The comeback is beginning.
Maria Sharapova will play her first match since the 2016 Australian Open when she goes up against Roberta Vinci in round one of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix on Wednesday in Stuttgart. Sharapova has been suspended for 15 months (reduced from two years) after testing positive for meldonium last January.
The 30-year-old Russian is 2-0 lifetime against Vinci and 4-0 in total sets, with set scores of 6-0, 6-1, 6-1, and 6-2. However, each of those meetings came on a hard court (2007 U.S. Open and 2012 Indian Wells).
Fast forward to 2017 and Sharapova is obviously unranked, whereas Vinci still registers at a solid 36th in the world at 34 years old. The Italian is now a Grand Slam runner-up (2015 U.S. Open) to go along with her 10 career titles (six on clay).
“I don’t agree about the wild card here and about the wild card in Rome and the other tournaments,” Vinci commented, echoing the Sharapova-related sentiments of many other players on the WTA Tour. “I don’t have anything against her. She made her mistakes, for sure, but she paid and I think she can return to play…but without any wild cards.”
“That is the least of my concerns,” Sharapova said of recent criticism. “I haven’t wasted a single thought on it. I know that I am respected in my field. I see it in how my opponents play against me.”
Sharapova’s main concern, of course, has to be on her own game. Rust will obviously be an issue, and facing Vinci on clay is not exactly the easiest of comeback matches. Both players will undoubtedly show some nerves in this one, so it could be an roller-coaster affair of less than top-notch quality. In the end, Vinci will likely be too tough on this surface.
Pick: Vinci in 3