(Changes from ‘wild card’ to ‘wildcard’ throughout)
By Julien Pretot
PARIS, May 16 (Reuters) - The president of the French tennis federation (FFT) said he had a moral responsibility to deny Maria Sharapova a wildcard invitation to this month’s French Open as the sport continues its fight against doping.
Bernard Giudicelli announced the decision a day after former world number one Roger Federer said he was skipping Roland Garros to focus on the grasscourt season, meaning that the French Open will start on May 28 without two of the circuit’s most commercially attractive players.
Sharapova, a twice French Open champion, returned from a 15-month doping suspension last month and Giudicelli said that the Russian had needed to earn her spot on the court.
“We did not want to treat Maria Sharapova differently,” Giudicelli said in a telephone news conference.
“We are in talks with the tennis authorities on the plan we want to implement to fight against doping. We must have an ambitious plan, increase the number of blood tests because we know it’s a major element in the fight against doping.”
“Maria won twice here, but we have a huge (moral) responsibility,” Giudicelli added.
The FFT president said that he felt the pressure of public opinion after the 30-year-old Sharapova was invited by organisers to play in the Madrid, Stuttgart and Rome tournaments.
“I read the results of several polls and I could see that about two-thirds were in favour of Maria being granted a wildcard, of course I felt some pressure,” he explained.
Sharapova’s return had divided opinion in the sport and several players had reacted angrily to the Russian being invited to those events.
Former world number one Martina Navratilova, however, had said Sharapova should now be allowed to get on with her tennis and, as a twice former champion in Paris, could justifiably be given a wildcard into the main draw.
Tournament organisers had the option of giving the 2012 and 2014 champion a wildcard for the French Open’s qualifying event, but Giudicelli said this would have been “an insult to the tournament and to Maria”.
The FFT president said he had tried calling Sharapova to announce his decision, but was unsuccessful. “I got straight to her answering machine three times and I left her a message,” he said.
Reporting by Julien Pretot; Editing by Toby Davis