Of course Maria Sharapova’s return should have its share of plot twists. Tomorrow, at the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix in Stuttgart, she’ll play her first match since the 2016 Australian Open and subsequent, drug-related suspension.
Plot twist number one is an intriguing opening opponent. Roberta Vinci is a 34-year-old veteran with a clever array of shots, most notably her Swiss Army knife of a slice backhand. Vinci most notably upset Serena Williams in the semis of the 2015 US Open, derailing Williams’ quest for a calendar year Grand Slam. Sharapova has handily won their two previous matches, the most recent coming at Indian Wells in 2012. Though Vinci will have her share of moments – look for quite a few well-carved angles and drop shots – her playing style was meant more for claycourt tennis circa 1977 than 2017. Unless Sharapova is supremely stale and nervous, she should win this match.
Assuming Sharapova beats Vinci, she will play the winner of the match between 43rd-ranked Ekaterina Makarova and 7th-seeded Agnieszka Radwanska. Radwanska is 6-2 versus Makarova and is a strong favorite to win.
More notably, Radwanska has made it clear how she feels about Sharapova receiving a wild card into Stuttgart. According to a story written by Kamakshi Tandon Sunday on Tennis.com, Radwanska said that, “This kind of entry into the tournament should be available only for players who were dropped in the ranking due to injury, illness or other random accident.
“Not for those suspended for doping,” said Radwanska. “Maria should rebuild her career in a different way, beginning with smaller events.”
While Radwanska has only won two of 15 matches versus Sharapova, those victories happened at notable venues – the 2007 US Open (when Sharapova was defending champion) and the finals of Miami in 2012. Radwanska also is an extremely adept tactician, so as much has been stirred outside the lines between these two, it will be fascinating to see how what happens inside the lines – particularly given the contrast between Radwanska’s versatility and Sharapova’s relentless firepower. It promises to make for one intriguing post-match handshake.
As I’ve said repeatedly, my opinion on Sharapova and wild cards: Do the crime, do the time. She did, and as I see it, Sharapova should be granted wild cards anywhere possible.