The former world number one Maria Sharapova had spent the last 15 months away from the tennis court serving a doping ban. Sharapova faced Italian Roberta Vinci in the first round of the Stuttgart Grand Prix.
Maria Sharapova arrived to polite applause from the fans for her comeback match from a doping ban but left with a victory amid massive cheers. The Russian star showed only a little rustiness in the beginning as she ousted Roberta Vinci 7-5, 6-3 with the help of 11 aces and 24 winners - to her opponent's six.
The 30-year-old Sharapova, three-time winner on Stuttgart's clay courts, received a controversial wild card for the German tournament, having had no ranking points after more than a year out following her suspension.
"It's the best feeling in the world, those first few seconds before you enter the arena. To know you were walking back out there was
special. I've been waiting for this for a long time," she said.
"This is what I've done for so long. When you compete you block everything else out. I'm a competitor, that's when I'm at my best."
Sharapova now has at least one more chance in Stuttgart to knock her game further into shape, and has also been granted wildcard entries for Rome and Madrid.
Her opponent, Vinci had been among the athletes who had been critical of tournament organizers who handed Sharapova a wildcard entry because she had lost all ranking points during the ban imposed after she tested positive for meldonioum at last year's Australian Open.
Sharapova refused to be drawn into the debate, insisting only that "I am not offered trophies on silver platters. I still have to win
She said it was "my job to perform well on the court" and not to build bridges after criticism from other players on the wildcard, or
to ask tournaments for wildcards.
Eugenie Bouchard attacked Maria Sharapova as a "cheater" over her return from a drugs ban and suggested the Russian should be kicked out of tennis for life. Bouchard said the Women's Tennis Association was sending the wrong message in allowing the five-time Grand Slam-winner to return to professional play.
Sharapova, 30, has pleaded that she had been taking meldonium, once a permitted substance for athletes, for medical reasons for 10 years. She says she didn't know it had been added to the list of banned substances last year.
Sharapova will learn on May 16 whether she will receive a wildcard for the French Open, the year's second Grand Slam. Another clay court tournament, Sharapova won at Roland Garros in 2012 and 2014.
hf/msh (AFP, dpa)