Banned Sharapova returns to court for Elton John Aids Foundation charity match
Maria Sharapova with Elton John at the at Las Vegas's Caesars Palace on October 10. Photograph: (Getty)
Russian tennis player Maria Sharapova, who has been banned from playing tennis till April after testing positive for drugs in January, played two light-hearted matches for the Elton John Aids Foundation on Monday.
The former world number one played at the World Team Tennis "Smash Hits" event in Las Vegas, her first appearance on the tennis court since testing positive for the banned substance meldonium at the Australian Open in January. Her ban was reduced from two years to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration last week.
"It's very special to be back on the court," she said before the match. "It's been about seven months since I've played in front of spectators and played in a stadium environment. Obviously, very thankful for the invitation, happy to be part of this cause.
"It's been around for 24 years and it's my first attendance. Thrilled to be part of it," added the tennis player who has slipped to 93 in the world rankings.
Sharapova teamed up with American Taylor Johnson for the first doubles match, and lost to Martina Navratilova and Liezel Huber. She won her second match opposite Martina Navratilova and Andy Roddick in which she doubled up with John McEnroe, acknowledging that the journey back would be a tough one.
She now looks forward to her first tournament in April, a month before the French Open.
"Yeah, I will look to play maybe a couple of exhibition events leading up to my first tournament in April, she said. "I don't know what those will be, but I think that's one of the things that will be really important because match play, you can never really replicate it. You can practise as much as you want but there's nothing really like it."
(WION with inputs from Reuters)