California - Tennis star Maria Sharapova said on Tuesday she
is excited about her return to competition next month, feeling vindicated by
the reduction of her doping suspension and empowered by her time away.
Russia's former world No 1 was initially barred for two
years after testing positive at the 2016 Australian Open for meldonium, a
medication she had been taking for 10 years within the rules, but that was
reclassified as a banned drug.
Sharapova vigorously fought to overturn the ban, saying she
had not been properly advised of the official change, and the Court of
Arbitration for Sport cut the ban to 15 months and said in its ruling it did
not believe she was "an intentional doper".
"Although I'm at a stage or age in my career where
you're closer to the end than your beginning, you always want to end a chapter
in your life on your own terms, in your own voice," Sharapova told the ANA
Inspiring Women in Sports conference at Mission Hills.
"That's why I fought so hard for the truth to be
out," the five-times grand slam winner said at the program that included
tennis and women's sports pioneer Billie Jean King, Olympic champion gymnast
Aly Raisman and 2014 ANA Inspiration champion golfer Lexi Thompson.
Sharapova's ban will end two days after the Stuttgart grand
prix starts on April 24. She has been given a wild card by organisers, who
scheduled her first match on the Wednesday in her competitive return.
Some players have bristled at what they feel is preferential
treatment for draw card Sharapova, who reigned as the highest earning female
athlete in the world for 11 years in a row, according to Forbes.
"For me it's not OK and I spoke to some other players
and nobody is OK with it, but it's not up to us," world number four
Dominika Cibulkova of Slovakia told reporters.
"It's not about her, but everyone who was doping should
start from zero."
Sharapova said she does not worry about the reception she
will receive and is confident in her integrity.
"When you love what you do, and do it with passion and
integrity and you work hard, and you work on court No 28 when no one is
watching ... then you know what you stand for and you know who you are.
"When I'm out on court 28 and there's no one watching,
that's when a lot of my trophies are being won," she said.
Sharapova, who turns 30 on April 19, kept herself busy
during her tennis absence.
She took a class at Harvard Business School in global
strategic management, spent another 10 days in London studying leadership,
interned at an advertising agency, spent a week shadowing NBA commissioner Adam
Silver, and a week with Nike designers besides attending to her Sugarpova candy
"I learned that life can be OK without tennis,"
said Sharapova, who also just finished an autobiography scheduled to be
published in September. "It was empowering."
Yet Sharapova is eager to get back on the court.
"I've been training quite hard for the past four
months," she said, adding it would likely take some time to pay off.
"Practice is never the same as match play.
"(But) I know that my mind and my body still have the
motivation to be the best tennis player I can be."