STUTTGART, Germany (AFP) — Maria Sharapova returns after a 15-month doping ban Wednesday, determined to rediscover the glory which introduced her 5 Grand Slams, the world’s prime rating and a spectacular multi-million greenback life-style.
The poster lady of ladies’s tennis gained’t essentially be welcomed back with open arms by rivals who have been already suspicious of the towering Russian’s ice-cold detachment even earlier than her fall from grace.
However, Sharapova isn’t dropping any sleep because the 30-year-old prepares for her first match since being defeated by Serena Williams in the 2016 Australian Open quarter-finals
“That is the least of my concerns. I know that I am respected in my field. I see it in how my opponents play against me,” stated Sharapova who was controversially handed a wild card into this week’s Stuttgart occasion, a clay courtroom match sponsored by Porsche, certainly one of her headline backers.
She was even given a Wednesday begin as that’s the day her ban — imposed for testing optimistic for meldonium finally 12 months’s Australian Open — involves an finish.
Sharapova, who begins her Stuttgart marketing campaign in opposition to Italian veteran Roberta Vinci, had been taking the over-the-counter cardiac complement when it was throughout the guidelines, however was later reclassified as a prohibited drug.
Far from being remorseful, Sharapova just lately hit out at tennis authorities for failing to present her ample warning that meldonium had develop into a banned substance.
The Russian will step onto centre courtroom at 1830 (1630 GMT) on Wednesday and will not have picked a greater match for her return, having gained the Stuttgart title 3 times, and struggling only one defeat.
If she will get by means of her opener, she might face Poland’s Agnieszka Radwanska, certainly one of her fiercest critics, in the second spherical.
Radwanska, the sixth-seed in Stuttgart, expects a ‘fierce’ return from the Russian, however says Sharapova ought to have needed to qualify on benefit fairly than being given a free cross on a wild card.
“This kind of entry into the tournament should apply to players who dropped in the ranking because of injury, illness or some other random event. Not for those suspended for doping,” stated Radwanska.
Sharapova’s agent Max Eisenbud believes his consumer’s rivals are motivated solely by jealousy particularly with Sharapova battling additionally for a French Open wild card.
“All those ‘journeyman’ players like Radwanska and Caroline Wozniacki who have never won a slam and the next generation passing them. They are smart to try to keep Maria out of Paris,” Eisenbud stated.
“NO Serena, NO Maria, NO Vika, NO Petra, it’s their last chance to win a slam,” he added, a nod to the absence of pregnant Serena Williams, Petra Kvitova and Victoria Azarenka, anticipated to return in July after having a child.
Sharapova can count on loads of help from the Stuttgart organisers as her return is the spotlight in the match’s 40th anniversary celebrations.
As an envoy for Porsche, she is certain of a heat welcome. Her confectionary model — Sugarpova — can have a stand in the match’s retail village.
Tournament director Markus Guenthardt is aware of her presence will increase ticket gross sales.
“Her return in the Porsche Arena is a fabulous present for our fantastic spectators and is certain to be one of the sporting and emotional highlights of our anniversary tournament,” he stated.
As nicely as Radwanska, lots of her different potential Stuttgart rivals have made it clear they disapprove of her getting a serving to hand into the principle draw.
Germany’s Angelique Kerber, this 12 months’s prime seed and the one participant to have overwhelmed Sharapova in Stuttgart, stated her place ought to have gone to native expertise.
“It’s a German tournament, and we [have] so many good German players, so this is also a little bit strange,” stated Kerber.
“It’s also strange for the players, that she can walk on site on Wednesday and she can play on Wednesday.”
Dominika Cibulkova, the third seed, claims Sharapova is benefiting from unfair remedy.
“It’s not about her, but everyone who was doping should start from zero,” stated the Slovakian.
© Agence France-Presse