the Australian Open in January 2016, when she tested positive for the newly banned drug meldonium.
That led to a 15-month doping ban, which expired in April. She returned to the tour, but her ranking — currently 148th — was too low to allow entry into major tournaments, and the French Open denied her a wild card. Sharapova planned to try to qualify for Wimbledon, but the 30-year-old Russian wound up skipping the grass-court portion of the season because of an injured left thigh.
The USTA didn’t consider her suspension in awarding the wild card, saying it was following past practice of granting them to former U.S. Open champions who needed them, such as Martina Hingis, Lleyton Hewitt, Kim Cljisters and Juan Martin del Potro.
“Her suspension under the terms of the tennis anti-doping program was completed and therefore was not one of the factors weighed in our wild-card selection process,” the USTA said in a statement.
The organization added that Sharapova had volunteered to speak to young players at the USTA national campus about the importance of the tennis anti-doping program and the responsibility each player has to comply with it.
Sharapova has been participating in tournaments via wild-card invitations, beginning in April on red clay at Stuttgart, Germany. She’s only played nine matches this season.
Sharapova was 19 when she won her U.S. Open trophy. Two years before, at 17, Sharapova won her first Grand Slam title at Wimbledon. She has since completed a career Grand Slam and become one of the most recognizable — and marketable — athletes in the world.
Also receiving wild cards were: Taylor Townsend, reigning U.S. Open girls’ champion Kayla Day, 2017 NCAA singles champion Brienne Minor, U.S. Open wild-card challenge winner Sofia Kenin, USTA Girls’ 18s national champion Ashley Kratzer and Amandine Hesse of France. The final women’s wild card for singles will be an Australian player named later.
The U.S. Open starts in Flushing Meadows on Aug. 28.