STUTTGART (Germany) - Maria Sharapova made a triumphant return to competitive tennis on Wednesday night, beating Italy's Roberta Vinci 7-5, 6-3 in the first round of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix.
The Russian tennis star was playing her first match since completing a 15-month doping ban, after testing positive for meldonium at last year's Australian Open. The ban meant Sharapova lost all her ranking points and had to depend on a wild card from tournament organisers to gain entry into the event.
Sharapova, a five-time Grand Slam winner, started out tentative and looked rusty at times, errors leaking from her forehand.
But the 30-year-old served big and well, and was also able to rely on several cross-court backhand winners for a berth against fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova next. She posted 11 aces while Vinci had none, and had 39 winners to Vinci's 10.
"It's the best feeling in the world," said Sharapova, when asked about what it felt in the immediate minutes before she walked onto centre court at the Porsche Arena.
She has won this event thrice, with back-to-back wins from 2012 to 2014.
"This has been a stage of mine since I was a little girl. I've been waiting for this moment for a very long time."
Sharapova's return to the professional circuit has been a subject of great debate, with many current players publicly lambasting tournament organisers' decisions to hand her a way into competition. Besides Stuttgart, Sharapova also has a wild card to Madrid and Rome. French Open organisers also is expected to make a decision about whether to hand the two-time champion (2012, 2014) a way in on Facebook Live on May 16.