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Maria Sharapova primed for return from 15-month doping ban in Stuttgart

Sharapova returns from her 15-month doping ban on Wednesday Credit: PA

Maria Sharapova will take a giant stride towards moving on from her 15-month doping ban later today when she faces Roberta Vinci in the first round of the Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart.

All eyes will be on the Russian on the day she is eligible to compete again - her first appearance on the WTA Tour since reaching the quarter-finals of last year's Australian Open, when she tested positive for meldonium.

The former world number one, who rose to stardom by winning Wimbledon in 2004, admitted taking the cardiac drug at a press conference last March, insisting her only mistake was not realising the substance had been added to the banned list at the start of 2016.

Asked if she expected the suspicion to linger for the rest of her career, Sharapova told Vogue last month: "I think if I was trying to hide something, I don't think I would come out to the world and say I was taking a drug for 10 years.

Sharapova practices ahead of her comeback Credit: PA

"If I was really trying to take the easy way out, that's not a very smart thing to do. But the answer to your question is, absolutely."

Sharapova is a three-time winner in Stuttgart, triumphing in 2012, 2013 and 2014, but the build-up to her return to the tour means she will not be able to take a warm welcome from the crowd for granted.

As she has had her ranking suspended until her ban, reduced from two years on appeal, expires, the 30-year-old has had to rely on a wild card to compete at this week's Porsche Grand Prix in Stuttgart.

The Madrid and Italian Opens have followed suit with wild cards, and the decision to accommodate the five-time grand slam champion automatic entry to events she would otherwise not qualify for by ranking has drawn the ire of several prominent professionals.