Published On: Thu, Apr 27th, 2017

Maria Sharapova makes a winning return after serving out a 15 month doping ban

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Defeats Roberta Vinci in straight sets

Former world number one Maria Sharapova made a winning comeback to the tour on Wednesday 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, a three-times 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.”

An initial two-year suspension was cut to 15 months and here the 30-year-old is now — without a world ranking, requiring wildcards from tournaments and dividing opinion just as she has done ever since she burst onto the scene as a 17-year-old Wimbledon winner in 2004.

French Open wildcard hangs in the balance

There is speculation that Paris might meet her half way by granting a wildcard into the qualifying tournament instead.

As Sharapova was still banned until Wednesday, she had not been allowed onto the tournament site and was forced to make her own practice arrangements at a suburban public club in Stuttgart.

However, she still has powerful advocates in the sport including WTA chief Steve Simon.

“You have to look at how other leagues and tours have handled players who have come back,” Simon told BBC Sport.

“They come right back to the team and start playing… she is starting at ground zero.”

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