x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Sharapova's return can only be good for WTA

On the WTA website is a banner advert with photographs of five women. That the WTA is still marketing itself around the Russian is no surprise even if she is not playing elite tennis.

Across the top of the home page on the WTA website is a banner advert with photographs of five women. Three of them, Serena Williams, Kim Clijsters and Caroline Wozniacki, have been ranked No 1 in the past year. A fourth, Jelena Jankovic, was world No 1 in the summer of 2008.

The fifth woman is Maria Sharapova, whose last turn at the top was in the early May of 2008. That the WTA is still marketing itself around the gregarious and photogenic Russian is no surprise.

Even when she was not playing elite tennis she continued to sell tickets and attract attention.

Sharapova, however, is returning to relevance, having apparently put behind her a series of injuries to her legs and shoulder.

She reached the semi-finals at Indian Wells 12 days ago, and she moved into the final 16 at the Sony Ericsson in Florida this week. Her world ranking is up to No 13.

A Sharapova who is competitive is good for the WTA. With the Williams sisters playing rarely, and having seen Justine Henin and Elena Dementieva each retire in recent months, the tour is short on star power.

Wozniacki has a dollop of it, as does Clijsters, but most of the rest of the women in the current top 10 are tough professionals with a marginal grip on the public imagination.

After reaching the semi-finals at Indians Wells, Sharapova, who is still only 23, said: "I still believe I have a lot in me."

The WTA certainly must hope so.