RANCHO MIRAGE • Maria Sharapova says she feels vindicated by the reduction of her doping suspension, adding that she "fought hard for the truth" as she prepares to return to tennis after a 15-month ban .
Russia's former world No. 1 was initially barred for two years after testing positive at last year's Australian Open for meldonium. It is a medication she had been taking for 10 years within the rules, but was reclassified as a banned drug from Jan 1, 2016.
She will return at next month's Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart thanks to a wild-card entry.
Sharapova fought to overturn the ban, saying she had not been properly advised of the official change, and the Court of Arbitration for Sport cut the ban to 15 months and said in its ruling it did not believe she was "an intentional doper".
"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," she told the ANA Inspiring Women in Sports conference at Mission Hills on Tuesday. "That's why I fought so hard for the truth to be out."
I've got my day job back. It's great. I've been training quite hard for the past four months… Will it be difficult? Absolutely.
'' MARIA SHARAPOVA, whose doping ban, imposed last year, was cut from two years to 15 months. She is preparing to make her comeback at Stuttgart next month.
Her ban will end two days after the Stuttgart event starts on April 24 but organisers have scheduled her first match for April 26 to allow her to compete. Some players have bristled at what they feel is preferential treatment for Sharapova, whom Forbes ranked the highest-earning female athlete in the world for 11 years in a row.
"For me it's not okay and I spoke to some other players and nobody is okay with it, but it's not up to us," said the world No. 4 Dominika Cibulkova. "It's not about her, but everyone who was doping should start from zero."
Sharapova said she is not worried about the reception she will receive and is confident about her integrity.
"When you love what you do, and do it with passion and integrity and you work hard, and you work on court No. 28 when no one is watching… then you know what you stand for and you know who you are," said the five-time Grand Slam winner at the conference that included tennis and women's sports pioneer Billie Jean King, Olympic champion gymnast Aly Raisman and 2014 ANA Inspiration champion golfer Lexi Thompson. "I've got my day job back. It's great. I've been training quite hard for the past four months… Will it be difficult? Absolutely."
Sharapova, who turns 30 on April 19, kept herself busy during her tennis absence. She took a class at Harvard Business School in global strategic management, spent another 10 days in London studying leadership, interned at an advertising agency, spent a week shadowing the National Basketball Association commissioner Adam Silver and a week with Nike designers, besides attending to her Sugarpova candy brand.
"I learnt that life can be okay without tennis," said Sharapova, whose autobiography is scheduled to be published in September. "It was empowering."
Yet, she is eager to get back on the court. "I've been training quite hard for the past four months," she said, adding it would likely take some time to pay off.
"Practice is never the same as match play. But I know that my mind and my body still have the motivation to be the best tennis player I can be."
REUTERS, THE GUARDIAN