It seemed like a long time ago now, when Russian #Tennis star #Maria Sharapova was humbled by American sports darling Serena Williams at the 2016 Australian Open quarterfinals. Shortly afterward, a revealed oversight in her drug test during the tournament led to her suspension from play, which became a two-year ban by June of that year.

Thankfully by October, a review had her ban duration reduced to only 15 months, with the count starting from her failed test during the Australian Open in January 2016, though that meant she was out of the Open for 2017. Now as April 2017 draws to a close, the Russian former ranked number has returned to the sport she loves in style.

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To prove it, she has won her first match back in the WTA on a clay court, a playing surface she hasn’t competed in for two years.

Porsche Grand Prix win

When Maria Sharapova walked into the clay court in Stuttgart to participate in the #Porsche Grand Prix of the WTA Tour, the sold-out audience of roughly 4,500 only gave her an ambivalent welcome with a mandated applause, but little to no adulation. It didn’t matter to the now 30-year-old returning ace, however. "It was the best feeling in the world," she later recalls. "I have been waiting for this a long time."

Her first opponent was the rank 36 Italian Roberta Vinci, and when the match began it was evident Sharapova was a tad rusty. She did mention how she spent most of her days suspended (and banned) living what she describes as a “pretty normal” life, without stretches of tennis training on end.

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The period Sharapova needed to get her groove back lasted but five minutes, wherein she conceded to Vinci the first two games. When the third game started, she went serious and broke Vinci’s service. But interestingly, the Italian held firm and won 5-4 games, the most she has ever in all her past encounters against Sharapova. Her last two matches with the Russian were two-set defeats.

By the time they got to Set 2, the returning ace was in control. Unforced errors aside, there was no stopping Sharapova, who got the match-winning point with Vinci serving. When she began waving and blowing kisses to the crowd after her win, the reaction was a lot more enthusiastic

Drug ban oversight

Maria Sharapova’s tennis troubles last year began when she missed an announcement in January 2016 by the World Anti-Doping Association that it had banned Meldonium, a drug she had been taking beforehand, that’s legal in Russia. The reduction of her competition ban by the Court of Arbitration for the sport was brought about by their judgment that she “had less than significant fault” due to her oversight.

Her next opponent in the Porsche Grand Prix will be fellow Russian Ekaterina Makarova.