I admit that the past couple of weeks I’ve still been stewing over that atrocious armchair officiating call-in that sank Lexi Thompson at the 2017 ANA Inspiration. But I can’t let the return from suspension of Maria Sharapova go by without posting. The 5-time Major winner and former world #1 shook off a slow start and early break of serve to defeat Roberta Vinci 7-5 6-3. With all due respect to Vinci, whom non-tennis fans might remember as the woman who shocked the sports world with an upset of Serena Williams in the semifinals of the 2015 US Open, denying Serena the calendar year Grand Slam, this was a perfect opponent for Masha after 15 months away. She has never lost to Vinci, not even a set. More than that, Vinci’s style of play, slicing, spins, getting a lot of balls back in play without a lot of power, allowed Sharapova to find her footing and overcome early nerves. Against somebody like Johanna Konta, Karolina Pliskova or Angelique Kerber, had Masha come out shaky, she might have found herself down 0-4 before working up a sweat.
Roberta Vinci was one of the players who spoke out against Maria Sharapova receiving wildcards into events. It’s pointless for me to argue the case for Masha. People will feel how they feel. But while Vinci, Caroline Wozniacki, Dominika Cibulkova, Angelique Kerber and others opposed granting her wildcards, there were players like Svetlana Kuznetsova and Karolina Pliskova who had no issues with the decision of tournament directors allowing Sharapova in. There were also prominent ex-players who spoke in support of Masha, such as Kim Clijsters and Andy Roddick.
“She has done her punishment. I was disappointed and surprised when the news came out but she’s had the career that she’s had and I don’t think she needs to be punished more.” – Kim Clijsters
“She has been penalized, she has served her time, she is coming in with no ranking, so she’s going to have to go through the toughest parts of the draw. I absolutely believe that she would not have kept taking what she was taking had she realized it had been banned, and that’s completely her mistake and she’s said that much. I’m not sure how well she could have gone about it, but she’s certainly served her penalty. I’m not a big fan of penalties after penalties, you know?” – Andy Roddick
The bottom line is that Maria Sharapova is back. If Kerber, Simona Halep (another favorite of mine), Domi or anybody else has a problem with the wildcards, then go out and beat her. As well as she played at times today…and her serve was great, 11 aces with a handful of forced return errors…had she been playing an in-form Konta or Kerber today, she probably would have lost. So get her now, ladies. Barring injury, in a few months that 5-time Major winning version of Masha might be back.
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MARIA SHARAPOVA d. Roberta Vinci, 7-5 6-3