Controversial tennis symbol Maria Sharapova is being targeted for a return to New Zealand's ASB Classic.

Sharapova was hit with a 15-month ban after testing positive for the banned substance meldonium, and has come under fire on her return.

Fellow WTA Tour players have been critical of Sharapova receiving wildcards into big events in Stuttgart, Madrid and Rome, arguing she should not be allowed a free passage back into top level tennis.

Canada's 2014 Wimbledon finalist Eugenie Bouchard went as far as to say Sharapova should have received a life ban.


"She's a cheater and so to me, I don't think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play that sport again. I think from the WTA it sends the wrong message to young kids: cheat and we'll welcome you back with open arms," said Bouchard.

However, ASB Classic tournament director Karl Budge says Sharapova, who played at the Classic in 2011, remains a target for Auckland.

"Serena [Williams] is probably now off the table, so you've got to look at who else will be your headline act. We've got a track record of bringing the best athletes that are participating in our week to Auckland, and Maria would be right at the top of that list. We'll certainly do everything we can to see if that can be a reality," Budge told Tony Veitch on Newstalk ZB.

Kiwi No1 Marina Erakovic is unhappy with Sharapova receiving wildcards on return, but understands the view of tournament organisers.

"It does bug me. It's not just me, I think there are a lot of players out there who don't think it's right," Erakovic said.

"She did her time. Tennis is a business and Maria Sharapova is a past champion, multiple Grand Slam champion, so for tournaments it's in her interest she plays so they can sell tickets."

Budge sympathises but also emphasises the commercial realities of running a tournament.

"Maria is someone that captures headlines, she's of public interest and simply she puts bums on seats.


"She's probably behind Serena [Williams] as the biggest female athlete on the planet. I have been chatting to her like I have been a number of players, and we'll see what comes of it."