Five-time grand slam champion Maria Sharapova will return to competitive action following a 15-month doping ban at the Stuttgart Grand Prix in April. She is not sure how she will be received on her comeback.
“Although I’m at a stage or age in my career where you’re closer to the end than your beginning, you always want to end a chapter in your life on your own terms, in your own voice,” Sharapova said in a speech at the ANA Inspiring Women in Sport Conference. “To be in a moment when you feel and you felt that it could’ve ended on someone else’s voice and someone else’s terms, was very difficult to accept. You don’t know how much you love something and how much something means to you until you lose it for some time. That’s why I fought so hard for the truth to be out,” Sharapova was reported as saying.
Sharapova joined Hall of Famer Billie Jean King, golfer Lexi Thompson and Olympic gymnast Aly Raisman speaking at the ANA Inspiring Women in Sports conference at Mission Hills Country Club in Rancho Mirage, California.
Florida-based Sharapova was originally banned for two years after testing positive for meldonium at last year’s Australian Open. The former world number one, one of the highest-paid athletes in the world in the past decade, admitted she had used meldonium for years and was not aware it had been banned since the start of 2016. Her suspension was later cut to 15 months on appeal.
“I could not be happier to have my first match back on tour at one of my favourite tournaments,” the Russian said. “I can’t wait to see all my great fans and to be back doing what I love.”
Sharapova, who won the indoor clay event three years running from 2012, will return to action in time to contest the season’s second major at Roland Garros, beginning on May 22. The Stuttgart field will be led by current world No. 1 Angelique Kerber and is set to start on April 24, with Sharapova slated to play her first match on the 26th.
“I’m really happy for Maria that she’s back after a long break. Particularly pleasing for me is that it’s going to be our audience that gets to watch her comeback live,” tournament director Markus Guenthardt said. “[It] … is certain to be one of the sporting and emotional highlights of our anniversary tournament.”
Sharapova, who will turn 30 on April 19, had earned US$29.7 million in 2015 as the world’s highest-paid female athlete. She had called the International Tennis Federation’s (ITF) original ruling “unfairly harsh” as an independent tribunal had found she had not intentionally violated anti-doping rules.