She’s back: Maria Sharapova wins first match after drug ban and says she will do anything to play in grand slams

The Russian says she doesn’t care what her rivals think of controversial wildcards tournament organisers have given her

PUBLISHED : Thursday, 27 April, 2017, 9:48am
UPDATED : Thursday, 27 April, 2017, 9:07pm

Maria Sharapova says she would “play in the juniors if I have to” in order to compete at the French Open and Wimbledon, but has no interest in building bridges with her rivals after making her comeback from a doping ban.

The Russian superstar marked her return from a 15-month ban on Wednesday with a 7-5, 6-3 first-round win over Roberta Vinci at Stuttgart’s WTA tournament after being given a wild card.

She described victory as the “best feeling in the world” as the former world number one returned after testing positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open.

Sharapova has also been granted wildcards into the Madrid and Rome WTA tournaments, but must wait until May 16 to learn if she will get a wild card for the French Open.

She was very clear she will take any chance to try to win a third French Open title at Roland Garros, which starts on May 22, or Wimbledon in July.

“I’d be prepared to play in the juniors if I have to,” she replied when asked about her desire to play the French Open or Wimbledon.

“Everyone in this room knows what a competitor I am and if there is an opportunity to be in the draw, I will take it.

“I have been offered wild cards and I am accepting them.

“I am not getting a trophy or a golden platter, I have to win these games and that is my job.”

The organisers’ decision to parachute Sharapova into the main draw in Stuttgart, where she has been champion three times, drew criticism from rivals, who believed she was receiving preferential treatment.

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But she brushed off any personal remarks.

“I can’t control what people say, all I can is what I do out there, they are my words and I prefer to walk the walk and I have done it by winning five grand slam titles,” she told a packed press conference.

“Words, quotes and articles are not what matter in life. I have learnt that very well in the last year.

“I’m coming back. There have been 200 credentials given at this event, and there’s news around it, but all that matters is what happens on the court.”

The Russian says there is no lingering anger about her ban.

“I am not an individual who gets angry about things, I let things go quickly,” she said.

Vinci was one of those who said Sharapova should not have been given a wildcard in Stuttgart, but the Russian made it clear she will make no effort to build bridges in the locker room at tournaments with anyone who criticised her.

“I don’t spend too much time there [locker room], I do my job, which consists of practising and I will go in there, I’ll change, get my stuff and I’m out of there,” she said.

“I have a great amount of friends at home, all over the world, who I speak to and those friendships matter to me, with my family and friends.”

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The Russian used the cliche ‘one step at a time’ when asked about her feelings on whether or not she will play at the French Open in a month’s time.

“I don’t think my mind is there yet,” she said with Rome and Madrid to follow Stuttgart.

“Coming from someone who hasn’t competed for 15 months, the importance of this tournament, and the next and the next, is crucial as well. I can’t get ahead of myself.

“I know Grand Slam tournaments are important, Paris is an incredible stadium and I have been able to win two Grand Slams, it would be amazing to be a part of it, but my focus is on this tournament and the next three.

“These tournaments are just as big to get the rust off and the practise in.”

She also congratulated her arch rival Serena Williams who is expecting her first child later this year.

“I think it’s one of the greatest gifts that a woman can receive in life, it’s a blessing. It’s a beautiful chapter in her life,” said Sharapova.