After a 15-month absence from the WTA Tour, former tennis Grand Slam champion Maria Sharapova was delighted to return with a win on Wednesday.
Maria Sharapova plays a return to Italy's Roberta Vinci during the Grand Prix tennis tournament in Stuttgart on Wednesday. Sharapova was given a lukewarm welcome by 4,500 spectators upon her return to professional tennis after a 15-month doping ban.
The five-time grand slam champion, in her first match back since a 15-month suspension for taking the banned steroid meldonium, overcame Roberta Vinci 7-5 6-3 on Wednesday.
Roberta Vinci had been one of many in the game to criticise the decision to hand Maria Sharapova a wildcard entry in Germany, but the 30-year-old was just delighted to be back on the world stage.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” she said in her on-court interview. “Those first few seconds before you enter the arena – it’s been a stage of mine since I was a young girl and to know that I’d be walking back on it was really special. I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time.
“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.
“I felt I had to grow as a person and I think I’ve done that.
“This is what I’ve done for so long. I’m a competitor, that’s when I’m at my best.”
Next up for Maria Sharapova is a meeting with compatriot Ekaterina Makarova, when she can likely expect another capacity crowd as she remains a major draw in the women’s game.
Maria Sharapova – who will learn on May 16 whether she will be given a wildcard for the French Open, which she has won twice – added of her round-two opponent: “She’s a lefty, but no matter who I play it is important for me to play points, play games, play sets. It’s a journey and this is just the start.”