Russian five-time Grand Slam winner plays Italian Roberta Vinci in the first round of the Stuttgart Open as a wildcard
MARIA SHARAPOVA is back on court playing her first match in 15 months since being banned for taking the drug meldonium.
The Russian five-time Grand Slam winner is up against Italian Roberta Vinci in the first round of the Stuttgart Open as a wildcard this evening.
Vinci won the first game, before breaking Sharapova with relative ease – although the Russian broke her Italian opponent back at the first opportunity with some strong baseline shots.
Sharapova is a three-time winner in Stuttgart, but the eyes of the tennis world will be on a packed centre court as she takes on 2015 US Open finalist Vinci.
As she bids to get her career back on track, the former world number one will want to play well ahead of finding out next month if she has been given a wildcard for the French Open qualifying.
As well as Stuttgart, Sharapova has been granted wildcards by the organisers of the events in Madrid and Rome.
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That is despite not having a world ranking, as her points expired during her suspension and – and will only get automatic French Open qualifying if she reaches the final in Stuttgart, as she will move into the world’s top 200.
Vinci has questioned the decision to give Sharapova wildcards, but it has been defended by WTA chief Steve Simon who said it the same treatment as how dopers are treated in other sports.
With a backdrop of red lighting, a focused Sharapova walked on court with steely determination, but was met with a muted expression from the crowd.
The signs are not good for a Vinci win, as she has met Sharapova twice before, with the Russian winning 6-2 6-1 in Indian Wells five years ago and 6-0 6-1 at the US Open in 2007.