What time does Maria Sharapova play her first match since drugs ban in Stuttgart, what TV channel is it on and what has been reaction?

Telegraph Sport
Maria Sharapova will play Roberta Vinci in her first match after serving a drugs ban - Reuters

What is it?

It's the competitive return of Maria Sharapova from a 15-month drugs ban at the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart.

When is it?

Sharapova's ban expires at midnight on Tuesday, April 25. It means she can play her first match in Stuttgart on Wednesday, April 26.

Who is she playing?

The Russian faces 2015 US Open finalist Roberta Vinci.

What time will she be on court?

The match is not scheduled before 5.30BST but Sharapova will be able to practise on the tournament site for the first time from 8.15BST.

Sharapova is building up to her long-awaited return

What TV channel will it be on?

BT Sport have the rights to the WTA Tour and BT Sport 1 will have live coverage of Sharapova's return among other matches with their programme under way at 11am. Alternatively, you could bookmark this page and return for our live blog.

Why was she given a wildcard for the event?

Good question but it's hardly a surprise as the Russian is a long-term brand ambassador for the sports car manufacturer which backs the tournament.

Who else has given her a wildcard?

Organisers in Madrid and Rome followed Stuttgart's lead. But French Open officials have postponed a decision until the week starting May 15, as to whether they will also offer the 2012 and 2014 champion a place in its main draw.

Remind me, why was Sharapova banned again?

Sharapova initially was given a two-year suspension after testing positive for heart drug meldonium at last year's Australian Open. She had her ban reduced to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which ruled that Sharapova bore "less than significant fault" in the case and that she could not "be considered to be an intentional doper." Sharapova had been taking meldonium for many years, but overlooked an announcement by WADA that it added the drug to its banned list as per January 1, 2016.

Sharapova has served a 15-month drugs ban

How have the players reacted?

The Stuttgart organisers' announcement in January sparked a debate which has hardly cooled, three months later. Caroline Wozniacki said "It's disrespectful to other players."

Dominika Cibulkova, Agnieszka Radwanska and Andy Murray also spoke out publicly against wild cards for players who return from doping bans. German players, led by two-time defending Stuttgart champion Angelique Kerber, have also voiced criticism. German Fed Cup captain Barbara Rittner said at the weekend that "Sharapova should have started from zero again," meaning entering smaller tournaments and the qualification stage of the bigger events.

How has Sharapova been preparing for her return?

According to her social media posts, Sharapova travelled to Germany last Friday. She has been training in the hall of a local tennis club, Sillenbuch. As a banned player, she has no access to official tournament facilities until Wednesday.

Will Wimbledon hand her a wildcard?

Sharapova may not need one. If she gathers the 600-odd ranking points between now and the end of the Internazionali BNL D’Italia in four weeks’ time she would earn a place in the Wimbledon main draw by right.

What if she doesn't get the ranking points?

She is most likely to collect the 260-ranking points needed over the next five weeks to win a place in Wimbledon but that could present a problem in itself. Unlike Roland Garros, Wimbledon does not have the facilities to run qualifying on its main site.

What's your prediction?

 

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