Sharapova's impending return generating buzz

Maria Sharapova's return to tennis from a doping ban is still more than five weeks away but the Russian is generating quite the buzz during the ongoing BNP Paribas Open in California.

Players including men's No. 1 Andy Murray, seven-time grand slam winner Venus Williams, twice grand slam winner Angelique Kerber and former No. 1 Caroline Wozniacki have all weighed in on whether the five-time grand slam winner and one of the world's most recognizable athletes should benefit from wildcards as she tries to rebuild her tennis career.

The latter duo have also questioned whether the 29-year-old should be allowed to make her much anticipated comeback at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix -- Wozniacki said the rules were "twisted and turned" for Sharapova -- which may have led to the women's WTA tour clarifying the rules Monday.

'Eligible'

Sharapova is allowed to compete on April 26 following a 15-month suspension for testing positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open. That day falls on a Wednesday, three days into the clay-court event in Stuttgart where Sharapova did receive a wildcard.

"In compliance with WTA and the Tennis Anti-Doping Programme rules, Sharapova can participate in a tournament in the week that her suspension ends, providing that the first match that she is scheduled to contest takes place on or after the day on which she is eligible to return to competition," the WTA stated on its website.

"First round action at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix commonly takes place over three days, therefore the former world No. 1 is eligible to accept the wildcard she has been offered and begin play on Wednesday, April 26th."

Sharapova is prohibited from the tournament grounds until the Wednesday, however, which prompted Germany's Kerber -- who will regain the No. 1 ranking next Monday in place of the injured Serena Williams -- to tell reporters last week in Indian Wells: "It's a little bit strange also for the players that she can walk on site on Wednesday and she can play on Wednesday."

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'Twisted and turned'

Wozniacki added to reporters in a separate briefing: "I think it's very questionable allowing -- no matter who it is -- a player that is still banned to play a tournament that week. From the tournament side, I think it's disrespectful to the other players and the WTA.

"But it is what it is.

"Obviously the rules are twisted and turned in favor of who wants to do what."

Wozniacki echoed the sentiments of Murray -- who told The Times players "should have to work your way back" -- when she added that Sharapova shouldn't be handed wildcards.

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'Nice to have her back'

Sharapova has additionally been granted wildcards for Madrid and Rome, which along with Stuttgart comprise the three biggest clay-court events ahead of the French Open, the year's second grand slam. Sharapova needs wildcards to compete at tournaments at the highest level because she has no ranking.

Though no decisions have been officially taken, the new head of the French tennis federation, Bernard Giudicelli, hinted that Sharapova may not get a wildcard for Roland Garros.

"We can't decide on one hand to increase the funds dedicated to fighting anti-doping and on the other (invite her)," he was quoted as saying by French sports daily L'Equipe this month.

Venus Williams, though, took a softer stance.

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"I think the bodies have made their decision, and she has an opportunity to come back and continue her career," she told reporters. "I think she should be allowed to continue that. If people want to give her wildcards, I guess that's the tournaments' decision as they weigh other wildcards.

"It will be nice to have her back in the game."

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