Maria Sharapova beats Roberta Vinci on comeback from doping ban in Stuttgart Open
Sharapova showed no sign on court rust as she dispatched world No. 36 Vinci in straight sets in Germany, setting up an all-Russia clash with Ekaterina Makarova in tomorrow's round of matches.
"It's the best feeling in the world, those first few seconds before you enter the arena. To know you were walking back out there was special. I've been waiting for this for a long time," Sharapova said on court after the match, BBC Sport reported.
"I spent a long time without hitting any balls. I didn't know when I would be back. I went to school for a little bit, I grew my business and had a normal life. I put the racquet away for a little bit," she added.
The Russian was given a wildcard entry to the tournament and the match was her first competitive outing since she was handed a ban by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) in March 2016, after testing positive for banned substance meldonium during the Australian Open.
Five-time grand slam winner Sharapova, 30, was originally handed a two-year ban, although this was reduced to 15 months on appeal.
After a nervy start, Sharapova served strongly to claim the straight sets victory against Vinci, a player who has the distinction of having won all four Grand Slams in a doubles pairing, something Sharpova has acheived as a singles player.
Serves improved, volley improved.... Sharapova really made good use of the 15 month break #PTGP2017— tennisfanSG (@tennisfanSG) 26 April 2017
Sharapova will now face compatriot Ekaterina Makarova in the next round, after the Russian stunned seventh seed Agnieszka Radwanska in their first-round match.
She will however have to climb the world rankings once again and the decision to grant Sharapova a wildcard to participate at events will be decided by tournament organizers, rather than the Women’s Tennis Association (WTA).
The wildcard granted for the main draw in Stuttgart was met with a mixed response.
"I don't agree about the wildcard here and about the wildcard in Rome and the other tournaments," Vinci said ahead of the match, the BBC reported.
"She made her mistakes for sure, but she paid and I think she can return to play - but without any wildcards."
Others have been more supportive of the Russian, however, including former world number one Kim Clijsters. She told BBC Sport that Sharapova "has done her time and her punishment" and that “I don't think she needs to be punished more."
Current world number one and 23-time Grand Slam winner Serena Williams said in March 2016, shortly after Sharapova had given a press conference announcing the positive test, that the Russian had taken responsibility for the situation.
"Most people were surprised and shocked but happy that she was upfront and very honest."
"It's just taking responsibility, which she admitted she was ready to do.”
The comeback was the source of huge media interest, with a sell-out crowd of about 4,000 also watching the match against Vinci.
Much has been made of the fact that Stuttgart tournament sponsor Porsche is also a commercial backer of Sharapova. Tournament qualifying began on Saturday, although the Russian’s first-round game was held on Wednesday, the day after her ban ended.
UK paper the Telegraph reports that Sharapova will be a given a qualifying wildcard rather than a card for the main draw for the next Grand Slam on the calendar, the 2017 French Open, which begins at the end of May. Tournament officials have said they will announce their official decision on May 16.
Sharapova was banned for taking banned substance meldonium, also known as mildronate. She does not deny taking the substance, which she had been prescribed for 10 years by a family doctor due to health issues. However, she says she was unaware it had been added to the World Anti-Doping Authority’s (WADA) list of banned substances on January 1, 2016, and that this had been poorly communicated.