In actual miles and in the current state of her career the five-time Grand Slam champion was far from the center of the tennis world, where
The relaunch of her return began on Sunday in an environment that was friendly and happily unconventional. Sharapova played a set of women's doubles and a set of singles for the Orange County Breakers of World Team Tennis against the San Diego Aviators, using the competition at the Omni LaCosta Resort & Spa to launch a journey she hopes will restore her to the top at age 30.
Her throaty grunt was back. So were her serve and some of her shots, though the format made it difficult to gauge her match fitness. She's scheduled to play again on July 24 at the Palisades tennis club in Newport Beach.
"This is a great little addition to my schedule. I wasn't planning actually on playing World Team Tennis," she said before the event, which included her 5-3 singles loss to Shelby Rogers in a 17-14 victory for San Diego. "I just thought I could use the bonus matches, as I like to call them, playing in front of a crowd, come back to places I've competed at before."
She made her WTT debut in 2002 at 15, a willowy Russian prodigy. It seems a lifetime ago for Sharapova, whose ranking hit No. 1 in 2005 and again in 2007 and fueled a lucrative endorsement and business career. She was ranked 171st through Sunday.
"Coming in and playing these matches is a little bit different than when I was 15 years old. It's a nice little tuneup as I get ready to play Stanford in a couple of weeks," she said. "And there's nothing like going in front of a crowd, and this is a tournament that I've played."
But some of her rivals have said she shouldn't be playing because of her positive test for meldonium, which increases blood flow and carries more oxygen to muscles.
She had been prescribed the drug — also known as mildronate — well before it was added to
Her positive test and ban became a polarizing topic. Some players said she paid a stiff enough price by being suspended; others thought she deserved a longer or permanent ban.
That others might disappove of her presence doesn't bother Sharapova, who was warmly welcomed Sunday. "I served the suspension period and I think there's not much more that I could add to that," she said. Asked if she got a fair shake she replied, "That's not for me to speak about."
To compete in the year’s final Grand Slam — the
Every step toward that goal will reawaken the debate over her drug ban. She doesn't care. "I think I always had the opportunity to say that, as someone that's 30 years old, I've achieved enough to call it a day, but there's something deeper in that for me than just the sport," she said. "There's something that I've done all my life and my career. I wanted to continue that and that's where my focus is, and not much on else."