(Reuters) - The level of media coverage surrounding Maria Sharapova’s return to tennis from a doping suspension has been a key factor in the five-time grand slam winner being offered wildcards to events, men’s world number one Andy Murray has said.
The Times reported this week that Sharapova would be awarded a wildcard by the Lawn Tennis Association (LTA) to play at next month’s Aegon Classic in Birmingham.
Sharapova’s current ranking of 258, after a return from a 15-month doping suspension, was too low to merit a direct entry for the event and the organisers were looking to give her one of the four available wildcards, the report said.
The former world number one has played two tournaments through wildcards since her return - losing in the semi-finals at last month’s Stuttgart Open and falling to Eugenie Bouchard in the second round of the Madrid Open last week.
“I do think the tournaments are going to do what they think is going to sell the most tickets, give them the most coverage, get the most people in to watch,” Murray told BBC Sport.
”I‘m sure the LTA saw the coverage that was given, ... the amount of media covering it, and think that’s what’s best for the tournament in Birmingham. But I‘m sure it’s split a lot of opinion.
“I‘m sure the discussions about whether to give it or not were long... but they’ve obviously done what they think is right for that event and maybe haven’t thought as much about the wider implications.”
The 30-year-old Russian last played in the Wimbledon warm-up event in 2010.
Sharapova’s hopes of featuring in this year’s Wimbledon could hinge on a June 20 meeting of tournament organisers unless the Russian finds form in upcoming events.
The Aegon Classic will be held at the Edgbaston Priory Club from June 17-25.
Reporting by Aditi Prakash in Bengaluru; Editing by Peter Rutherford