Maria Sharapova, who will compete at the Bank of the West Classic in Stanford, Calif., this week, says that her suspension was difficult, but it increased her desire to play.

Sharapova failed a drug test in January 2016 and was suspended for a year-and-a-half. The five-time Grand Slam champion returned to the tour in Stuttgart in April.

“These last two years have been tougher—so much tougher­—than I ever could have anticipated … My passion for the game has never wavered. If anything, it’s only grown stronger,” Sharapova told The Players’ Tribune.

The 30-year-old reached the semis of Stuttgart before losing against Kristina Mladenovic in three close sets. In Madrid, she lost to Eugenie Bouchard, 6-4 in the third, in the second round. In Rome, she retired in the second round due to a hamstring injury and did not play the grass-court season.

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The former No. 1 has a wild card in the Bank of the West this week. She is then scheduled to play in Toronto and Cincinnati, where she also received wild card.

Some players, including Mladenovic and Bouchard, have criticized Sharapova, saying she should not get wild cards into tournaments as she comes back. Sharapova was refused a wild card by the French Open.

The Russian knows she is under scrutiny.

“I’m not oblivious,” said Sharapova, who is ranked No. 171. “I’m aware of what many of my peers have said about me, and how critical of me some of them have been in the press. I don’t think that sort of thing will ever fully be possible to ignore. But at the same time I’ve always tried to keep a generous attitude towards critics in general … I’ve never wanted to respond to the people trashing me by trashing them back; that’s always been important to me.

“I’ve always wanted to face my critics by simply taking the high road. And by showing them, by showing everyone, that taking the high road is a choice.”

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