McDonald: In This Game of Racquets, The USTA Was Right To Admit Maria Sharapova

Apparently, Game of Thrones hasn’t ended just yet.

Even though the season finale of the hit HBO show aired Sunday, there’s a certain jockeying for position on the women’s end.

Maybe we can call it a Game of Racquets, because over the past few days there was an uprising in the ranks against tennis’s version of Cersei Lannister, Maria Sharapova.

You see, Sharapova was given a wild card to the Open and was ranked 145th in the world. Yesterday, after the 2006 US Open Champion played her first two rounds on Arthur Ashe Stadium, there were comments from some competitors.

First came CoCo Vandeweghe, who is probably the Arya Stark of the Open, said, “Wild cards are appointed by the USTA. I can’t say I agree. I wish it was an American instead, selfishly, because it is a USA tournament. I know from receiving a wild card here, it can be a huge platform to kind of progress through.  Maybe a developing junior or someone that’s coming back from injury or, you know, just somebody that’s on the cusp, next American out that has an opportunity to kind of help their own ranking.”

And the came this zinger from Caroline Wozniacki, who was breathing dragon fire, like Daenerys Targaryan, after losing to Ekaterina Makarova in three sets, really hit home.

“Putting out a schedule where the No. 5 in the world is playing Court Five — fifth match on after 11 [p.m.] I think that’s unacceptable,” Wozniacki said. “And when you look on Center Court I understand completely the business side of things and everything but someone who comes back from a drug sentence and, you know performance enhancing drugs, and then you know all of a sudden gets to play every single match on Center Court, I think that’s a questionable thing to do.”  

Unlike Wimbledon and the French Open, the USTA gave Sharapova the Wild Card, because she is a former champion and also because the field thinned out this year. Without Serena Williams, the women’s draw didn’t have a sure thing and also didn’t have too many marketable players. Sure, Venus Williams could make a run and an American like Sloane Stephens could also surprise, but as the television networks have learned, many of these young European players in the top 10 like Simona Halep, Angelique Kerber or Garbine Muguruza are less marketable as the tournament goes later on.

And like Wozniacki, both Halep and Kerber are out of the tournament.

Now, we are not just talking about selling tickets, like Vandeweghe pointed out, rather this is all about television. The Open will get its people to Flushing Meadows as this whole weekend being sold out proves, but the average viewer, who knows only the top players, will have a better chance of stopping to watch Sharapova as they flip around the channels.

ESPN knows this, which is why they want to highlight Sharapova and the USTA put her on Ashe.

Also, unlike Roland Garros and Wimbledon, an American audience is much more forgiving when it comes to performance enhancing drugs. Just take a look at how A-Rod was accepted back with the Yankees last year. Barry Bonds is still cheered in San Francisco and Mark McGuire has become a successful hitting coach.

Heck even suspected steroids users like Jeff Bagwell and Pudge Rodriguez were elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame.

So a pretty girl like Sharapova gets the benefit of the doubt too.

Finally, there’s also those who won’t forgive her and they tune in as well. Sports always works better when there’s a true villain to root against. Cersei Sharapova definitely fits that bill.

As she plays in more and more tournaments, all will be forgiven with Sharapova and the players will start to accept her again, even begrudgingly.

Right now, though, it makes excellent fodder as these two weeks roll along. The more Sharapova wins, the more she will get criticized.

And more people will tune in.

The USTA knew what it was doing with this Game of Racquets.  

About the Author

Joe McDonald

Joe McDonald is the founder and former publisher of NY Sports Day. After selling to i15Media in 2020, he serves as the Editor-in-Chief and responsible for the editorial side of the publication. In the past, Joe was the managing editor of NY Sportscene magazine and assistant editor of Mets Inside Pitch. He has covered the Mets since 2004.

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