Back in 2006, Russia’s darling of the professional tennis world, Maria Sharapova won the US Open, adding it to her steadily growing number of Grand Slam victories. And then in 2016, she failed a drug test for a medication newly added to the list of controlled substances, which led to her being banned for 15 months out of an original two years. Sharapova got to return to professional play last April, though at certain times she found herself getting barred from certain competitions like the French Open in May. But a true champion will not let that get in her way.

Following her Grand Slam appearance at Wimbledon that same month, Sharapova now returns to the US Open as a wildcard entry.

Champion status

On Tuesday, August 15, the United States Tennis Association (USTA) made their decision to award Maria Sharapova with a wildcard entry to this year’s US Open. This will be her first Grand Slam tournament appearance after her 2016 ban, and the wildcard was a necessity due to her not having any official player ranking on account of that ban. Her first 2017 Grand Slam shot should have been Wimbledon, were it not for an injury that made her withdraw from the qualifiers.

When asked for their reasoning behind giving Sharapova a wildcard to compete, the USTA explained that her status as a past US Open champion was a big pro towards her case for qualification.

That is a major relief for the Russian tennis icon, who while struggling with missed tournaments and gameplay injuries, has only managed to work her way up to a world ranking of 148. A statement by the USTA considered that her suspension has already been served in full, and therefore had no weight in their considerations. Other players who received wild cards for the US Open include Taylor Townsend, Kayla Day, Sofia Kenin, Ashley Kratzer, Brienne Minor and Amandine Hesse.

Long return

The last time Maria Sharapova played in a major was at the 2016 Australian Open where she lost to Serena Williams. That was where she took the drug test that eventually sidelined her from competition for 15 months. The last time she had won a Grand Slam was at the French Open of 2014. And of course, her 2006 US Open win was what helped sway the USTA in her favor with the wildcard entry.

As of this announcement, Sharapova has gotten ten wild card entries after the end of her suspension. Time will tell if the last Grand Slam in the row, the next Australian Open, will extend her the same courtesy when the time comes.