Maria Sharapova easily shakes off rust to win first match back after doping ban

After serving her 15-month suspension for failing a drug test last year, Maria Sharapova returned to the court at the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany, on Wednesday.

Having entered the tournament as a wild card, the 30-year-old Russian beat 2015 U.S. Open finalist Roberta Vinci in straight sets, 7-5, 6-3.

“I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time,” Sharapova, who tested positive for use of the banned substance meldonium, said after the match (via the Telegraph). “It’s the best feeling in the world, those first few seconds before you enter the arena. And it’s been a stage of mine since I was a young girl, and to know I’d be walking back was pretty special.”

Sharapova, who lost the opening game to Vinci, struggled at times but quickly snapped back into excellent form midway through the first set. In the eighth game, Sharapova kept her opponent scoreless while serving up a series of strong shot.

That Sharapova showed so few signs of rust is a bit of a surprise. She said she took “quite a lot” of time off from tennis during her 15-month ban. Originally suspended for two years, Sharapova saw her punishment reduced in October. On Wednesday, however, she said she took a break from tennis “to learn and explore” because she didn’t know when she’d be back.

“I went to school for a little bit, I worked and little bit and I was growing my business,” she said.

[Maria Sharapova is spending part of her suspension at Harvard Business School]

“I kept in shape but I put the racket away for a bit and it really invigorated me for when I came back in January and started training.”

Sharapova’s ability to hop right back into big-money tournaments pleased her fans, but it angered some critics, who said because she failed a doping test she should have to work her way back into the field of top competitors, rather than be granted automatic wild-card entries.

Among those critics was Vinci, who at a pre-match news conference said Sharapova should be able to return to play, “but without any wild cards.”

“I don’t agree about the wild card here and about the wild card in Rome and the other tournaments,” Vinci said (via Tennis Now). “I know (Sharapova) is important for the tennis, for the WTA, for everything. She is a great person, a great player, a great champion, but this is my opinion.”

 

Elite Canadian player Eugenie Bouchard also criticized Sharapova’s inclusion in the tournament.

 

“She’s a cheater,” said Bouchard this week, who is not playing in Stuttgart. “It’s so unfair to all the other players who do it the right way and are true.”

 

Several others have criticized Sharapova — as well as officials who have granted Sharapova’s wild-card entries — including Caroline Wozniacki, Simona Halep, Dominika Cibulkova, Agnieszka Radwanska, Angelique Kerber and even Andy Murray.

 

“I think you should really have to work your way back,” the two-time men’s Wimbledon winner said in March.

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