WTA Stuttgart: Sharapova soars past valiant Vinci in return from 15-month ban
Maria Sharapova celebrates after defeating Roberta Vinci in her comeback match at the 2017 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. | Photo: Jimmie48 Tennis Photography

In her first match since serving a 15-month ban from professional tennis, Maria Sharapova put up an impressive display to down former U.S. Open finalist Roberta Vinci, 7-5, 6-3, to reach the second round of the 2017 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix.

Sharapova Survives Tight Opener

Headlining Wednesday’s night session at the Porsche Arena, Sharapova shook off some early rust and overcame an early break to hit through a resilient Vinci, whose variety was proving an early test for the two-time Roland Garros champion. After getting broken in her first service game, Sharapova needed five break points before finally being able to make the breakthrough and get on the board in the third game. From there, she would stay neck-and-neck with Vinci, who was refusing to give an inch herself. But ultimately, it was Sharapova’s resistance in Vinci’s service games that proved decisive as the Russian finally converted on another break point in the 11th game before serving out the set with minimal fuss, winning it 7-5.

Maria Sharapova celebrates after winning a point during her first-round match against Roberta Vinci at the 2017 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. | Photo: Adam Pretty/Bongarts
Maria Sharapova celebrates after winning a point during her first-round match against Roberta Vinci at the 2017 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. | Photo: Adam Pretty/Bongarts

Sharapova Scores Comeback Victory

Picking up right where she left off in the opening stages of the second, Sharapova would continue to build on her momentum, breaking straight away before consolidating to go a set and 2-0 to the good. Vinci, however, always the crafty competitor, would refuse to back down from arguably one of the most highly-anticipated matches of the season, eventually getting on the board to stay in touch with Sharapova. This pattern of service holds would continue until the ninth game when a zoned-in Sharapova earned herself a trio of match points to close out the match on the Vinci serve at 5-3. In the end, she proved she would only need the one as her relentless pressure would eventually wear down the resistance of Vinci, earning her a triumphant return to the WTA.

Maria Sharapova celebrates after defeating Roberta Vinci in her comeback match at the 2017 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. | Photo: Adam Pretty/Bongarts
Maria Sharapova celebrates after defeating Roberta Vinci in her comeback match at the 2017 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. | Photo: Adam Pretty/Bongarts

“It’s the best feeling in the world,” she said after the match. “The first few seconds before you enter the arena—it’s been a stage of mine since I was a young girl. I’ve been waiting for this moment for a long time.”

Stats Corner: Sharapova Still Sticking to What She Knows Best

15 months may have passed, but Sharapova’s game remains one of the fiercest on tour. Throughout the one-hour, 43-minute clash, the five-time Grand Slam champion showed glimpses of her old self, hitting an impressive 39 winners, which included an astonishing 11 aces, which paid dividends in a match where Vinci seemed to be getting the upper hand early.

Maria Sharapova hits a serve during her first-round match against Roberta Vinci at the 2017 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. | Photo: Adam Pretty/Bongarts
Maria Sharapova hits a serve during her first-round match against Roberta Vinci at the 2017 Porsche Tennis Grand Prix. | Photo: Adam Pretty/Bongarts

“I’ve been working on all aspects of my game and serve was definitely one of them,” she said in her post-match press conference. “I didn’t change it too much, maybe a few things in the rhythm but not extremely. You know getting the ball toss more consistent is certainly one of the goals.”

Next Up for Sharapova: Makarova

Awaiting the three-time champion in the second round is another Russian in Ekaterina Makarova, who upset seventh seed Agnieszka Radwanska in straight sets on Tuesday evening. In five previous meetings, Sharapova has only dropped a set to her younger compatriot, but this will be their first meeting on clay since 2011.

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