Maria Sharapova’s controversial return to competitive tennis was a winning one as she overcame Roberta Vinci 7-5, 6-3 in the first round of the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart.
The former world No 1 was back in action at a tournament she has won three times courtesy of a wild card just 24 hours after the end of her 15-month suspension for failing a drugs test. Sharapova tested positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open and her original two-year ban was reduced on appeal.
Not all of her peers have welcomed her return but Sharapova received a good reception when she was introduced to the crowd and subsequently walked out on court alongside her opponent in Germany.
It took the 30-year-old time to get into her stride but generally it looked like the same old Sharapova, with relentless aggression and heavy hitting off both the forehand and backhand sides.
Asked what it was like being back out on the court in a competitive match, Sharapova told BT Sport: “It’s the best feeling in the world, those first few moments before you enter the arena.
“It’s been a stage of mine since I was a young girl and to know I’d be walking back on it was something special and I’ve been waiting for this for a long time. I didn’t know when I’d be back and I did other things in my life. I still kept in shape but I did put the racket away for a while.
“It was quite a lot of time out, probably the most since I had shoulder surgery. I need to play points and games and sets and matches – all matches are important for me. It’s a journey that officially started for me again today and I look forward to playing as many matches as I can.
“I feel like in the last 15 months I have really grown as a person and I feel I had to step up and do that,” added Sharapova who will now play fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova in the second round.
British No 1 Johanna Konta, above, also reached the second round in Stuttgart with a 7-6 (7/5), 3-6, 6-1 victory over Japanese teenager Naomi Osaka.
The world No 7, who will next face Latvia’s Anastasija Sevastova, said: “Even though I lost the second set I didn’t feel like I did much wrong.”