Maria Sharapova wins Stuttgart Open tennis return match after doping ban

Tom Doyle
Back in the spotlight: Sharapova received a mixed welcome in Stuttgart: Bongarts/Getty Images

Maria Sharapova made a winning return to professional tennis at the Stuttgart Open following a 15-month doping ban.

Former world number one Sharapova eased to a 7-5, 6-3 straight-sets win over Roberta Vinci in Germany on Wednesday night.

The Russian was given a lukewarm welcome by 4,500 spectators, receiving some applause and some whistling when she entered the sold-out arena.

The match was Sharapova's first since losing to Serena Williams in the quarterfinals of the 2016 Australian Open, and her first match on clay in nearly two years.

Last year, Sharapova tested positive for the banned substance meldonium.

She had her initial two-year ban reduced to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which ruled that the Russian bore "less than significant fault" in the case and that she could not "be considered to be an intentional doper."

Sharapova had been taking meldonium for many years, but overlooked an announcement by the World Anti-Doping Agency that it added the drug to its banned list on January 1, 2016.

Due to the suspension, Sharapova lost her ranking. But the three-time winner from 2012-14 was given direct entrance to the main draw of the Stuttgart event.

Organisers in Madrid and Rome followed the example and handed her a wild card for their events in May as well.

Several players, including Vinci, criticised the invitation for a player who has been caught doping.

Additional reporting by the Associated Press.

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