In a stunning rebuke by the French Tennis Federation, two-time French Open champion Maria Sharapova was denied a wildcard into both the main and qualifying draw of the tournament, leaving the 2012 and 2014 champion out of Roland Garros for the second straight year.
The announcement was made on a surreal made-for-the-internet Facebook Live post on the personal page of Bernard Giudicelli, the president of the FFT.
Sharapova, who's only in the fifth week of her comeback, didn't have enough rankings points to get into either draw (with another two or three weeks, she would have) and thus was in need of the wildcard.
It wasn't much of a surprise the Russian didn't get an automatic bid into the main draw - the entire idea that there would be an Oscar-like reveal for the qualification wildcards portended that.
But for the FFT to deny Sharapova - who's already earned enough points in three tournaments to rise to No.
211 in the world and could be ranked in the 40s if she wins Rome - a spot in the 48-woman qualification draw just seems spiteful.
It's as if the decision was informed by the countless players who've lobbed jabs at Sharapova before, during and after her 15-month ban for meldonium, a drug that had been legal as recently as days before Sharapova's positive test.
"There can be a wildcard for return from injuries; there cannot be a wildcard for return from doping," Giudicelli said. "She might be very disappointed, but it's my responsibility to protect the game, and a game played without any doubts of results."
Fine. But if Sharapova already did the time for her supposed crime, then what is the FFT protecting besides its own arrogance and superiority? She's paid her dues. She's back.
If tennis is the meritocracy idealists want to believe it is, then give Sharapova a spot in the qualies and let her play her way in. She wouldn't have bumped out a more deserving player.
She'd have bumped out a wildcard recipient who couldn't get in 12 months the amount of points Sharapova has earned in one.
Sharapova isn't owed anything by the French Open, the same way she wasn't owed a wildcard by the four tournaments that have already given her one - Stuttgart, Madrid, Rome and Birmingham.
It's the FFTs tournament and they can do with it what they want. But if the goal is to put on the best tennis tournament possible, then you clearly extend an invitation to one of the - and this is a conservative estimate - 20 best players in the world.
Now, the French is without Sharapova, Serena Williams (pregnancy) and Roger Federer (rest) - the three biggest stars in the game.
Even with Serena in the semi-finals and finals last year, the tournament had the unsightly appearance of wide areas of empty seats in the lower half of Court Philippe Chatrier. Imagine the no-shows for a final between Karolina Pliskova and Anastasija Sevastova.
It's simply bizarre. One minute, Maria Sharapova was the French Open favourite. The next minute, she was out of the tournament entirely, subject to the whims of a governing body using its power to send a message that had already been received, loud and clear.
Extraordinary moment for tennis. Maria Sharapova, currently oddsmakers' second favorite to WIN the French Open, not given chance to compete. pic.twitter.com/5PbDvQU6OQ— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) May 16, 2017
One WTA player just now couldn't stop smiling after I told her Sharapova decision:"99% of players are against her, just afraid to say that."— Ben Rothenberg (@BenRothenberg) May 16, 2017
DJOKOVIC, MURRAY AND OTHERS REACT
Sharapova retired from her Italian Open match citing an apparent left thigh injury hours after learning she would not be granted a wildcard.
Sharapova was leading against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 4-6, 6-3, 2-1 when she called it quits on in the second round.
Sharapova had left the court for an injury time-out during the second game of the third set. She came back with her left thigh taped and managed to win a game despite serving softly then walked to the net after Lucic-Baroni held serve.
What a horrible three hours for Maria Sharapova. Wildcard rejected, gets injured and retires to a player who compared her to Lance Armstrong— Tumaini Carayol (@tumcarayol) May 16, 2017
Sharapova skipped a news conference afterward, issuing a statement about the injury but saying nothing about the French Open decision. The agency that represents her also declined comment.
But Lucic-Baroni had plenty to say. "The fact that there isn't a rule on people who failed doping tests, and whether or not they can get a wild card, whether or not they should, it's a very strange thing," Lucic-Baroni said, "because we are professional, and that should be in place."
She also made clear that she agreed with Giudicelli, calling the decision to deny the wild card "brave" because of Sharapova's popularity.
"If you want to do the right thing, you have to do the right thing," Lucic-Baroni said. "If you want to invest more money in doping tests, then you can't award a person who failed a doping test, no matter how you guys want to wrap it up and make it sound pretty."
Current men's No. 1 Andy Murray, who lost in Rome on Tuesday, was not in much of a mood to discuss the topic yet again.
He's made clear that he is not a fan of wild cards for players returning from doping suspensions and, like Lucic-Baroni, would like to see some sort of standardized approach to the issue.
"The French have decided what they want to do," Murray said, "and that's fine with me."
"Must be tough for her, but it's the way it is," added Novak Djokovic, after he overcame a challenging first set to beat British qualifier Aljaz Bedene 7-6 (2), 6-2 in his opening match at the Foro Italico.
"In some tournaments she's going to get that help in wildcard and invitation; some not. Unfortunately, it's Grand Slam, which is for sure for her a big one."
The French Open starts in less than two weeks. "She has to go through a tougher way back," Djokovic said. "After being absent from the tour for a long time, she's going to be patient, at least as much as she can, to slowly build her rankings and get back to where she has the quality to (enter tournaments directly)."
Tennis media should quiz the FFT President on how a WC to a banned corruption offender will "protect the high standards of the game"— Richard Ings (@ringsau) May 16, 2017
Very tough to see Wimbledon giving Sharapova a wild card after the French Open decision— Christopher Clarey (@christophclarey) May 16, 2017
WTA CEO Steve Simon pointed out Tuesday, tournaments are allowed to award a wild-card invitation to any eligible player, and Sharapova is now eligible to compete.
"What I do not agree with is the basis put forward by the FFT for their decision with respect to Maria Sharapova. She has complied with the sanction imposed," Simon said in a statement emailed to The Associated Press. "There are no grounds for any member of the (tennis anti-doping program) to penalize any player beyond the sanctions set forth in the final decision resolving these matters."
The WTA is not contemplating any change to rules governing wild cards for players returning from a suspension.