After advancing to the semifinals in her first tournament in more than a year, it was beginning to look like Maria Sharapova was well positioned for a fairytale ending.
Kristina Mladenovic, however, had other plans.
The Frenchwoman rallied after dropping the first set 6-3, to win the next two, 7-5, 6-4. It’s the third final of the year for Mladenovic, who’s enjoying the best season in singles of her career.
Still, though, the talk of the tournament all week was Sharapova, whose return after a 15-month ban for testing positive for meldonium, was met with a range of reactions. Any questions about her form were answered resoundingly as she didn’t drop a set until the semifinals. A lack of match play, though, might be part of the reason she wasn’t able to capitalize on her opportunities against Mladenovic to continue her run through the tournament.
As a three-time champion, with the most recent title coming in 2014, Stuttgart was the perfect place for the former world No. 1 to make her return to action. Unranked going into the tournament, she’s expected to show up on the computer in the triple digits on Monday.
The next tournament for Sharapova is the WTA Premier event in Madrid, another event in which she was granted entry by way of wild card. Sharapova, a two-time French Open champion, is capable of making a deep run at any clay-court tournament. Perhaps now that she’s had her first taste of competition, she’ll know what it takes to go a step further in Spain.