The draw for WTA Stuttgart 2017 has been released, meaning tennis fans that have been waiting for Maria Sharapova's return to tennis now know who she will face. The Russian, who hasn't contested a match since the 2016 Australian Open, has a tough one to open her comeback bid next week. She will face Italian-player Roberta Vinci, a veteran on the women's tour best known for making the 2015 US Open final.

WTA Stuttgart features Kerber

The WTA Stuttgart tournament is not a large-field event. Only 28 players are in the five-round event with the top-four players in the field receiving a first-round bye.

Those players are Angelique Kerber, Dominika Cibulkova, Simona Halep, and Karolina Pliskova. Kerber is the defending champion at the venue and, as a German, she'll be under some pressure to do well in the event just as she did last season. Furthermore, it's possible that Kerber could lose the No. 1 ranking in the world with a poor result. Kerber and Sharapova are on the same half of the draw and that makes a championship final between the two impossible. However, they could meet in the semifinal round.

But firstly, Sharapova won't be able to take the match against Vinci for granted. The Russian is definitely the more-proven clay courter having won the French Open twice. Should Sharapova survive her first-round match then she might face seeded-player Agnieszka Radwanska.

Dominika Cibulkova would be a potential quarterfinalist for Sharapova with Kerber the most-likely semifinalist, should the Russian make it to that stage of the tournament.

Bottom half of draw is loaded

On the bottom half of the Stuttgart draw the two key players are Pliskova and Halep. The latter is the more-proven clay-court player, having made the French Open final a few years back.

Johanna Konta is also on the bottom half of the draw, the British player that is enjoying a stellar season to date. Furthermore, former French Open champion Svetlana Kuznetsova is on the bottom half of the draw and she'll face Kiki Bertens, a semifinalist from last year's tournament in Roland Garros.

Despite being a mid-level tournament on the women's tour, Stuttgart certainly is well contested. Players will be eager to tune up for the bigger women's clay-court events still to come. Those include the French Open, however they also include events in Rome and Madrid. With Serena Williams out of action due to maternity leave, certainly numerous players will be looking to take advantage of her absence.

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