Maria back on form

STUTTGART, Germany – Former world number one Maria Sharapova made a winning comeback to the tour yesterday following her 15-month doping ban, beating Italian Roberta Vinci in straight sets in the first round of the Stuttgart Grand Prix.

The 30-year-old Russian, three-time winner on Stuttgart’s clay courts, received a controversial wild card for the German tournament, having had no ranking points after more than a year out following her suspension.

She had a nervous start in front of a supportive crowd but quickly found her strokes and her trademark shrieks to power past the world number 36 7-5 6-3 and set up a second-round clash against fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova.

“It’s the best feeling in the world. To know I would be walking back into the arena was very special,” Sharapova said in a courtside interview. “I was waiting for this moment for a long time.”

She added: “When I am on the court, because I have been doing it for so long, even though you are rusty and trying to get a rhythm, you try to block everything out. I am a competitor by nature. That’s when I am at my best.”

Sharapova has also received invitations to play in Madrid and Rome and will find out in May whether she will be given a wild card for the French Open.

Some players, including Vinci, have criticised the wild card awards, saying a doping offender should have to start from scratch and build up their ranking by playing in the lower tournaments again.

Sharapova’s initial two-year suspension was reduced to 15 months after she tested positive at the 2016 Australian Open for meldonium, a medication the Russian had been taking within the rules but which was then reclassified as a banned drug.

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