Berlin - Maria
Sharapova was drawn to face veteran Italian Roberta Vinci in her
opening match at next week's Stuttgart tournament as the five-time Grand
Slam champion returns from a 15-month doping ban.
The former world number one was controversially handed a wildcard
into the claycourt event after her suspension wiped out her ranking.
If Sharapova gets through her opener on Wednesday - the first day
she is eligible to play - against the 34-year-old Vinci, she could face
Poland's Agnieszka Radwanska, one of her fiercest critics, in the
Radwanska, who starts against Russia's Ekaterina Makarova, blasted
Sharapova in an interview on Friday when she insisted that the sport's
poster girl should not be awarded wild cards after her doping ban.
"This kind of entry (wild cards) into the tournament should apply to
players who dropped in the ranking because of injury, illness or some
other random event. Not for those suspended for doping. Maria should
recover some other way, starting with smaller events," Radwanska said.
"So far she hasn't been invited to slams in Paris (French Open) and
London (Wimbledon) and in my opinion that's how it should remain. She
should win her spot by playing well."
Sharapova was banned for two years after testing positive for
meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open but had her suspension cut to 15
months on appeal.
The Russian turned 30 on April 19, but on the Stuttgart tournament's
website she describes her return as her "nicest present. I'm getting my
As an ambassador for Porsche, who also sponsor the event, Sharapova's
return is the highlight of the tournament's 40th anniversary
"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," she said having won three Stuttgart finals.
Tournament director Markus Guenthardt knows Sharapova's presence will boost ticket sales for the indoor tournament.
"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," he said.
Sharapova can only play her first match on Wednesday as that is when
her ban comes to an end. As a result, she has to practice away from the
Top seed Angelique Kerber has a bye in the first round and will face
either Mirjana Lucic-Baroni or Kristina Mladenovic in her opener.