Controversial women's tennis star Maria Sharapova has secured her place in the qualifying draw for Wimbledon. The three-time Grand Slam winner, who memorably triumphed at the All England Club as a 17-year-old in 2004, will not need another wild card in her quest to play at the SW19 qualifiers in Roehampton in June after amassing enough ranking points by beating America's Christina McHale 6-4, 6-2 in the first round of the 2017 Italian Open.
Sharapova, expected to improve her position in the WTA rankings from 211 to approximately 170 as a result of that opening success at the Foro Italico, faces Croatian veteran Mirjana Lucic-Baroni next and will seal qualification for Wimbledon's main draw if she goes on to reach the semi-finals in Rome. Top seed and reigning world number one Angelique Kerber is likely to lie in wait in round three, while Simona Halep could be her last-eight opponent. Halep won the tournament in Madrid last week.
Sharapova was handed a two-year ban by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) in June 2016 after being provisionally suspended following a positive test for meldonium at the Australian Open.
That was reduced to 15 months on appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport (Cas) and she made her return to competitive action in April as a wild-card entry at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix.
The 30-year-old racked up three consecutive victories over Roberta Vinci, Ekaterina Makarova and Anett Kontaveit in Stuttgart before seeing her hopes of sealing a qualifying berth for the French Open ended by a semi-final loss to Kristina Mladenovic.
Sharapova has played Lucic-Baroni once already since making her comeback, defeating the former Melbourne doubles winner in three sets during the first round of the Madrid Open. Her run in the Spanish capital was ended by an epic grudge match defeat at the hands of Eugenie Bouchard, who has been arguably her most outspoken critic.
As confirmed by French Tennis Federation (FTF) president Bernard Giudicelli last month, Sharapova is due to find out on Tuesday (16 May) evening whether or not she will be handed a wild card for Roland Garros – her recent wins missed the deadline for qualifying points for the French Open.
"The only guarantee I gave her is to call her beforehand," Guidicelli said. "There is no reason why we should make an exception for Maria Sharapova, there is no reason why we should announce a wild card before the others."
Wimbledon have announced they are to charge for tickets for the qualifying tournament for the first time in their history, with the £5 fee going to charity. They dismissed the link with Sharapova's possible attendance as a "coincidence".