Maria Sharapova is ready for her comeback.
Appearing at the ANA Inspiring Women in Sports Conference in Rancho Mirage, Calif., yesterday — her first public appearance since being banned from tennis last June for doping — the embattled Russian player opened up about her plans to return to competition next month.
Though she teared up while speaking about the ban, the 29-year-old remained defiant, telling the conference audience that she felt proud and vindicated to have her punishment reduced. After slapping down a two-year suspension, the Court of Arbitration for Sport later cut the ban to 15 months because it did not believe Sharapova’s doping was intentional. (Sharapova tested positive for meldonium at the 2016 Australian Open, but she has maintained that she had been taking the drug for 10 years to treat a magnesium deficiency and family history of diabetes.)
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The Nike-sponsored athlete said she “fought hard for the truth,” arguing she hadn’t realized the drug had been added to the 2016 prohibited list. Now, as she looks ahead to the next chapter of her tennis career, Sharapova said she wants to be in control of her own story, no matter what judgment she might face when she returns.
“Although I’m at a stage or age in my career where you’re closer to the end than your beginning, you always want to end on your own terms, in your own voice,” she told the conference. “I don’t think there is much I can control [when it comes to detractors]. What I can control and have always controlled is what I can do and how I can go out there, compete and manage my career and my time.”
Sharapova also spoke about her break from tennis, which she said gave her “time to live.” She attended Coachella, took a class at Harvard Business School, spent time working with the designers at Nike, traveled, and reconnected with her family. “I realized I had a family I could spend months with at a time,” she said.
Still, she admitted she misses the thrill of the game and is excited to get back at it: “You don’t realize how much you love something and how much something means to you until you lose it.”
Sharapova will make her on-court return on April 24 as a wildcard entry at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix tournament in Stuttgart, Germany. She has also nabbed wildcards for tournaments in Rome and Madrid in May. “I’ve got my day job back — it’s great,” she said. “I’ve been training quite hard for the past four months.”