The Telegraph
Wednesday , January 11 , 2017

Maria will return in Stuttgart on April 26


Stuttgart: Maria Sharapova will make her professional comeback at the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart on April 26, after serving her 15-month doping suspension.

The 29-year-old former world No. 1 was given a two-year ban in March after testing positive for Meldonium. Her suspension was then reduced in October following an appeal.

The tournament in Germany starts two days before the Russian's suspension runs out and she will not be allowed to attend until the day of her match.

Sharapova, whose main sponsor is Porsche, will return to tennis without a ranking and needs a wild-card to enter the tournament.

"I could not be happier to have my first match back on tour at one of my favourite tournaments," she said.

"I can't wait to see all my great fans and to be back doing what I love." The five-time Grand Slam champion won the Stuttgart title for three years in a row from 2012 to 2014.

She last played a professional tournament at the Australian Open 12 months ago, where she failed a dope test. Sharapova was a long-time user of Meldonium and says she was unaware it had been added to the banned list at the start of 2016.

She has already taken part in two exhibition events since her ban was reduced by the Court of Arbitration for Sport.

Yet the phrase "bending over backwards" is hard to avoid. Stuttgart, which comes in the middle of the European clay-court season, is a particularly appealing event for Sharapova to start with. She won there for three years running between 2012 and 2014.

Sharapova's best form in recent years have come on clay, notably with the French Open wins in 2012 and 2014. She will need a wild card to play at Roland Garros this year, as a result of losing all her rankings points, and probably at Wimbledon too.

But it seems unlikely that these invitations will be denied, as the general attitude of the sport has been an indulgent one, according to a report in The Daily Telegraph.

One of the exhibition events she played was the high-profile WTT Smash Hits in October, alongside luminaries as John McEnroe, Andy Roddick and Billie Jean King.

The tournament director, Markus Guenthardt, described the news as a "fabulous present".

The five-time Grand Slam winner, 29, was initially banned by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) for two years after testing positive at the 2016 Australian Open. But after an appeal, the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS) reduced that ban.

In October, Maria had said: "I am counting the days until I can return... In so many ways, I feel like something I love was taken away from me and it will feel really good to have it back. Tennis is my passion and I have missed it."

Sharapova had said she had been taking the drug since 2006 for health problems and had "not tried to use a performance-enhancing substance."

She said she was unaware the drug had been added to the World Anti-Doping Agency's (Wada) banned list and could not "accept" the "unfairly harsh" ban.

The CAS panel had said it found Sharapova's case "was not about an athlete who cheated", adding she was not an "intentional doper".

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