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Maria Sharapova: Ban made my passion for tennis stronger

Maria Sharapova has spoken out about criticism she received from her tennis peers after her return from suspension and insisted that time away from the game only fuelled her passion.

Sharapova, 30, returned to tennis in April having served a 15-month doping ban for testing positive for meldonium at the Australian Open in 2016. However, her reappearance was met with strong opposition, most notably from Eugenie Bouchard, who branded the Russian a "cheater" and claimed she should not be allowed to play the sport again.

Maria Sharapova returned to tennis following a 15-month drug suspension. Giuseppe Bellini/Getty Images
Writing in a column for The Players' Tribune, Sharapova touched on several topics, including her ban, a love for boxing and an obsession with checking Twitter right after a match. Most notable, though, was the five-time Grand Slam champion's thoughts on her critics.

Sharapova wrote: "I'm not oblivious. 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.

"If you're a human being with a normal, beating heart, you know ... I don't think that sort of thing will ever fully be possible to ignore. I don't think it will ever not be weird or hurtful to go through. But at the same time ... I've always tried to keep a generous attitude toward critics in general -- whoever they are, and whenever they've been there.

"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 respond by showing grace -- something I learned from my mom, one of the most graceful and elegant people I know.

"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."

Sharapova was initially banned for two years after admitting she took the cardiac drug, but the Court of Arbitration for Sport reduced it on appeal. She made wild-card appearances in Stuttgart, Madrid and the Italian Open but was denied a place at both the French Open and Wimbledon.

She made her return to the tennis courts just 24 hours after completing the suspension and, reflecting on the time away from the sport, Sharapova wrote: "Though 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."

Source: http://www.espn.com/tennis/story/_/id/20168903/maria-sharapova-opens-criticisms-suspension

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