Maria Sharapova announced today that she will return to tennis on April 26, making her 2017 debut at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, Germany.
April 26 is one day after the Nike-sponsored Sharapova is allowed to begin competing again, following a ban of 15 months when it was found that she had been using the banned substance meldonium. Sharapova has not competed since the Australian Open in January 2016.
“I could not be happier to have my first match back on tour at one of my favorite tournaments,” Sharapova said in a statement. “I can’t wait to see all my great fans and to be back doing what I love.”
While Sharapova will miss this month’s Australian Open, she’ll be back in time for the second Grand Slam tournament of 2017, the French Open in May. Sharapova won titles at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in 2012, 2013 and 2014.
Grand Prix tournament director Markus Günthardt said he is excited that Sharapova will be making her comeback at his tournament.
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“I’m really happy for Maria that she’s back after a long break,” he said. “Her return in the Porsche Arena is a fabulous present for our fantastic spectators and is certain to be one of the sporting and emotional highlights of our anniversary tournament.”
The five-time Grand Slam winner could face a challenge from current No. 1-ranked player Angelique Kerber, the tournament’s defending champion. The tournament says it will be hosting a total of eight top 10 players.
Initially a two-year ban, Sharapova’s suspension was reduced to 15 months after an appeal in the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS). The CAS said that it found Sharapova had taken meldonium based on a doctor’s recommendation, and that “she took the substance with the good-faith belief that it was appropriate and compliant with the relevant rules and her anti-doping obligations.” The court also said Sharapova had not been clearly informed by anti-doping authorities of the change in rules and was not an “intentional doper.”
During the proceedings, Nike had suspended its contract with Sharapova but said it hoped to continue partnering with her. In 2010, Sharapova extended her contract with the brand for $70 million.