Sharapova Wins First Match After Return From Doping Ban, With Ease

A 15-month hiatus from professional tennis because she missed an email.

Maria Sharapova has had the tennis world buzzing with her comeback, and more importantly, the method of her comeback. However on Wednesday, the former world number 1 put all the talk aside and returned to professional tennis with a 7-5, 6-3 win over Roberta Vinci at the Stuttgart Open.

The Russian star was playing her first match in 15 months after she was caught in Jan 2016 for using a substance that was banned at the end of 2015. While Sharapova claimed she just missed the mail that intimated players of new additions to the banned substances list, her comeback has been heavily ridiculed by fellow players for other reasons.

The 30-year-old three-time winner on Stuttgart's clay courts, received a controversial wild card for the event, having had no ranking points after more than a year out of action. However, fellow players on the circuit, including her opponent in the opener, Roberta Vinci insisted Sharapova should have been made to start from the bottom and win her way into the main draws of big tournaments.

Comeback Win

In her first match at Stuttgart, Maria had a nervous start but quickly found her strokes and her trademark shrieks to power past the world number 36 and set up a second-round clash against fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova.

"It's the best feeling in the world. To know I would be walking back into the arena was very special," Sharapova said in a courtside interview. "I was waiting for this moment for a long time."

She added: "When I am on the court, because I have been doing it for so long, even though you are rusty and trying to get a rhythm, you try to block everything out. I am a competitor by nature. That's when I am at my best."

Sharapova has also received invitations to play in Madrid and Rome and will find out in May whether she will be given a wild card for the French Open.

"It's important to play, points, games, sets. It is a journey that officially starts today and I look forward to playing as many matches as I can."

Sharapova was clearly nervous at the start, firing three forehands long in the first game, double-faulting on her first service game point and being broken by the Italian for a quick 2-0 lead. It took 15 minutes for Sharapova to win her first game but she gradually improved her service, started attacking Vinci's serve and clinched the first set after an hour.

Sharapova, growing in confidence with every point despite a dozen unforced errors in the first set, broke the Italian early in the second, and her 11th ace put her 5-3 ahead.

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

(With inputs from Reuters)