After a 15-month hiatus due to a doping ban, Maria Sharapova on Wednesday won her first professional match with a wild card entry to the Stuttgart Open in Germany. She beat Italian Roberta Vinci with a score of 7-5, 6-3.
The 30-year-old’s highly-anticipated return paid off, and she proved once again what it is to be a champion player. Her second-round opponent will be countrywoman Ekaterina Makarova.
The winner of five Grand Slams struggled with the accusation of taking a banned drug — meldonium — at the January 2016 Australian Open.
However, when the champion player is celebrating her comeback, world number 59 Eugenie Bouchard criticized her win, saying that Sharapova has cheated her way and should be banned for life.
She called Sharapova a “cheater”.
“I don’t think that’s right. She’s a cheater and so to me, I don’t think a cheater in any sport should be allowed to play that sport again,” Canada’s Bouchard told TRT World in Istanbul.
Bouchard also attached the Women’s Tennis Association, saying that if they allow a player to come back from her 15-month suspension, it sends out a wrong message.
“It’s so unfair to all the other players who do it the right way and are true. So I just think the WTA sends the wrong message to young kids: you know, cheat and we’ll welcome you back with open arms. So I don’t think that’s right. She’s not someone I can say I look up to any more because it’s definitely ruined it for me a little bit,” Bouchard argued.
Sharapova dismissed her critics saying, “I can’t control what people say. The only thing I can control is what I do out there. I’m always prepared to walk the walk. I’ve done that by winning five Grand Slams and being No 1 in the world,” The Telegraph reported.
“I’ve been offered wild cards from the tournament directors and I’m accepting them to be able to compete in the draw,” Sharapova said. “I’m coming with no ranking and I’m not getting a wild card to receive a trophy on a golden platter. I have to get through the matches and I still have to win them,” she added.
She then added, “At the end of the day, what matters is on the court.”
Russia’s Sharapova was the world’s highest-paid female athlete for more than a decade until last year, according to Forbes. On the other hand, she has asserted that meldonium was prescribed to her for some medical reasons and that she has been taking it for 10 years. She also claimed that she would not have been consumed it had she known that it has been added to the list of banned substances last year.
During the gap, she sought out a few other professions besides practising tennis. Sharapova tried keeping her mind off the fiasco by attending the Harvard Business School and working an intern with Nike and the NBA. She also added a chocolate line to her Sugarpova candy brand.
Sharapova’s return and winning a straight game has proved her agility to handle both criticism and support from her fellow players. Sharapova is known as one of the richest athletes in the world with a record of making over $300 million in endorsements and prize money, according to Forbes.
Sharapova has to wait till May 16 to know her whether she is receiving a wild card for the French Open, the year’s second Grand Slam which she won in 2012 and 2014.
Feature Image Credit: The Indian Express
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