Three-time champion Maria Sharapova made quite a statement with a strong 7-5, 6-3 win over World No. 36 Roberta Vinci at the 2017 Porsche Grand Prix as the former World No. 1 returned to action after a 15-month suspension at Stuttgart on Wednesday.
After going down an early break, the Russian regrouped spectacularly to finish with a whopping 39 winners against a paltry 21 unforced errors with 11 aces.
Up next in the second round for the wildcard is her compatriot Ekaterina Makarova, who ousted the seventh seed Agnieszka Radwanska in the first round on Tuesday.
This was Sharapova’s first match since the 2016 Australian Open after which she was suspended by the International Tennis Federation for testing positive for the banned drug, meldonium.
Sharapova comes back after a slow start
Sharapova did not have the best of starts. The rust from the 15-month hiatus was very much evident as she quickly went down 0-2.
But with her feet on the surface where she had the most success before her ban, Sharapova soon started showing signs of the champion that she once was. In a tight Vinci service game, the Russian carved out as many as five break points, the last of which she converted with a fiery forehand return that whizzed past the dumbfounded Italian.
Back on serve, the five-time Grand Slam champion kept up her trademark intensity and aggressive approach even though her break point conversion rate in the first set (2/8) was not something the former World No. 1 would be proud of.
Sharapova finally managed to make the all-important breakthrough with a sizzling backhand-down-the-line return that sent her 6-5 up before she wrapped up the set, 7-5.
Freed up, the 30-year-old made repeated forays into the net to prevent her veteran opponent from getting any chance to build any momentum. The Italian surrendered to the Sharapova onslaught soon enough to trail 0-1 in the second set.
Vinci amped up the returns on her forehand in the very next game to earn three break points but was unable to make any use of them as Sharapova battled to 2-0.
That solitary break of serve made the difference for the rest of the set. The Russian played a sparkly clean game whereas Vinci faded away with pressure mounting on her shoulders. Five aces were hammered by the 6’2’’ Russian in the second set itself as she soared to 4-2 and then 5-3 to deny Vinci any opening.
The World No. 36 caved in as a barrage of ferocious returns rained in from the unranked Sharapova, who broke once more to wrap up the win in 1 hour 43 minutes.
The clenched fist and unadulterated joy on her face on converting the match point showed that the two-time French Open champion is definitely back for more success.