Maria Sharapova’s return: 5 comeback attempts by Slam winners in tennis history

Even as Maria Sharapova returns from her 15-month ban, playing her first competitive match at the Stuttgart Open on Wednesday, her comeback to the top rung of the WTA Tour hierarchy won’t be easy. Many Grand Slam winners have attempted comebacks and failed while a few -- Margaret Court, Andre Agassi and Kim Clijsters -- have made successful returns

tennis Updated: Apr 26, 2017 19:09 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, Mumbai
Maria Sharapova,Stuttgart Open,Roberta Vinci
Maria Sharapova plays Roberta Vinci in the first round of the Stuttgart Open on Wednesday. The Russia is back in competition after serving a 15-month doping ban.(AFP)

All eyes will be on Maria Sharapova when she returns to court on Wednesday at Stuttgart Open after a15-month doping ban.

Maria Sharapova’s last match was a quarterfinal defeat by Serena Williams at the 2016 Australian Open. Soon after, she announced that she had tested positive for meldonium. She was suspended for two years but it was then reduced to 15 months.It will be interesting to see how the 30-year-old, the winner of five Grand Slam titles, reacts to all the controversy that surrounds her comeback with rivals suggesting it’s unfair to give her direct ticket into the main round.

Comebacks aren’t easy in sports and it remains to be seen how successful Sharapova’s will be. Many before her have made a comeback but while some have failed some have managed to touch greater heights on their return.

Here’s a look at the how some of the high-profile tennis players have fared on their return to the court.

Margaret Court

July 3, 1970: Margaret Court with the winner's plate after she beat Billie Jean King to win the Ladies' Singles Championship at Wimbledon (Getty Images)

The legendary Australian had three breaks in here tennis career but came back successfully from two of those to dominate women’s tennis.

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First break saw her retire after winning the 1966 Wimbledon, her 13th Grand Slam. Court was just 24 then when she decided to tie the knot and move back to native Australia from England but she was back on court two years later. After winning Australian Open, French Open and Wimbledon titles in 1969, she pulled off the unfathomable feat of a calendar Grand Slam the following year.

She won the Australian Open in 1971, but midway through the year, she got pregnant and quit playing. Court was back on court in 1972 and won three Slams the following year. It was a similar story in 1975, when she returned after giving birth to a second child a year earlier but she couldn’t win any singles title this time around. When Court retired in 1977, she had 24 singles Grand Slams in her kitty.

Bjorn Borg

July 8, 1978: Bjorn Borg of the Sweden holds the trophy aloft after defeating Jimmy Connors of the United States during the Men's Singles Final at the Wimbledon Lawn Tennis Championship on . (Getty Images)

The tennis world was taken aback when the Swede announced his decision to retire in 1983. He was just 26 and already had won 11 Grand Slam title. Even his arch-rival, John McEnroe, tried to persuade him against retirement but Borg had decided and he didn’t change his decision.

Eight years later, in 1991, he returned to the circuit but by that time tennis world had seen wholesome changes in the racquet technology. Borg started his comeback bid with a wooden racquet which meant his talent alone won’t be enough to survive in modern tennis. After 12 straight first-round defeats he decided to move the senior tour.

Andre Agassi

June 6, 1999: Andre Agassi of the United States celebrates with the trophy after beating Andrei Medvedev of the Ukraine in the final of the 1999 French Open at Roland Garros in Paris. (Getty Images)

The maverick American, along with Pete Sampras, was touted as the one who would carry the legacy of John McEnroe and Jimmy Connors forward, flying the American flag high.

He managed to do so as well by becoming the world No 1 in 1996 but the following year he suffered a spectacular fall and he later explained in his book that he suffered from ‘existential crisis’.

Agassi played just 24 matches in 1997 and his ranking spiraled down to 141. Off court issues like broken marriage with Brooke Shields and drug abuse made everyone believe that it was the end of his career.

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But Agassi was not done and in 1999 he began an extraordinary comeback that saw him complete the career Grand Slam by winning the French Open.

Having won three Slams prior to his return, he added five more, winning his eighth and last Slam title coming at the Australian Open in 2003 aged 32.

Having fallen out of love with the sport, Agassi ended up playing until the ripe old age of 36, bowing out at the 2006 US Open.

Monica Seles

Monica Seles in action at the US Open. (Getty Images)

No teenager could even dream of the start that Seles had to her career. Between the age of 16 and 19 no one came close to beating Seles as she won eight major titles and held onto world No 1 rank for more than 100 weeks.

Read more | Serena Williams thanks unborn baby after returning to world number one

But on April 30, 1993 a 19-year-old Seles suffered a tragedy from which she would never fully recover. Playing against Magdalena Maleeva in Hamburg, Seles was stabbed in the back by a Steffi Graf fan.

The wounds healed and Seles was back on court in 1995 after more than two years out but it was difficult for her to get over the attack psychologically. She was not the same player on her return but such was will to win that she managed to emerge victorious in one more Grand Slam – the 1996 Australia Open.

Kim Clijsters

September 11, 2010 : Kim Clijsters and daughter Jada pose with the championship trophy after the Belgian defeated Vera Zvonareva of Russia in the women's singles final of the 2010 US Open at the USTA Billie Jean King National Tennis Center. (Getty Images)

The Belgian had retired in 2007 and during that time out she gave birth to her first child in 2008. But the desire to win more Grand Slam titles meant she returned to the sport in 2009.

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Not many thought that Clijsters would attain the same heights on her comeback but she proved everyone wrong, winning the 2009 US Open, which was only here third tournament of the year.

Proving that the win was no fluke, Clijsters defended the US Open crown the following year and won the Australian Open in 2011 to ensure she won three Slams as a mother, compared to just one before. She hanged her boots in September 2012 after achieving her dream – winning more Slam titles.

First Published: Apr 26, 2017 16:09 IST