Tennis: Sharapova makes winning return after doping ban


Maria Sharapova made a winning return from her 15-month doping ban as critic Roberta Vinci was silenced at the Stuttgart Open on Wednesday.

The Russian's comeback after a suspension for taking the banned steroid meldonium was not warmly welcomed by all, as she was handed a wildcard entry in Germany.

Vinci went on record to state her disapproval at that decision, but was beaten 7-5 6-3 in the first round.

Former world number one Sharapova attracted a sizeable crowd and was met by generous applause as she returned to competitive action for the first time since last year's Australian Open.

The 30-year-old – who will learn on May 16 whether she will be given a wildcard for the French Open – did look a little rusty to begin with, falling 0-40 down en route to being broken in her first service game.

But the five-time grand slam champion hit back in a mammoth third game that lasted almost nine minutes, a crunching cross-court forehand ensuring the breakthrough was made at the fifth attempt.

She was evidently beginning to find her rhythm and had another break-point opening in game seven, but Vinci averted the danger and then received some coaching at the change of ends.

It did little to shift the changing momentum, with Sharapova holding to love and again applying pressure on the Vinci serve, only to falter at the key moment with an unforced error.

But Sharapova let out a scream of delight when she won against the serve with a backhand down the line to forge ahead for the first time, seeing out the opening set in the next game with the help of a net chord on the decisive point.

She broke instantly in the second set, Vinci affording her opponent too much room to bring her powerful forehand into play.

The Italian was determined not to go down without a fight, but when she got ahead on Sharapova's serve, her younger adversary was able to find another gear.

Vinci had an animated exchanged with her coach after getting off the mark in the second set, though again there was little obvious benefit as the 34-year-old was unable to disrupt Sharapova's flow.

With the winning line in sight, Sharapova accelerated towards it, taking the last two games with a mixture of superior groundstrokes and more clinical decision-making before celebrating with a beaming smile.

Next up for Sharapova is a showdown with compatriot Ekaterina Makarova, who was a surprise first-round winner over seventh seed Agnieszka Radwanska.

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