Russian five-time Grand Slam winner overcame Italian 7-5 6-3 in the first round of the Stuttgart Open, playing as a wildcard
MARIA SHARAPOVA beat Roberta Vinci at the Stuttgart Open, playing her first match in 15 months since being banned for taking the drug meldonium.
The Russian five-time Grand Slam winner beat the Italian 7-5 6-3 in the first round of 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.
Sharapova was provisionally suspended from competitive tennis in March 2016 before being banned in June for two years by the International Tennis Federation.
Her last tournament was in January 2016, the last time she played – but that ban was reduced last October to 15 months
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.
Andy Murray has previously echoed Vinci as one of the sport’s most hardline critics of doping offenders.
While Boris Becker urged Sharapova to be more humble and grateful that tennis is welcoming her back into the fold.
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.