Sharapova’s presence draws savage backlash
TOURNAMENT director Craig Tiley has defended Maria Sharapova's involvement in the Australian Open draw in the face of withering international condemnation over the Russian's doping history.
As the only active available winner of the Open, Sharapova was asked to carry the women's trophy into Margaret Court Arena for an interview during a televised draw.
Her appearance - and the subsequent interview - drew a savage backlash, with international media blasting Tennis Australia's decision to involve Sharapova.
But Tiley said Sharapova's presence alongside five-time men's champion Roger Federer was justified.
"We wanted to have a former champion," Tiley said.
"The challenge we always have this week is there is the (concurrent) Sydney event, the Hobart event and there are also other events. As part of the tradition, we have the former champions.
"In fairness to Maria, the adjudication (on a 15-month ban) has occurred on that. She's a former champion at the Australian Open, 10 years ago."
With Serena Williams and Victoria Azarenka absent and Angelique Kerber in today's Sydney semi-finals, TA's only other option - in terms of active Open winners - was 2008 champion Sharapova.
But that cut no ice with international media.
The Daily Mail described Sharapova's invitation as a "strangely tin-eared call for such an expertly-run tournament."
"It is true that Sharapova has a rare pulling power - especially when Serena Williams is indisposed - but small wonder that the outside world looks in and questions whether tennis takes anti-doping seriously enough," it said.
"Wheeling her out had all the graciousness of Monday's final Ashes presentation in Sydney, which featured those giant, nationally-coloured hands with erect fingers reminding everyone of the 4-0 scoreline."
The Telegraph said: "Sharapova - whose last act at Melbourne Park was to provide a tainted urine sample in January 2016 - received a big build-up as she walked onto Margaret Court Arena with the trophy.
"An obsequious interview with (Channel 7's) Hamish McLachlan ensued, in which McLachlan referred to her "time out" as if she had taken a holiday rather than serving a 15-month doping ban."
The Guardian was similarly unimpressed: "The player also had the easiest of rides in her onstage interview with the host broadcaster, Channel 7."
The Express said: "Maria Sharapova carried the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup into the Australian Open draw ceremony, much to the disbelief of those watching.
"The Russian's last involvement with the tournament in 2016 resulted in her being banned from tennis for 15 months after testing positive for a prohibited substance.
"Many felt it was not right for the 30-year-old to feature at the showpiece event."