Sharapova handed Cincinnati wildcard ahead of US Open
Maria Sharapova has been handed a wildcard for the Western and Southern Open in Cincinnati as she returns from injury ahead of the US Open.
The Russian was among four tournament wildcard recipients announced on Thursday, with Victoria Azarenka, Sloane Stephens and Marketa Vondrousova also entered into the field.
Sharapova, who won the Cincinnati title in 2011, returned from a 15-month doping ban in April, but skipped the grass-court season after a thigh injury forced her to retire from her Internazionali BNL d'Italia second-round match against Mirjana Lucic-Baroni in May.
The five-time major winner will need a main-draw wildcard if she is to be guaranteed a grand slam return at the US Open next month, but invitations to Stanford and Cincinnati will enable her to make a case for inclusion at Flushing Meadows.
"The addition of these players add to our already strong player field," said tournament director Andre Silva.
"We anticipate the WTA's number one ranking to be on the line during the Western and Southern Open, and adding players of this calibre will make the battle for the top spot even more compelling."
Former world number one Sharapova was not given a Roland Garros wildcard by the French Tennis Federation and planned to go through Wimbledon qualifying before injury ruled her out of the competition.
The Russian is scheduled to play in Toronto at the Rogers Cup and will have to go through US Open qualifying if a wildcard is not offered.