She had not played a match since losing to Serena Williams in the quarterfinals of the Australian Open in January 2016. About six weeks later, Sharapova, who was in the top 10 at the time, announced that she had failed a drug test after that match, testing positive for meldonium, a cardiac supplement that had recently been added to the World Anti-Doping Agencyâs prohibited list. It is sold over the counter in her native Russia, and Sharapova said she had been taking it for 10 years for heart irregularities. She said she had not been aware that meldonium had been banned as of Jan. 1, 2016.
Sharapova, who turned 30 last week, was initially suspended for two years by the International Tennis Federation, but the penalty was later reduced to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport, which ruled it was too harsh given that her infraction was deemed unintentional.
Barred from setting foot on site until Wednesday morning, Sharapova practiced at a small local tennis club until her suspension officially expired Tuesday at midnight. In the second round Thursday, Sharapova will play her fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova, against whom she is undefeated.
The decision to let the unranked Sharapova, whose ranking points expired during her suspension, enter the tournament as a wild card rankled many in the tennis community, who felt anyone convicted of a doping violation should have to work their way up from the bottom. A particular sticking point was the fact that Sharapovaâs ban expired two days after the tournamentâs main draw began, meaning she had to be granted a late entry to the event.
Sharapova, who before her suspension was the top-earning female athlete for more than a decade, shares a sponsor, Porsche, with the tournament and has won the title here three times.
Opprobrium swirled in the lead-up to Wednesdayâs match, with Caroline Wozniacki calling Sharapovaâs wild-card entry âdisrespectfulâ to other players, and Agnieszka Radwanska, who lost to Makarova in the first round, saying Sharapova should not receive special treatment from Grand Slam events. Vinci, Sharapovaâs opponent Wednesday, and Angelique Kerber, the top seed and world No. 2, voiced opposition to Sharapovaâs wild-card entry ahead of the match.
âI canât control what people say, and I never have,â Sharapova said after the match. âThe only thing I can control is what I do out there. Iâve always preferred to walk the walk, and Iâve done that by winning five Grand Slams and being No. 1 in the world.â
Asked whether she agreed with the suggestion by her longtime agent, Max Eisenbud, that some of her critics want to prevent her from playing at next monthâs French Open because âitâs their last chance to win a Slam,â Sharapova said:…