Stuttgart Open: `Wild-card` Sharapova marks winning comeback from doping ban

Ross Houston
April 27, 2017

Former world number one Sharapova, who was banned after testing positive for meldonium, made a winning return to competitive action yesterday when she defeated Roberta Vinci 7-5 6-3 in the first round of the Stuttgart Open.

Sharapova claimed her and her team did not realise that meldonium had been banned after she tested positive for it at the Australian Open in January 2016, with the five-time Grand Slam victor saying she took the drug to treat a heart condition.

She broke the 34-year-old again to secure the win on her first match point.

Bouchard said the Women's Tennis Association was sending the wrong message in allowing the five-time Grand Slam-winner to come back from her 15-month suspension.

Sharapova's initial two-year ban was earlier reduced to 15 months following an appeal to the court of arbitration for sport, which concluded she had not meant to cheat. Entering Stuttgart with a wild card, she faced Roberta Vinci of Italy in her opening match. The nature of the clay proved to be more problematic for Vinci, who revealed in her pre-tournament press conference that she was going to get to practice on the Centre Court for the first time on Tuesday.

"I was studying, I was working, I was working on my business, I formed friendships that I did never have the time for to form", she said.

Firing off a tournament-leading 10 aces, Sharapova swiftly closed out the match before letting out a victory shriek, clenching both fists as relief and joy poured out.

Sharapova was understandably rusty but brushed off a nervous start to break at the first opportunity after losing her first service game, showing ominous signs with a string of big winners. She showed though that she had not lost any of her tenacity, forcing Vinci to save a wave of four break points before finally breaking the Italian for the fifth time of asking. "She played good, she played aggressive, very solid, good service".

Unranked as a result of her ban, Sharapova was handed wildcards to this tournament in Stuttgart and the upcoming ones in Madrid and Rome, so that she would not have to play the qualifiers.

Frenchwoman Kristina Mladenovic posted a 6-4, 6-2 win over Croatia's Mirjana Lucic-Baroni 6-4, 6-2 to set up a second-round match against defending champion Angelique Kerber. I've always preferred to walk the walk - and I have.

One gets the sense that the other players are exhausted of the attention surrounding Sharapova's return and Johanna Konta, the world no. 7 who played earlier in the day before the Russian, said as much.

She did not find things easy against Osaka but took advantage of her opponent's physical struggles to run away with the third set and triumph 7-6 (7/5) 3-6 6-1.

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