Steve Simon, the CEO of the Women's Tennis Association (WTA), has said he is "looking forward" to seeing Maria Sharapova back on the circuit once she has served her drugs ban. The Russian star, who has five grand slam titles to her name, is eligible to compete again on April 26 2017. The penalty followed a positive test for banned substance meldonium at this year's Australian Open.
"I believe that the game, the fans, the tour ... everybody is going to welcome Maria back," Simon told CNN's Open Court host Pat Cash at this year's WTA Finals in Singapore. "We're looking forward to seeing her back on tour. I do believe that the fans and everyone else is going to be excited to see her back as well."
Sharapova's original two-year ban was reduced to 15 months in October, meaning she will be able to compete in the French Open in May.
Simon spoke of his admiration for the way Sharapova has conducted herself since receiving the ban. "She's gone through a long and difficult year going through this process," he said. "I think she's shown a tremendous level of integrity.
"Maria owned up to everything she did. We wish all athletes and people would own up to what they do and take responsibility for their actions."She did. She's gone through the process. She received no special considerations due to her celebrity status."
Simon acknowledged the impact the ban has had on the Russian's career. "She's paid a hefty fine," he said. "She's lost all her ranking; she's lost 15 months of income. That's a significant hit for anybody. She's paid her dues and she's available to come back when her suspension will end in the spring."
Simon is not the only CEO in world tennis to welcome Sharapova's comeback. Johan Eliasch, CEO of tennis manufacturer Head who sponsor Sharapova, congratulated the Russian star after her ban was reduced.