There were Grand Slam developments for two of the world's highest-earning players yesterday.

Maria Sharapova won her first-round match at the Italian Open and thus booked her place in Wimbledon's qualifying event. But Roger Federer announced he would be skipping the French Open to optimise his chances in SW19.

In a statement, Federer said, "I feel it's best to ... prepare for the grass and hard-court seasons ... My team and I concluded today that playing just one event on clay was not in the best interest of my tennis and physical preparation for the remainder of the season."

Federer had already withdrawn from the rest of the European clay-court swing, having explained last month that "my knee was strange on the clay last year".


Federer's absence will only shorten the odds further on a 10th French Open title for Rafael Nadal.

As for Sharapova, she took her customary air of detachment to extremes yesterday. Having beaten Christina McHale in Rome, she claimed to be unaware of the implications for Wimbledon.

"I don't know how Wimbledon qualifying works," Sharapova said. "I think maybe you guys assume that I know these things. But every single match is a priority for me."

Some may struggle to believe Sharapova has not investigated the situation at all, given how high-profile the debate has been. But the upshot is that Roehampton's peaceful Bank of England Sports Ground should ready itself for a horde of TV cameras when qualifying begins on June 26.

To fill in the mechanics Sharapova apparently failed to grasp, the 60 points she earned yesterday will take her ranking to around 170, at worst, after this event. The players in Wimbledon's qualifying event run from around 100 to close to 200.

She could earn direct entry to the main draw by right if she reaches the semifinals in Rome. But the road ahead is challenging. Today's second-round match against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni looks winnable, but the next two opponents are likely to be tougher: potentially world No1 Angelique Kerber, followed by French Open favourite Simona Halep.

If necessary, the All England Club could still decide to fast-track Sharapova into Wimbledon's main draw when they hold their wild-card meeting on June 20.