Australian Open tournament director Craig Tiley defended the decision to invite Maria Sharapova to the draw ceremony.

With defending champion Serena Williams missing the tournament, organisers controversially chose Sharapova to represent the women.

The Russian entered Margaret Court Arena carrying the Daphne Akhurst Memorial Cup at the same venue where she failed a doping test for meldonium two years ago.

But Tiley insisted there were no mixed messages, citing Sharapova’s status as a former champion, with the Russian lifting the trophy 10 years ago.

“We wanted to have a former champion,” Tiley said. “We were happy she accepted our invite. The adjudication has occurred on that [the drugs ban]. Maria deserved the opportunity.”

In the absence of Williams and Victoria Azarenka, who is embroiled in an ongoing custody battle over baby son Leo, Sharapova and 2016 champion Angelique Kerber are the only former winners in the draw. However, Kerber is currently still competing in Sydney.

Sharapova has climbed to 47th in the rankings as she continues to work her way back from her 15-month doping ban.

But the Russian remains unseeded and has her work cut out to progress far in the draw, with 14th seed Anastasija Sevastova, who beat Sharapova at the US Open, a potential second-round opponent and Kerber likely to be waiting in the third round.

This is set to be another wide-open tournament in the absence of Williams, and Sharapova said she still believes she can be world No. 1.

“That is the ultimate goal, but I realise the depth of the game,” she said. “It’s for anyone to grab. I certainly will hope that I put myself in that position.”



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