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Maria Sharapova relishing her April return after doping ban is reduced

By Matt Slater

Published 05/10/2016

Towering achievement:Maria Sharapova shows off the trophy after her second win at the French Open in Paris
Towering achievement:Maria Sharapova shows off the trophy after her second win at the French Open in Paris
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Johanna Konta in action against Maria Sharapova during day one of the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday June 29, 2015. See PA Story TENNIS Wimbledon. Photo credit should read Jonathan Brady/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use without prior written consent of the AELTC. Still image use only - no moving images to emulate broadcast. No superimposing or removal of sponsor/ad logos. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Maria Sharapova in action against Johanna Konta during the First round women's singles during day one of the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday June 29, 2015. See PA Story TENNIS Wimbledon. Photo credit should read Jonathan Brady/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use without prior written consent of the AELTC. Still image use only - no moving images to emulate broadcast. No superimposing or removal of sponsor/ad logos. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Russia's Maria Sharapova reacts after winning her women's singles first round match against Britain's Johanna Kontaduring on day one of the 2015 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on June 29, 2015. Sharapova won 6-2, 6-2. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE -- AFP PHOTO / GLYN KIRKGLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images
Russia's Maria Sharapova (L) shakes hands with Britain's Johanna Konta after winning their women's singles first round match on day one of the 2015 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on June 29, 2015. Sharapova won 6-2, 6-2. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE -- AFP PHOTO / GLYN KIRKGLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images
Britain's Johanna Konta serves to Russia's Maria Sharapova during their women's singles first round match on day one of the 2015 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on June 29, 2015. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE -- AFP PHOTO / GLYN KIRKGLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 29: Johanna Konta of Great Britain serves in her Ladiess Singles first round match against Maria Sharapova of Russia during day one of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 29, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
LONDON, ENGLAND - JUNE 29: Maria Sharapova of Russia plays a forehand in her Ladiess Singles first round match against Johanna Konta of Great Britain during day one of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 29, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Maria Sharapova serves in her Ladies Singles first round match against Johanna Konta (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
Russia's Maria Sharapova serves to Britain's Johanna Konta during their women's singles first round match on day one of the 2015 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on June 29, 2015. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE -- AFP PHOTO / GLYN KIRKGLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images
Russia's Maria Sharapova returns to Britain's Johanna Konta during their women's singles first round match on day one of the 2015 Wimbledon Championships at The All England Tennis Club in Wimbledon, southwest London, on June 29, 2015. Sharapova won 6-2, 6-2. RESTRICTED TO EDITORIAL USE -- AFP PHOTO / GLYN KIRKGLYN KIRK/AFP/Getty Images
Maria Sharapova in action Johanna Konta during day one of the Wimbledon Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club, Wimbledon. PRESS ASSOCIATION Photo. Picture date: Monday June 29, 2015. See PA Story TENNIS Wimbledon. Photo credit should read Jonathan Brady/PA Wire. RESTRICTIONS: Editorial use only. No commercial use without prior written consent of the AELTC. Still image use only - no moving images to emulate broadcast. No superimposing or removal of sponsor/ad logos. Call +44 (0)1158 447447 for further information.
Maria Sharapova of Russia serves in her Ladies Singles first round match against Johanna Konta of Great Britain during day one of the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championships at the All England Lawn Tennis and Croquet Club on June 29, 2015 in London, England. (Photo by Julian Finney/Getty Images)
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Maria Sharapova is picked up by racing driver Mark Webber and driven to the Women's Tennis Association (WTA) Pre-Wimbledon Party
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Maria Sharapova of Russia serves during her women's singles match against Tsvetana Pironkova of Bulgaria on day four of the French Open at Roland Garros on May 28, 2014 in Paris, France. (Photo by Matthias Hangst/Getty Images)
Maria Sharapova of Russia hits a backhand during the final against Ana Ivanovic of Serbia on day seven of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix 2014 at Porsche-Arena on April 27, 2014 in Stuttgart, Germany. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Bongarts/Getty Images)
Maria Sharapova of Russia celebrates victory in the final against Ana Ivanovic of Serbia on day seven of the Porsche Tennis Grand Prix 2014 at Porsche-Arena on April 27, 2014 in Stuttgart, Germany. (Photo by Adam Pretty/Bongarts/Getty Images)

Maria Sharapova has had her doping ban reduced from two years to 15 months by the Court of Arbitration for Sport (CAS).

The 29-year-old tested positive for the heart-boosting drug Meldonium in January at the Australian Open and was given a two-year ban by the International Tennis Federation (ITF) in June.

But CAS, sport's highest court, announced it has reduced that by nine months, meaning the five-time Grand Slam winner will be eligible to play again on April 26, 2017, four weeks before the French Open.

In a statement issued by her agents, the Russian said: "I've gone from one of the toughest days of my career last March when I learned about my (provisional) suspension to now, one of my happiest days, as I found out I can return to tennis in April.

"In so many ways I feel like something I love was taken away from me and it will feel really good to have it back. Tennis is my passion and I have missed it. I am counting the days until I can return to the court."

Noting that CAS' three-man panel ruled that "it does not agree with many of the conclusions of the (ITF) tribunal", Sharapova - who had appealed the ban length and not the guilty verdict - said she had learned from this episode and hoped her sport's governing body had too.

"I have taken responsibility from the very beginning for not knowing that the over-the-counter supplement I had been taking for the last 10 years was no longer allowed," she added.

"But I also learned how much better other federations were at notifying their athletes of the rule change, especially in eastern Europe where Mildronate (its trade name) is commonly taken by millions of people.

"I hope the ITF and other relevant tennis anti-doping authorities will study what these other federations did so that no other tennis player will have to go through what I went through."

And Sharapova's racket manufacturer Head launched a remarkable defence of the Russian.

In contrast to other sponsors including Nike, Tag Heuer and Porsche, Head had stuck by her. Alongside a picture of Sharapova, the company tweeted yesterday: "Congratulations to @MariaSharapova! #WeStoodWithMaria #headtennis".

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