Maria Sharapova: Russian beats Roberta Vinci on return from doping ban

Sharapova faces media after winning return

Maria Sharapova won on her return to action after a 15-month doping ban as she beat Roberta Vinci in the first round of the Stuttgart Open.

The Russian, who was suspended last March after testing positive for meldonium, beat the Italian 7-5 6-3.

There was no noticeable bad reception for the 30-year-old, who responded well to losing her first service game to take a tight opening set in Stuttgart.

She broke twice in the second to progress to face Ekaterina Makarova.

Sharapova, who hit 11 aces and 39 winners, said: "I've been waiting for this for a long time.

"It's the best feeling in the world, those first few seconds before you enter the arena. To know you were walking back out there was special.

"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. But this is what I've done for so long. I'm a competitor - that's when I'm at my best."

'I would play in the juniors if I had to'

Maria Sharapova
Sharapova would need to reach the final in Stuttgart to be eligible for French Open qualifying

The decision to give five-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova a wildcard entry for this event, as well as upcoming tournaments in Madrid and Rome, has been questioned by a number of players, including her Italian first-round opponent.

However, it has been defended by WTA chief Steve Simon, who said it was in keeping with how former dopers were treated in other sports, adding that she was "starting at ground zero".

The former world number one will find out on 16 May if she has been given a wildcard for the French Open, which starts on 28 May.

After Wednesday's victory, the Russian told BBC Sport that she would "play in the juniors" if she had to, to compete at the French Open and Wimbledon in July.

"I think everyone in this room knows what a competitor I am and I don't take anything for granted, and if I get the opportunity to be in a draw then I will take it," she added.

"I'm being offered wildcards from the tournament directors and I'm accepting them to be able to compete in the draw.

"I'm coming with no ranking and I'm not getting a wildcard to receive a trophy or a golden platter. I have to get through the matches and I still have to win them and that's my job."

Sharapova capitalises on controversial wildcard

Wednesday's match was a positive start to the process of rebuilding her world ranking points against the woman 34th in the world.

She was understandably rusty but brushed off a nervous start to break Vinci at the first opportunity after losing her first service game, showing ominous signs with a string of big winners.

Vinci was then taken to deuce in every subsequent service game until the pressure finally told, with Sharapova taking a 6-5 lead and then serving out the first set.

Sharapova started the second set with another break of serve to win her fourth game in a row and leave Vinci reeling.

The Italian held on to take the set to 4-3 but ultimately the Russian's superiority showed with a break to love and an easily won final service game.

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