Maria Sharapova announces return to tennis in clay court season as social media erupts
The Russian will return to tennis at the end of April after her meldonium ban ends.
What’s the story?
Former World No.1 Maria Sharapova will return to tennis at the 2017 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, it has emerged. The tournament, held in Stuttgart, Germany, and played on indoor clay courts, will mark her first jaunt in competitive tennis since a reduced 15-month ban for the use of meldonium, which is banned by the World Anti Doping Agency (WADA).
She has not played competitive tennis since her Australian Open match against World No. 2 and eventual 2016 Australian Open champion Serena Williams.
The tournament will commence on the 26th of April, 2017, two days before Sharapova’s ban ends – but she has still been permitted to participate. She will attend following the conclusion of ban, which ends April 28th; her first match is to be played on the 29th.
Tournament organisers revealed the news via a tweet to their page.
In case you didn’t know...
Meldonium features on the list of banned substances by the World Anti-Doping Agency. In a press conference in 2015, Sharapova confessed that she had tested positive, but said she had regularly been taking meldonium, in the form of medication, for an undisclosed cardiac issue, and had been prescribed the drug by her doctor.
Following an appeal to WADA, Sharapova saw her ban successfully reduced to 15 months; that ban will end in April, two days prior to the start of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix.
Meldonium has been considered to be a performance enhancer that helps with pain and fatigue management.
Following the revelations, Sharapova lost ties with a number of key sponsors, among them Nike and luxury watchmakers Tag Heuer.
Under the rules, tennis players are permitted TUEs or Therapeutic Use Exemptions for drugs that feature on WADA's list of banned substances - but in order to qualify for a TUE, they must be able to show medically mandated evidence of an ailment that cannot be controlled or treated by any other drug.
Sharapova is a three-time champion at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix, winning the title in 2012, 2013 and 2014. World No. 1 Angelique Kerber is the defending champion at the tournament.
In her off-time from the tour, Sharapova has been active working with her candy business, Sugarpova.
The Heart of the Matter
The 29-year-old, who is serving out a reduced ban for using, will be the main draw at the tournament, held in Germany, for which World No.1 Angelique Kerber has traditionally been an amabssador.
5-time Grand Slam winner Sharapova made somewhat of a comeback to prior form in 2015, but it was discovered at the Australian Open in 2016 that she had taken the drug meldonium prior to her performance – a fact she would go on to admit to.
A significant part of the tennis community has found the move unwelcome, believing authorities have gone soft on the Russian; she could have received the maximum four-year ban, but served out less than half that time, and now has found the ban even further reduced in a move that has been perceived, and not unfairly, as significantly partial to Sharapova.
Sharapova said in a statement she “could not be happier to have my first match back on tour at one of my favourite tournaments.”
Sharapova, as a fan favourite, will no doubt be valuable for the tournament – and bring a horde of tennis fans back to watching, but perhaps the leniency in the functioning of her ban is unfair. While WADA investigations and successful appeals did see her ban reduced, many have questioned whether that was the right decision.
Also under question is the fact that Sharapova’s return has been glorified heroically