Maria Sharapova announces tennis return in Stuttgart, and autobiography around the corner

Maria Sharapova has confirmed that she will return to professional tennis in Stuttgart on 26 April following her ban

Maria Sharapova, former world No1 and five-time Grand Slam champion, will make her return to the professional tennis tour at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart on 26 April—the first day she is permitted to compete after her ban for testing positive to a banned substance at last year’s Australian Open.

Sharapova, who has won the prestigious Premier tournament in Stuttgart three times, has been given a wild card to play at the 40th anniversary of the event, where her opening match will be played on the third day of the tournament to accommodate the Court of Arbitration of Sport (CAS) ruling last June.

As explained by the WTA, the schedule for all its events is a joint decision by both the WTA and tournament organizers, and it is not uncommon for first-round matches to be staggered over multiple days. At Stuttgart in 2016, five of them were played on the Wednesday.

Tournament director, Markus Gunthardt, said on the tournament’s website: “I’m really happy for Maria that she’s back after a long break. Particularly pleasing for me is that it’s going to be our audience that gets to watch her comeback live.

“Her return in the Porsche Arena is a fabulous present for our fantastic spectators and is certain to be one of the sporting and emotional highlights of our anniversary tournament.”

Sharapova said: “I could not be happier to have my first match back on tour at one of my favourite tournaments. I can’t wait‎ to see all my great fans and to be back doing what I love.”

Sharapova will depend upon wild cards in the early months of her return to competition because she earned no ranking points after forfeiting those won for a quarter-final finish in Australia last year. She will look to change that through the clay swing, where she has been very successful in recent years. Sharapova has twice won the French Open and three times the Italian Open in Rome.

The highest-earning woman in tennis, who was ranked No4 at the start of 2016, shocked the sporting community when she announced at a press conference last March:

“I wanted to let you know that a few days ago I received a letter from the ITF that I had failed a drug test at the Australian Open. I take full responsibility for it.”

She went on to explain that she had been taking Meldonium, on prescription from her Russian doctor, for 10 years for “several health issues going on at the time.”

She was subsequently banned for two years by an independent tribunal but had her ban reduced to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The ban, which was backdated to the start of 2016, runs out on 25 April, just days after her 30th birthday.

Not that Sharapova has been idle during the last year. Along with continued training, and extensive marketing of her successful Sugarpova candy brand at events throughout North America, she has played an exhibition event in Puerto Rico with Olympic champion Monica Puig, done photoshoots in Paris and Los Angeles with sponsors Evian and Porsche, joined Tiger Woods at his Foundation’s gala, and much more.

But dropped into her Facebook timeline on 1 January, amid posts about all these commercial ventures, was one that is sure to intrigue tennis aficionados and fans alike:

“One chapter ends, another one opens. Holding the first draft of my autobiography. Goodbye 2016, hello 2017.”

It will be a story worth reading.

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