Johannesburg - Can Maria Sharapova continue to rise in the rankings after her last Sunday victory in Tianjin, China?
It’s been a difficult return to life on tour for the former world number one.
The five-time Grand Slam winner returned to tennis in April after a 15-month ban. While Sharapova once dominated the sport, she didn’t hit the ground running on her 2017 return and took time to settle back in.
The controversy that surrounded her didn’t help of course, and other players were not happy to see her ban reduced from the original two years.
The controversy started in 2016 after Sharapova tested positive for performance-enhancing drugs.
At the time, Sharapova admitted using the drug for 10 years, but purely for medical reasons. She claimed that she was unaware that the drug was banned as performance-enhancing as of 2016.
The International Tennis Federation banned Sharapova for two years. The ban was subsequently reduced by nine months after Sharapova made an appeal to the Court of Arbitration for Sport.
Without dropping a set
After a tough start back in tennis, it was in the China Open and Tianjin Open – both held in China in recent weeks – that Sharapova really shone.
The 30-year-old shot up the women’s world rankings following her 7-5, 7-6 victory in Tianjin over teenager Aryna Sabalenka of Belarus. Sharapova climbed 29 places to be 57th in the latest Women’s Tennis Association (WTA) list.
In the China Open, Sharapova defeated Ekaterina Makarova, which saw her move back into the top 100 of the WTA list for the first time since the ban. After pushing through the China Open, Sharapova remained in the country for the Tianjin Open.
The Russian went on to win the tournament without dropping a set, marking her first WTA title since 2015. This led to another jump in the rankings.
Sharapova made her return to the WTA tour in April when she was granted a wild card to compete in three WTA tournaments: the Women’s Stuttgart Open; the Madrid Open and the Italian Open.
Banned for life
Sharapova reached the semi-finals in Stuttgart, where she lost to French Kristina Mladenovic. She was then beaten in Madrid in the second round encounter against one of her critics, Eugenie Bouchard of Canada. Sharapova retired in the second round of the Italian Open against Croatian Mirjana Lucic-Baroni due to a thigh injury.
But the WTA invitations sparked criticism from rivals, who said she should have to work her way back without any hand-outs. Some even suggested that she should have been banned from the sport for life.
The Telegraph quoted her as saying: “I’m aware of what many of my peers have said about me and how critical of me some of them have been.
“If you’re a human being with a normal, beating heart... I don’t think that sort of thing will ever fully be possible to ignore".