Russian international Maria Sharapova won her first game on return from a long-term ban as she beat Roberta Vinci in the first round of the Stuttgart Open on Wednesday.
Sharapova has been on a 15-months ban since testing positive for meldonium. The 30-year-old didn’t get any bad reception upon her return as she beat the Italian 7-5 6-3 despite losing her first service in the opening set in Stuttgart.
“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,” the five-time Grand Slam winner is quoted by BBC Sport.
“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,” she added.
Sharapova’s return was however not welcomed by some players including her first opponent, Vinci. Nonetheless, the WTA chief Steve Simon defended the former world number one who will also be taking part in the upcoming tournaments in Madrid and Roma.
However, Sharapova will find out May 16 whether she will be given a wildcard to take part in the French Open that is slated for May 28. She also told BBC Sport that she would play in the juniors if it’s what it would take for her 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. 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 will face off with Ekaterina Makarova in the next round.